Archive for Fellini

Short sharp shots

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 31, 2022 by dcairns

Orson Welles said that you should edit in such a way that the really beautiful shots are kept brief. Of course he didn’t always follow this practice himself, but in his montage sequences in THE TRIAL, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT or THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND you can see this in operation. A very brief but breathtaking shot makes the audience take notice, creates a different kind of tension, which has nothing to do with dramatic tension but can work alongside or in place of it: the feeling that if we blink we might miss something wondrous. They go by so fast we snatch at them with our memory banks.

This idea may lie behind Welles’ dislike of Antonioni, who he accused of lingering on things beyond the point they can sustain interest. “Are we going to see her disappear over the horizon? … yes.” It’s not really accurate, but Antonioni does serve up shots that are visually gorgeous and which you get time to appreciate.

Fellini seems to have gotten Welles message. Sometimes, in AMARCORD, he just can’t help himself and a picturesque image will be allowed to just exist, with no immediate threat of a cut to curtail it. But all the images quoted here are only a few seconds at most. Far from subliminal, but fleeting. They make me want a coffee table book. And then I remember that I have one, and it’s NOT ENOUGH. A true Fellini coffee table book would be ten thousand pages deep and smash any coffee table on earth with its weight.

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…