Archive for Eight and a Half

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…

Fellini Vs. Casanova

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2020 by dcairns

Thrilled to publish David Ehrenstein’s appreciation of FELLINI CASANOVA. I should note that I don’t yet have the Blu-ray, so my frame-grabs from the “Hollywood Classics” DVD are a touch hideous.

FELLINI CASANOVA

By David Ehrenstein

Across the course of his peerless career Federico Fellini has produced films both sweet and sour. The “Felliniesque” is cinema at its most bizarre and most moving — often simultaneously as in his primary masterpieces 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita. But sometimes they’re strikingly separate entities. Consider Fellini Casanova — just released as a beautifully produced Kino Lorber blu-ray, replete with a highly informative commentary track by critic Nick Pinkerton.

        Coming right on the heels of Amarcord — arguably the warmest and most convivial of all his works, this meditation on  the life and character of a man whose very name is synoymous with seduction is as cold as the ice featured in its finale. There the anti-hero is seen waltzing on ice skates on a frozen lake with the love of his life — not a woman but a meticulously crafted automaton. Beneath the smooth enamel mask of a face is an actual actress, Leda Lojodice, who goes through her paces so perfectly it’s barely possible to regard her as “real.” This matches Casanova himself as embodied by Donald Sutherland in a performance which, while expert, is a world away from the romantic anti-heroes so memorably embodied by Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s most famous films. Even Terence Stamp in the maestro’s other English-language work Toby Dammit (1968) is more simpatico.

        Outfitted with a prosthetic nose and chin Sutherland is the image of Giacomo Casanova. And Fellini Casanova is nothing but image, rather than individual. The project came to him as a “film de commande” of sorts in the Dino Di Laurentiis, the original producer (he left the project before pre-production got underway and was replaced by Alberto Grimaldi) thought a Fellini film about Casanova would fit perfectly into the then-current trend of sexually semi-explicit “art films” made by such greats as Nagisa Oshima and Pier Paolo Pasolini. But while Fellini’ films have been filled with beautiful women for Marcello to make love to (Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, Barbara Steele and Nico to name just a few) he wasn’t playing the lead here. Sutherland operates from an emotional remove as Casanova — and so does Fellini.

        As Pinkerton explicats as he got into the project Fellini discovered that the “great lover” was someone he didn’t really like. While the youthful anti-heroes of Fellini Satyricon (1970) romped with all and sundry with great elan, Sutherland’s Casanova copulates as if he were drilling into concrete to lay a new pipe for Con Edison. While Margaret Clementi, Tina Aumont and Olympia Carlisi are more than lovely Fellini seems as  removed from them as his anti-hero. Perhaps this proceeds from the problems the film faced when a great number of reels were stolen from the lab during production and had to be reshot. The thieves were fascist thugs looking for Pasolini’s Salo, then in production as well. They thought it was going to expose their current activities. Instead it was a flashback to the Mussolini period. Fellini portrayed that time as curiously convivial in Amarcord. Perhaps Fellini Casanova would have had a lighter tone had this theft not taken place, necessitating his cancelling of a sequence that would have featured Barbara Steele. But what we have is far from cinematically unsatisfying. It’s a  full frontal attack on machismo and male vanity in every form. Fellini may not be able to feel for Casanova as a man but he does feel for the spectators, male and female, who long for this mythical figure of romance as a kind of “role model” however imperfect.

After this Fellini’s City of Women reunites him with Mastroianni and takes up the subject of feminism — a movement Fellini freely admits he cannot comprehend. He loved women and celebrated them throughout his career, but his love isn’t always reciprocal. And in this Fellini may have been closer to Casanova than he suspected. The films that follow, And the Ship Sails On, Ginger and Fred and Intervista are exercises in nostalgia and his last the sadly neglected The Voice of the Moon an exploration of the fantasy life of a”village idiot’ with a perfectly cst Roberto Benigni. It’s quite warm. But those of us who love Fellini may well prefer Casanova’s frozen cold “Replicant” pas de deux.

All Roads Lead to Ruin

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2020 by dcairns

Snorted up two more Luigi Comencini films: the unwieldily titled INFANZIA, VOCAZIONE E PRIME ESPERIANZA DI GIACOMO CASANOVA, VENEZIANO from 1969 and, from ten years later, L’INGORGO.

The former, which I’ll call YOUNG CASANOVA for ease, stars Leonard Whiting, Zefirelli’s Romeo, and as you’d expect some glamorous supporting players, including Senta Berger and Tina Aumont, but as you might NOT expect, also Lionel Stander and Wilfred Brambell, making for some serious WTF imagery.

They’ve found a really close-matching kid to play Casanova as a child, so that the transition to young adulthood is quite smooth, and Giancarlo Giannini of all people dubs Whiting with skill. Despite being sourced from his own words, the film leaves Casanova just as mysterious and inconsistent as Fellini’s deliberately headspinning treatment of the later years — he might be a modern man born too soon, or a complete psychopath.

Lots of good — agonizing — period detail like dental extractions in the street and a fatal operation performed at home with the neighbours watching avidly through the windows. More of that kind of thing, in fact, than this kind of thing ~

The film ends, abruptly, with Casanova’s decision not to enter the priesthood but to instead become a libertine. You wouldn’t have thought it would take him so long to make the choice. Is there much money in libertinage, though? Do you get benefits? (Boy, do you get benefits.)

L’INGORGO is kind of like the traffic jam in WEEKEND expanded to feature length, but it also harkens back to the dream-jam that opens EIGHT AND A HALF — and here comes Marcello Mastroianni, playing a movie star whose limo is caught in the days-long gridlock, to make the connection overt. And a few shots really seem like deliberate callbacks.

Comencini has also acquired all three leads from LES VALSEUSES, Depardieu, Miou-Miou and Patrick Dewaere, plus Annie Girardot, Fernando Rey, and a substantial cross-section of Italian cinema including his fave muckers Alberto Sordi and Ugo Tognazzi. Cross-cutting from one stranded vehicle to another, he paints a portrait of a society, or civilisation, in the final stages of anomie and entropy. It’s an incredible, unpleasant watch. Kind of like a disaster movie where the disaster is purely internal (IN-GORGO)– strangely, it makes stasis seem dramatic, if stifling. Great music, too, by Fiorenzo Carpi — it captures things I remember feeling as a kid in 1979 — dismal, dirty things. Not that I don’t feel that way now.

It’s got a pretty good ending — as desperate and despairing as the rest. Endings seem to give Comencini trouble, but once in a while he comes up with a banger.

INFANZIA, VOCAZIONE E PRIME ESPERIANZA DI GIACOMO CASANOVA, VENEZIANO stars Romeo; Lucrezia Borgia; The Guru Brahmin; Czar Peter III; Paul’s Grandfather; Carmen; Teresa Santiago; and the voice of Rene Mathis.

L’INGORGO stars Lt. Alberto Innocenzi; Niobe; Don Lope; Pierrot; Conchita; Ludwig II; Guido Anselmi; Giulia Clerici; Mark Hand; Nicole Kunstler; and Cyrano de Bergerac.