Archive for La Dolce Vita

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.

The charity shops are open again

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2020 by dcairns

My favourite is St Columba’s Bookstore.

Kevin Brownlow’s book on Gance’s NAPOLEON is amazing — the wealth of stills, and detail. Breathtaking.

Maybe I’d see The Autobiography of British Cinema about in the past but hadn’t looked into it because I didn’t know what it was. It’s collected interviews in fact, with everyone from John Addison to Freddie Young. Lovely for dipping into. Here’s Wendy Hiller:

“Carol Reed was not an intellectual, he saw life entirely visually, through little squares, as did David Lean.”

Here’s Thora Hird, in her eighties (most of her stuff is grumbling about early mornings):

“I liked working with Larry [Olivier] because we got on well, but there were little things about him that annoyed me. For a start, if I had to do complimentaries (standing off-camera giving him my lines while the took his close-ups), I would have to be in at eight-thirty in the morning for make-up because Larry insisted everyone be in character, even if they weren’t on camera. I asked him about it, and he told me he couldn’t act to the character if he was looking at meas me. I told him that everyone thought he could have done the scene without me even being there.”

Thora also says that she calls all her directors “Mr. De Grunwald,” “and they know I do it with respect.”

Glenn Mitchell’s A – Z of Silent Cinema is terrific. I had the feeling it might be useful sometime, also.

Charlton Heston’s memoir might also be useful for a potential upcoming project, but is interesting anyway. He seems like a dick, though.

Goddamn this War! is a WWI epic graphic novel by Jacques Tardi. Extremely grim and exhausting, but remarkable.

David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson’s Film History is sure to come in handy as well as being a readable and awe-inspiringly comprehensive work. I bought it because I’d never encountered the Sergio Leone quote where he calls Ennio Morricone “my scriptwriter.”

Three short stories by Shirley Jackson which I was almost certain I already owned in another collection, but the book was 50p and it turns out I was wrong. Read two last night and they’re excellent, of course.

Richard Schickel’s Conversations with Scorsese is fine and all, and covers stuff not in my copy of Scorsese on Scorsese. There are lots of bits where MS says something intriguing and I was rooting for RS to press him for more detail. No such luck.

Thurber’s Dogs. No explanation required, I assume.

Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diaries — I love Riddley Walker and liked several of his late books and am intrigued. Saw Ben Kingsley talk about making the film version once. Great talker, that man.

Irish Ghost Stories is tremendously fat, and has a very large amount of Sheridan LeFanu in it, which is no bad thing.

Movies: I hesitated about THE TRAIN on Blu-ray as I own a DVD but it’s a fine-looking film and the sterling array of extras provided by Arrow decided me. I didn’t hesitate on THE WILD BUNCH. I thought I owned THE ILLUSIONIST but didn’t, so now I do. TO THE SEA AND THE LAND BEYOND seems epic, and Penny Woolcock is revered among documentarists so I should check it out: the BFI provides quirky extras. THE WRONG BOX isn’t altogether satisfying but has great bits. I had an old DVD of LA DOLCE VITA in the wrong ratio so this is an upgrade.

Now I just have to find time to consume this stuff.

Moonstruck

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 29, 2020 by dcairns

Annually, as the Late Films Blogathon approaches, I contemplate watching Fellini’s final feature, VOICE OF THE MOON, along with Kurosawa’s MADADAYO, and annually I fail to do so. I think I’ve been anxious lest I dislike the valedictory films of two favourite auteurs. I have actually started watching both movies and then ducked out, not quite feeling up to the challenge.

So when David Wingrove got in touch to say he was seeing the FF film as part of the Fellini 100 season at Edinburgh Filmhouse (and elsewhere — check listings for details), I seized the chance to commit myself, if you’ll pardon the expression. At the prices Filmhouse is compelled to charge, I wasn’t likely to walk out on it, so, come hell or high water, both of which admittedly seem likelier by the hour, I was going to see this film. Get it watched. When I watch a film, it stays watched. I hope.

It unfolds like a dream. I was convinced at first that it was just going to be a series of interwoven dream narratives, that Fellini would one-up Kurosawa by not TELLING us that it’s dreams…

Roberto Benigni, pleasingly muted by his standards, plays Ivo Salvini, both a Fellini surrogate (droopy scarf, flashbacks to childhood) and a care-in-the-community village lunatic, wandering around a small town for a night, a day and a night. Paolo Villaggio plays an equally deranged former politician, and seems another stand-in for the director with his broad face and coat slung over his shoulders.

Everybody our wandering lunatic meets seems to be a fellow madman. That must be what it’s like: nobody makes sense, everybody is pursuing incomprehensible obsessions. Not coincidentally, that’s also what it’s like when you are a child. “Damned are those who understand,” says the moon.

There’s a workman who dreams of dragging the moon down to Earth with a special crane and an unlucky-in-love character (another former inmate?) who wants to dance on it. Ivo just talks to it, which leads to him climbing into wells, to the danger of his life. He’s a relatively mild case, by the standards of this town.

In the tiny Filmhouse 3 there was a woman behind me laughing very heartily at jokes that might otherwise have passed me by. Her full-throated appreciation really lifted the movie. Maybe she’s mad too? Maybe we all are. Sample laugh-getter:

A local man has started his own village TV station.

“It’s called CIP. C is for Constanza, my wife, I is for Irena my eldest daughter, P is for Patrizia my dear sister.”

“And what about you, ma’am, are you proud of your husband?”

“NO! The idiot could have bought a zoo with that money!”

Maybe you had to be there, or dream that you were. But the maestro had not lost his knack of producing really good jokes out of surprising settings.

Some credit the source novel, by Ermanno Cavazzoni, who also collaborated on the script with FF and regular scribe Tullio Pinelli, with pushing Fellini out of his comfort zone so the movie isn’t a rehash of old imagery, as arguably GINGER AND FRED and INTERVISTA are (and Fellini was accused of simply warming over the same old stuff as far back as JULIETTE OF THE SPIRITS, an accusation I don’t agree with). On the other hand, to me a lot of the pleasure was that it WAS archetypal Fellini. The more it felt like Fellini, the better I liked it. Can’t understand anyone NOT liking it.

Fellini’s difficulty is that, after NIGHTS OF CABIRIA I guess I’d date it to, Fellini moved away from “regular” structured stories with “conventional” emotional catharses — having gotten really, really good at them. LA DOLCE VITA takes the title of CABIRIA literally — it’s a series of nights, it could be called NIGHTS OF MARCELLO. EIGHT AND A HALF has a story and a form but they’re not quite revealed while you’re watching. And then it gets more and more abstract. Without a structure you can set your watch by (a big reason three-act things are so common is simply that they’re so common, so you can tell after feeling you’ve been in your seat half an hour [not counting ads and trailers] that the first act just happened), without a clearly stated narrative goal, Fellini has to keep us engaged IN THE MOMENT, without using pressing questions about What will happen next? Will our hero succeed? Whodunnit? So if his invention flags for an instant, if what we’re watching right now isn’t wondrous strange, we can disengage and it’s going to take a big fish washed up or a Papal fashion show to get us back in.

VOICE OF THE MOON didn’t quite hold me throughout, even with a vague hero’s quest narrative shuffled into the mix, but I stayed focussed because the good bits were so good I didn’t want to miss any, even with my insomnia meds making me drowsy…

With Tonino Della Colli shooting and Dante Ferretti designing, VOTM has sequences that recapture the feel of classic Fellini, though sadly without Nino Rota. As last films go, better than POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES. I’m glad I returned to the well with the Maestro.

“You do not understand?” says the Moon. “Even better! Woe to him who understands!”