‘Orchestra Rehearsal’ saw Federico Fellini strip back his surreal tendencies and channelled his energy into something more tangible and less wild. Released in 1978, ‘Orchestra Rehearsal’ is set in one, large, barren hall. A wry voice-over explains that this place was once the burial site of three Popes and seven bishops. So far, the presentation feels like a run-of-the-mill documentary from the History Channel than a work of Fellini.
Then, out of the blue, the titular orchestra turns up for a rehearsal; plying their trade on the violin, trombone, and grand piano. The musicians laugh, play pranks on each other, and are excited at the prospect of playing their hearts out; then the conductor shows up, a man who they shouldn’t take lightly. He’s a stout man who speaks with a slight German accent. He often criticises the orchestra’s playing regardless of how well they timed the notes, rhythms, or crescendos. No matter what, he will certainly lower their morale.
Fellini is presenting a political allegory, there’s no doubt about it. He is commenting on fascism, the rude and barbaric conductor is envisioned as Hitler. There’s the chance that Fellini is also talking about the idea of revolution. The orchestra rebels against the conductor in the last third of the film; the musicians spray-paint inflammatory graffiti across the room’s walls, they chant their hearts out for him to resign from his position. The surreal is still present with two members of the orchestra carrying a giant metronome which they bring it to the feet of their hated leader – it’s almost as if the metronome is their new God.
There is room for the audience to debate the key messages. The intentions are crystal clear though; for a later Fellini production, ‘Orchestra Rehearsal’ is a tight and consistent film that assaults the far-right for their perceived cowardice across history. Fellini presents a fresh perspective on the matter at hand, with his trademark boundary breaking creating a theoretical boundary between the world of Orchestra Rehearsal and its characters, and the world us audience inhabit.
‘Orchestra Rehearsal’ is almost a mockumentary at times, the eccentric musicians break the fourth wall and declare what their chosen instrument means to them. One person says that the clarinet has the closest pitch to the human voice. Another buries that opinion and states that the violin is the heart and the brain of the group. Fellini allows the absurd in-fighting to continue, and continue, and continue unless the conductor steps in to shut everyone up. The endless bickering should become exhausting, but it doesn’t – on the contrary it is persistently funny.
The celebration of classical music is one of the most prominent themes. The feature was also Fellini’s last collaboration with his regular composer, Nino Rota. Both men worked together from Fellini’s second motion picture, ‘The White Sheik’ up until Rota’s death in 1979. According to Richard Dyer on the new Arrow Academy Blu-Ray, Rota was heavily involved in the production of ‘Orchestra Rehearsal’, he was practically co-directing at times. Rota showed the actors how to hold their instruments properly, this not only gives the film a humble authenticity it is also a warm eulogy to an old friend. As Fellini’s fond farewell to Rota, it is a lovely tribute to the man.
‘Orchestra Rehearsal’ says as much as it can for 75-minutes – it loves its environment and its characters, no matter which era of Fellini you watch his films are full of love and to let that wash over you within the context of the orchestra is a joyful experience. Whats more, it is an absolute steal for any fan of the late, great Italian director. Let’s clarify one thing, though, it is no ‘La Dolce Vita’ and certainly no ‘8½’, but ‘Orchestra Rehearsal’ demands very little from its audience. All it wants to do is entertain and educate about the power of music; after all, it would be an awfully drab and gray world without it – that is the film’s most important lesson, and it is nice that Fellini passionately reminds us of this.
ORCHESTRA REHEARSAL IS OUT NOW ON ARROW ACADEMY