Archive for Ennio Flaiano

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…

Church and State

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2022 by dcairns

OK, I’m on a Damiano Damiani kick now, so impressed was I by BULLET FOR THE GENERAL. And having liked IL STREGHE in the past. Encountering him via his unsuccessful collaboration with Leone was a false start, and misleading — he’s not a sub-Leone figure like Tonino Valerii, he’s his own artist, which is why they couldn’t work together. I’ll postpone his mafiosi and politziotteschi films a bit as I hoover up some outliers.

THE TEMPTER aka THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN aka IL SORRISO DEL GRANDE TENTATORE (1974) seemed like it was going to be a consolation prize for Glenda Jackson walking away from THE DEVILS after finding out the scene where Sister Jeanne’s severed head is worshipped after her death had been cut from the script, or an EXORCIST knock-off (the first?). It was a sensational, nutzoid Ennio Morricone score which does give it a groovy exploitation feel, but as often with this filmmaker, there’s something else going on.

What it really resembles most is ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. But Jackson’s Sister Geraldine is, though quietly malevolent, also a more complex and sympathetic character than dead-eyed psycho Nurse Ratched, and Damiani’s film eschews misogyny. Sister G is running a hideway for problematic persons — a Polish priest who collaborated with the Nazis, a Prince in love with his own sister, a Bolivian woman who arranged her torturer husband’s assassination, a Cuban priest too sympathetic to communism. Forbidden by the church from conducting confessions, she exerts her power through vicious group therapy sessions…

Claudio Cassinelli is an interloper, a young writer hired to help the Pole (Arnoldo Foà) with his exculpatory memoir. Sister Geraldine comes to regard him as the tempter… we may have similar suspicions of her. In fact, the only quasi-supernatural element is a shadow glimpsed in the chapel at a fraught moment.

Designed by Umberto Turco, the film looks amazing (but badly needs a restoration/transfer) mostly confined to this weird marble living tomb — a good self-isolation movie if you need one. Damiani had been a designer himself, and one way the film does resemble THE DEVILS is in its look — specifically it reminds me of the papal library, ironically one of the few location scenes in that film — Derek Jarman repurposed what was actually a prison.

THE TEMPTER stars Gudrun Brangwen; Jesus; Lizzie Kavanaugh; Emilio Largo; Johnny Spanish; Inspector A; Federico Arturo Von Homburg; and Goya.

THE INQUIRY aka L’INCHIESTA (1987) has a plot that sounds like a good airport novel: in the early years of persecuted Christianity, a Roman consul is tasked with locating the missing body of Christ. Soon put a stop to this resurrection nonsense. And the story is by two greats, Ennio Flaiano (EIGHT AND A HALF) and Suso Cecchi D’Amico (THE LEOPARD).

Keith Carradine is Tito Valerio Tauro and Harvey Keitel is Pilate. A year later he would be Judas for Scorsese. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride… Phyllis Logan is Mrs. Pilate and Sal Borgese turns up to add an echo of spaghetti western days.

It’s a riveting detective drama with a classical history setting. “Ay, Jesus, whaddaya doin’ makin’ crosses for da Romans?” is how a friend caricatured Keitel’s performance in LAST TEMPTATION. It never bothered me, the American accents. Carradine seems to sense that his Californian drawl could be a problem, and tries to smuggle in some Anglo vowels, which is mostly distracting. He still pronounces “stupidly” as “stoopidly.”

A good rule might have been to cast Americans as Romans and Italians as everyone else, but things get a bit mixed up. It doesn’t really do to get religious about these things: cast good actors in roles that suit them and all will be well.

As the investigation goes on, things get intriguing — could Christ have faked his own death? — the Laughing Jesus Heresy (my favourite!) is hinted at, and a miraculous catalepsy-inducing drug is tested — then things get crazy and mystical. Damiani, a Marxist apparently, is perhaps mainly interested in how old power structures can be destabilised by new ideas — Tiberius is right to be worried! — but the Bible stories still exert a hold. Travelling into the wilderness at risk of his life — deep undercover — Keithus Carradinus is at first mistaken for the Messiah — shades of LIFE OF BRIAN — and then momentarily becomes convinced he IS him. Offers to cure a leper or two. “What am I saying? get away from me!”

THE INQUIRY stars Will Rogers; Judas; Lady Jane Felsham; Lucky Luciano; Anna Magnani; Messala; and Henchman.

The ’68 Comeback Special: I Protagonisti

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2014 by dcairns

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While the Brits deluged Cannes ’68 with swinging psychedelic romps, the Italians seemed to specialize in genre films with political subtexts — certainly the late Carlo Lizzani (he took a header off his balcony, aged 91, shortly after I wrote an appreciation of his BANDITI A MILANO and commented approvingly on the longevity of his career) was fond of tying social commentary to thriller or western stories, and something similar seems to have animated Marcello Fondato, director and co-author (with the great Ennio Flaiano, Fellini’s regular writer up until EIGHT AND A HALF) when he made I PROTAGONISTI.

A group of tourists in Sardinia is invited, for a substantial fee, to drive into the wilderness and meet a real bandit. The thrill-starved modern civilized types can’t wait to pose for photographs with this exotic barbarian, so they pile into a car and take to the hills, followed without their knowledge by the local police commissar and a zealous division of troops, all hoping to take down the districts most wanted man, and more or less happy to use the dumb tourists as bait.

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All of this is curious enough, decently shot amid parched landscapes, and jauntily scored by Luis Bacalov, and with an attractive cast impersonating the unattractive, shallow characters, who might be more at home in a giallo, where they could get sliced to pieces for our amusement. Sylva Koscina and Pamela Tiffin provide female glamour, and Jean Sorel the male side. Lou Castel, the hunky bandit, is a man who would have had a busy Cannes if either of his two entries (this and GRAZIE, ZIA, previously reviewed in horror by Scout) had actually screened.

Fondato was one of several directors who had they debut feature scheduled to screen at Cannes — one does rather sympathise with those who protested that it was all very well for Godard and Truffaut to try to shut down the festival — they’d already had their careers launched. Fondato managed six more features, mostly comedies (classy affairs, featuring Claudia Cardinale, Monica Vitti and, er, Terence Hill & Bud Spencer).

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If I PROTAGONISTI isn’t ultimately as striking and impressive as it means to be, it’s perhaps because the shallow characters remain protagonists — they don’t implicate the audience, since we can feel comfortably superior to them at all times. Pam Tiffin plays an “independent woman” proud of relying on no man, but she’s borrowed the money from one of the others in order to make this trip. There’s sexual tension galore as all the men want to seduce both the women. Corrupt business practices are suggested in the background of one character. It doesn’t quite add up to a cross-section of the modern malaise, but you sense that’s the intention.

Still, the picture moves well, with typical Italian flare, and one set-piece, a headlong downhill foot chase, is both gripping and powerfully dynamic — the sheer unflagging momentum and duration have you wondering how much more intense can this possibly get, how much longer can it possibly go on?