Archive for the Painting Category

Artistic Licentiousness

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2022 by dcairns

I should be watching Damiano Damiani’s films in sequence, shouldn’t I? They all seem to be good, or interesting, or excellent, though the tail end of his career seems like a too-common tapering-off. So why not assess his development as I go?

This thought it prompted by LA NOIA — THE EMPTY CANVAS, or BOREDOM in English — which relates strongly to A VERY COMPLICATED GIRL, a later film which I’d already seen. Both feature painters, both feature male-model ridiculously good-looking guys and Catherine Spaak, both are based on tales by Alberto Moravia. But the second film is far crazier — Spaak plays the artist, not the muse, it feels like a misremembered nightmare version of its predecessor, with everything jumbled up confusingly and character motivation lost in a fog of insanity. So it would probably have been better to watch the films in order, but they still work independently and as distorting mirrors of one another.

LA NOIA has Horst Buccholtz as lead character, a frustrated, blocked painter who falls for model Spaak and is driven out of his senses by her free-spirited approach. HB is good at playing spoiled brats, or else tends to play them whether asked to or not, depending on your interpretation. He very nearly alienated us completely but then we kept watching to see him suffer.

His mom is Bette Davis, a rather overwhelming figure — with great fashion sense. One could sympathize with her son’s desire to rebel, except he’s still dipping into her wall safe to subsidize his “artistic” lifestyle.

I only recently learned that Damiani was a painter and sculptor (and comic book artist and fotoromanzi writer) — the paintings Horst’s neighbour has done of Spaak are very recognizable as DD’s style.

The more Horst suffers, the less appealing his character becomes. To a modern viewer it’s striking that he never asks Spaak if she wants an exclusive relationship, so his increasingly violent jealousy can’t be excused even as a regrettable uncontrolled response. It might have played differently at the time, when such assumptions dominated. As young audiences struggle to understand cheque readers, switchboards, rotary phones and references to Walter Kronkite, are they/we also struggling to interpret the social mores that were almost unquestioned back in the day?

Finally, Horst is redeemed, after nearly killing himself, slamming his sports car into a concrete abutment. He reconciles with his mother and cuts the apron/purse strings. He’s not sure what will happen when he meet Spaak again. In a fascinating bit of writing/performance, she’s revealed as a shallow, not very bright, not very interesting figure with no deep feelings. Her enticing libertinism loses all appeal. What’s impressive is the subtlety with which is achieved — we don’t sense that the character is being written or played inconsistently — it just feels like she’s viewed through a new lens.

LA NOIA stars Baby Jane Hudson; Otto Ludwig Piffl; Anna Terzi; Marina di Malombra; La Reine Catherine de Médicis; Arizona Roy; M. Treville; and Caroline Bonaparte.

Three grotesques, two all-seeing eyes, a drunken genius, and a prophecy

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , on August 17, 2022 by dcairns

More Fellini sketches from another Fellini publication, L’Arc issue 45, Fellini, a collection of essays in French. Bottom right is Poe.

Back to Inspiring Fellini by Federico Pacchioni.

Pacchioni tells us that this drawing represents a dream Fellini had eight months before the murder of his former collaborator Pier Paolo Pasolini. ‘In this dream the two artists, in the company of one of Pasolini’s “amichetti” (young and reprehensible friends) are walking down a muddy dirt road on the far edges of the city where the countryside begins.’ [On the road to Ostia, where Cabiria lives and where PPP would die?] ‘The atmosphere is gloomy and sinister; a storm has left the road filled with puddles, the sky is murky with “large, ragged and ugly clouds,” and a phantasmagorical yellow moonlight is spreading through the clouds and reflecting its ill glow on the surroundings. Around Pasolini and Fellini are a number of monstrous bat-rats sneering and looming as if preparing to attack, and behind the scene stands the unsettling eye of a camera spying on the men’s every move. Furthermore, the actions and words of the men are described as artificial in the dream, “as part of a script,” in connection with their mutual experience of the pressure placed on them by the media.’

As a great believer in dreams, Fellini would understandably have connected this eerie and menacing nightmare with Pasolini’s later death.

Meaningful Beauty

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2022 by dcairns

Aldo Tonti, who shot VIOLENT CITY in lurid, searing colour, also shot NIGHTS OF CABIRIA in lambent black and white.

At the film’s climax, there’s an encounter on a clifftop that looks set to be fatal, and is certainly tragic, but is thinly disguised at first as romantic, because that’s how the heroine sees it. The audience is not fooled. By the end of the encounter, the sunset glowing out of the lake comes to seem like a pit of hell, because there’s something unnatural and sinister about light coming from BELOW. (The lake is in fact Lake Nemi, a volcanic crater.)

(Christopher Walken, on some movie, sees the camera crew positioning a reflector at his feet. “What are you doing?” “Oh, we’re just going to bounce a little light up at you, make you look sinister.” Smile. “You don’t need to do that.”)

The hell’s light metaphor seems intentional since Cabiria meets the man at a cinema/music hall called the Lux, and their meeting is trigger by a stage hypnotist who wears devil horns. I recently read Mario and the Magician, the Thomas Mann novella, which Abraham Polonski adapted into screenplay form and wanted to make as a metaphor about fascism, and it’s clear to me that the hypnotist scene was influenced by that.

But what I really want to tell you about is Fellini’s drawing of Giulietta Masina, not as Cabiria but as Gelsomina in LA STRADA, swimming down to feed a puppy to an alligator.

I scanned this image, badly, from Inspiring Fellini: Literary Collaborations Behind the Scenes by Federico Pacchioni. Admittedly the reproductions in the book aren’t great either, but the book is really something — it digs into Fellini’s writing process. The illustrations are all dreams Fellini recorded about his writers. Here, he interpreted Gelsomina’s out-of-character cruelty as a reaction to writer Tullio Pinelli’s tendency to write cruel and violent scenes he was uncomfortable with — though TP was absolutely never guilty of portraying Gelsomina in this way. FF had fallings-out with most of his writers, and one possible reason is his increasing tendency to listen to the promptings of his dreams…

Most books and documentaries on Fellini look at his filming process, casting process, imagery, and the autobiographical aspects of his work. We learn in Pacchioni’s book, however, that the incident of young Guido being punished at school for watching La Sorreghina’s rumba in EIGHT AND A HALF, was taken from screenwriter Ennio Flaiano’s life. Generally Fellini’s writing team get short shrift, something they were well aware and resentful of. I’m always in favour of movie writers getting longer shrifts. Fellini is Fellini, but his collaborators are crucial.

I think I’ll do more of these Fellini dream cartoons…

Oh, and the title of this piece comes from FF’s defense of the ending of IL BIDONE. Someone in the edit objected to the weird procession of vaguely medieval types passing through the contemporary movie. FF asked an assistant for his opinion: the young chap voted in favour of the sequence because it was beautiful. FF became quite agitated: NO, he said, it’s not good because it’s beautiful, but because it’s MEANINGFUL beauty. Critics later would attack Fellini’s films as a meaningless blend of fashion show and sideshow — I think Fellini always believed he was pursuing meaning, but as in a dream, it could be hard to fathom…