Archive for Inspiring Fellini: Literary Collaborations Behind the Scenes

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…