Arrow Academy is releasing the 1978 Federico Fellini film Orchestra Rehearsal: The Decline of the West in C Major on Blu-ray February 13th. Does Arrow hit all the right notes or is it sounding all flat? Read on to find out!
Orchestra Rehearsal or Prova d’orchestra is a film written and directed by Fellini (8½, Amarcord, La Dolce Vita) later in his career. There are still heavy indicators of who is making the film but don’t go into it expecting the same as his masterworks. The film was made in 1978 for Italian television and therefore has a more basic production level to it, taking place in a concert instrument room with a simple premise. A television crew wants to interview those musicians in the orchestra. The interviews are voluntary and they won’t be paid extra to talk to the camera. The film’s run time is only 72 minutes so it’s a bit more of a character study, satire of the industry and deals a bit with the politics at the time.
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Fellini, I have only seen his major works and while I respect his films and I am interested in the dream-like quality he gives his films I find the later contemporary films influenced by his works more meaningful to me. However, I think fans of his might more enjoy this intimate look at his way of telling a story and his dialogue. The camera itself represents a character and the actors talk and react directly to it throughout the film. It’s a style that seems to really work for the story and makes the reactions seem a bit more realistic.
Orchestra Rehearsal is done in the style of a documentary. The musicians file into the auditorium and have chats among themselves about life and music. The television crew’s Q & A is going on around them and interspersed into the story. The auditorium is in the confines of an old church, the film tells us this is for the acoustics. The conductor arrives and some melodies are played but some minor arguments turn sour and cause issues, leading the group into anarchy and vandalism. Will the musicians regroup and play beautiful music again? You’ll just have to watch to find out.
Orchestra Rehearsal seems to be a metaphorical film about Italian life in the late 70’s and Fellini’s viewpoints are written into the characters of the orchestra. The conductor, who is noted to be difficult and tyrannical, is German. I can’t imagine any modern parallels with Italy and a tyrannical German. I found the film a little too on the nose and too hyperbolic to take really seriously, but I’m sure the broad strokes will really hit home for some. The brief runtime will help keep people interested in the story but I fear that the shortness never really allowed me to bond with any particular character since they seemed to be general archetypes made to get a point across.
I don’t think the film is bad by any means, but I don’t think it’s a lost masterpiece either. Fans of Fellini are going to love it because it seems like a very personal film to him and he opens up his views through the words of the characters. Plus it was the last film he collaborated with Nino Rota on and you can tell the two worked so well together. I think their working relationship and love of music really shined on the film. It’s certainly an interesting entry for those who value learning about the history of film, which it seems like Arrow Academy is keen to put out releases like this. Ones that were overlooked for the home market. Perhaps I will come back to it later and appreciate it more, some of the old films are like that.
- Richard Dyer on Nino Rota and Orchestra Rehearsal, the film scholar talks about the great composer and his last collaboration with Fellini
- Orchestrating Discord, a visual essay on the film by Fellini biographer John Baxter
- Gallery featuring rare poster and press material on the film from the Felliniana collection of Don Young
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Adrian Martin
Orchestra Rehearsal Final Thoughts:
Orchestra Rehearsal is probably considered an underrated film in the oeuvre of Fellini, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t more easily available before now. I am happy that Arrow Academy is making it available to own in HD. The 2K restoration looks very film-like and fitting. Fans of Fellini or Italian cinema should go right out and get a copy, but others might want to give it a rent first just to make sure it’s something you will like. You can purchase your copy from Amazon or other fine retailers.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.