Archive for the Painting Category

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…

Marx for Trying

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Painting, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2022 by dcairns

I was thinking of getting rid of my copy of Moving Pictures by Budd Schulberg — “Will I ever read this?” — when I opened it at random — a fair test — and discovered that Schulberg had attempted to co-write a Marx Bros movie at Paramount in the thirties, where he was the boss’s son.

BUGHOUSE FABLES was the intended title, which I somewhat approve of, since it has the required animal reference. But is it a common phrase or saying like “monkey business,” “horse feathers,” “animal crackers,” and “duck soup”? (Two of these are by now UNcommon phrases or sayings but I’m prepared to believe that in pre-code days they were familiar to the American public.)

BUT I’m wrong — here’s proof, from 1922, that Schulberg’s title WAS extant.

It was supposed to be about the Marxes running an asylum. I’m unsure about this. The results could easily be tasteless, even for the 1930s, and Schulberg says that part of the impetus was to hit back at the censors who had been objecting to MONKEY BUSINESS. Also, surrounding the Bros with lunatics could easily diminish their powers. The possibilities for spot gags would be endless, but we can hardly have Groucho, Chico and Harpo seeming less crazy than everyone else. Presumably we would have a “lunatics taking over the asylum” scenario and there are strong possibilities for annoying headshrinkers (cue Sig Rumann) and wealthy patrons (Margaret Dumont). But I think the Marxes need a sane, generically-consistent story world to interact with, and be the craziest element of. When Groucho is placed in charge of a sanatorium in A DAY AT THE RACES, the most eccentric person he meets apart from his own brothers is rich hypochondriac Dumont.

Schulberg himself sounds pretty uncertain about whether his efforts to write funny were in fact hitting the mark or Marx (atsa some joke, huh boss?)

The same problem is multiplied by a thousand in Salvador Dali’s Marx scenario, GIRAFFES ON HORSEBACK SALAD. Two animals for the price of one. But not a common phrase or saying, except perhaps in the Dali household. It’s understandable that Dali, a Spaniard, may have misunderstood “horse feathers” and “animal crackers” as pieces of surreal word salad, which they sort of are, but they were also pre-existing expressions which the domestic audience understood.

But the title is merely a clue to the full-blown insanity of Dali’s vision. And while that may sound mouth-watering, most commentators have concluded that surrounding the Marx Bros with an UN CHIEN ANDALOU world already chaotic and surreal would render them redundant, with nothing left to disrupt.

This image derives from a graphic novel adaptation, and you can listen to a subsequently-produced audio version here, for money.

Much, much later, Billy Wilder contemplated A NIGHT AT THE UNITED NATIONS. The title here places the project in the later MGM tradition though I doubt Wilder would have filled the movie with songs. The concept of positioning the Brothers in the context of international politics does smack promisingly of DUCK SOUP though. It would be untrue to say that the gags would write themselves — but I believe Wilder could write them. I’d love to see Chico working as a simultaneous translator. And then Harpo taking over.

Wilder never made a film built around an actual movie clown — his comedies are built around thespians with comedic chops. He uses Marilyn Monroe a little bit like a clown, and Jimmy Cagney as an icon whose famous moments he can built jokes around, but mostly his characters are not totally dependent on casting choices. He did try to work with Peter Sellers, twice, but Sellers had neither persona nor, he claimed, personality.

Wilder did also want to make a film with Laurel & Hardy — he got as far as planning an opening showing them sleeping rough in the last two Os of the HOLLYWOOD sign. So clownwork was something he had an interest in. But I suspect the collaborations would have been fraught. Stan liked to be in charge, and Groucho eventually kicked Wilder out of his house after receiving one too many lectures on the right wine to serve with dinner. (This is all from Maurice Zolotow’s semi-reliable Wilder bio.) It would have been like Preston Sturges and Harold Lloyd trying to collaborate, and finding their mutual respect could not overcome their need to be true to their individual comic muses.