Filmo Clubo

Let’s get this Film Club thing back on track. 15th March looks like the best date, going by my diary (I don’t know about yours). How about Fellini’s THE WHITE SHEIK — his first solo feature? I’ve somehow never seen the whole thing, plus it’s available —

The White Sheik [DVD] [1952] in the UK, and

The White Sheik – Criterion Collection in the US.

The conversation might also take in LIGHTS OF VARIETY and the underrated co-director Alberto Lattuada, star Alberto Sordi, the fumetti medium, Fellini’s low-grade showbiz obsession, and inspirational silents THE SHEIK and SON OF THE SHEIK (the latter just fell into my hands so I’ll be watching it for sure). And whatever else we can think of.

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18 Responses to “Filmo Clubo”

  1. Great…some good points of entry. The screenplay was co-written by Michelangelo Antonioni, one of whose early documentary shorts was about fumetti. I haven’t seen it but it’d be interesting to imagine the side of Antonioni not talked about. Fellini of course started as a comic illustrator and ran a comedy shop and worked part time as a screenwriter until he decided upon visiting Rossellini in the editing room of Paisan that the cinema was for him.

  2. The Antonioni connection is fascinating, like the Pasolini connection on Nights of Cabiria, since Fellini is so different. But he absorbs their contributions smoothly and the result seems pure Fellini.

  3. For those wanting the Criterion – move fast as it’s going out of print by the end of March!

  4. La Notti di Cabiria is one of Fellini’s more naturalistic works so I can understand the Pasolini connection there. La Strada is more mythical or since Fellini is a Jungian, archetypal. It’s also the most three-dimensional character Masina played in her husband’s films. Cabiria of course makes her entry in the Felliniverse in a brief scene near the end of The White Shiek. And somewhere down the line Fellini decided to make an entire film around that character. Fellini encouraged Pasolini to become a film-maker but was unimpressed by an early version of Accattone and walked away. Pasolini in turn lampooned Fellini via Welles in La ricotta. When asked what the director thinks of Fellini, Welles-Pasolini replies, “Egli danzi!”(‘He dances!”) Italian cinema can be immensely bitchy and competitive. Almost all major film-makers badmouth each other, save for Antonioni from what I’ve read.

  5. All the more reason to buy up the Criterion now!

    Pasolini’s supporters booed Fellini and Masina when they won a prize (at Venice?) instead of Pasolini’s film, reducing Giulietta to tears. It does seem like a bit of a hostile atmosphere. Mind you, “He dances!” doesn’t sound like a bad thing to say about Fellini, you could take it as a compliment.

    As WC Fields said of Chaplin (a major Fellini influence), “The son of a bitch is a ballet dancer!”

  6. Fellini needed Pasolini as a scriptwriter for Nights of Cabiria because he knew nothing about the lives of lower-class postitutes. He observed them in passing and invented Cabiria for Masina in The White Sheik. When he decided to make a whole film about her he needed Pasolini. (The world of thefumetti he knew like the back of his hand.)

    Needless to say their lives and sensibilites are entirely different. Pasolini was a highly well-educated upper-class gay man who abandoned his class when it — and the Communist party he had embraced — turned on him because of his sexuality. Fellini was a middle-class autodidact from the provinces who came to Rome and invented himself.

    Interestingly their lives were linked many years later when the fascist who eventually murdered Pasolini broke into the lab where the rushes of Salo were stored, stole some of it AND a huge chuck of Fellini Casanova as well — thinkin git part of the Pasolini. They mistakenly believed that Salo was a contemporary-set rendition of Sade — revealign what they were up to at that moment. It was of course set in the twilight of Mussolini — the analogy serving just as well.

    Apparently they absconded with more Fellini than Pasolini because while he found it easy to reshoot what was lost, Fellini had to rearrange roduction on an already troubled project and thus had to cancel a planned episode featuring Barbara Steele.

  7. Damn, Barbara would be very welcome in Casanova!

    Cabiria is on a kind of knife-edge between (neo-)realism and the more Felliniesque. Too much fantasy would wreck it, but there are elements woven into it that lift it out of a purely social observation, just as La Dolce Vita is more than a mere record of a time and place. I think it’s an incredible job, since anything recording the world of poverty with a less than perfectly controlled gaze can fall into glamorization, slumming, or the errors of taste listed by the butler in Sullivan’s Travels.

  8. Well primarily the goal of the neo-realism movement as per Rossellini(who Fellini said was the only “real” neorealist) was to remind audiences of the everyday basic humanity. So just because they are poor and are prostitutes that doesn’t mean that they aren’t complex figures worthy of the tragedy that makes human experience as opposed to victims of social circumstances. Pasolini took to that with Accatone which makes a case for a scrounging lazy pimp as a kind of Christ figure. In that film, he isn’t making any plea for reforms of slums or the lot but instead celebrating the vitality of their humanity, which considering the fact he wanted to leave his class is fitting.

    Then there’s Visconti whose La Terra Trema is maybe the triumph of the neorealismo movement and Bazin famously said that Visconti raised those Sicillian fishermen to the stature of Renaissance princes. The quasi-sequel of that film, Rocco and His Brothers again goes into other realms than merely being a social protest film.

  9. And Bunuel hated this idea of the ennobled poor (more especially in Miracle in Milan). “Why do people strive to escape poverty if to be poor is to be so good? Social injustice corrupts on every level. The rich are better able to protect themselves from it…”

    Pasolini is on firmer ground because he admits the existence of vice as a consequence of poverty. And Nights of Cabiria isn’t so much concerned with virtue or vice but with survival and the need for love.

  10. Especially the need for love. It’s ending is quite like City Lights in that respect.

  11. Hope springs eternal. There are of course two interpretations of the ending, both of them correct: Cabiria will survive because she never gives up, and she will remain an exploited underdog because she never loses faith in humanity.

    “And she lived hopefully ever after,” as the remake puts it — which sounds optimistic enough, but means a good bit less than “happily”.

  12. thefanwithnoname Says:

    Wow – interesting timing! Before I read this Blog entry I just recently received in the mail the Criterion WHITE SHEIK (along with two Clouzot films) due to the fact it was going out of print so I should be able to watch it in time and maybe contribute to the upcoming discussion!?!!

    And not too long ago I saw SON OF THE SHEIK on DVD (projected onto a big screen) and a 35mm copy of Ken Russell’s VALENTINO in a film class that I sit in for the screenings (I’m good friends with the teacher plus he basically lets the class be open to the public). What I found so interesting (& somewhat amusing) was the copy of VALENTINO was in perfect shape (practically immaculate!) – I don’t think I saw one scratch of piece of debris at all which goes to show that probably nobody at all rents the film and sadly when the teacher attempts to rent along the lines of a classic he either finds out no prints are available, the studio/company won’t/can’t rent him a print or he does get it but it’s in very rough shape!?!!

    Anyway…I’m rambling…I look forward to the upcoming discussion…

  13. Nice to know there’s some immaculate Russell out there. He used to denounce that film as “bored and boring,” but I think it’s pretty good.

  14. david wingrove Says:

    I’d be tempted to go further than that. Personally, I think VALENTINO may be Ken Russell’s best film. It’s the one where he lets his natural instincts run riot, and even has the budget to do them justice!

    OK, so Rudolf Nureyev doesn’t look the least bit like Ruolph Valentino (nor does he even try) but he captures his androgynous sex appeal to perfection. Also, his sensibility as a performer is ideally matched to Russell’s as a director. A tragically underrated work!

  15. I think Valentino actually makes the most out of a relatively modest budget — The Devils looks more expensive to me. But Russell has a genius for making a lot out of a little. David Puttnam was incredibly impressed with the way he made Mahler after half the budget was cut just before shooting started. True creativity means working within limits, I guess.

    With the Italianamerican protagonist, the old Hollywood setting, Irwin Winkler as producer and Mardik Martin as co-writer, I always assumed Valentino must have been intended as a Scorsese picture, but he chose to make New York New York instead. But I have no actual evidence for this assumption.

    Certainly his version would no doubt have been fairly different. De Niro as Valentino???

  16. david wingrove Says:

    Liza Minnelli (Scorsese’s lady friend at the time) would have made a much better Valentino that De Niro. Still, it’s a gruesome thought.

  17. Actually, I can just about imagine the young DeNiro looking right… more like Valentino than Nureyev… but whether he could produce the sex appeal, which has little to do with acting ability, is another question.

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