Archive for Nino Rota

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!”

Queen Christina Rides Again

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2012 by dcairns

Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth!), left.

Anthony Harvey is best known for his James Goldman adaptations, THE LION IN WINTER and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. Both are strong texts with excellent casts, but never felt very filmic to me. Harvey, a former editor, achieved some neat cutting effects but the feeling of “filmed play”, or even “televized play”, hung over the proceedings. I still like them, though.

DUTCHMAN, his first movie, is eminently theatrical but incredibly, electrifyingly powerful in what has to be called a “cinematic” way at the same time, despite being confined entirely to a single subway train carriage. More on that here.

THE ABDICATION, lavishly staged in Italy and shot by Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, CABARET, TESS) takes a play by Ruth Wolff that’s virtually a two-hander, and explodes it with grandiose settings, expressive, almost flashy editing, flashbacks, and a lush Nino Rota score. It could have been overpowering, but I think it achieves a kind of balance.

It’s the story of Queen Christina (“the great Svenska dyke,” as Peter O’Toole put it) after her abdication, as she attempts to convince a cardinal (Peter Finch) that her conversion to Catholicism is sincere. This turns into a sort of psychotherapy session during which she falls in love with her interrogator, tipping her hand with the gift of an inappropriate porn goblet ~

Liv actually seems to be having fun with the material, and the literate script delivers both snappy, rhythmic exchanges of the kind that can feel too artificial onscreen if you’re not careful, and more languid speeches that let things breathe. When Liv has a breakdown in flashback, pressing herself against a wall in terror, we’re close to Bergman terrain, but the style, all widescreen, fog filters, golden lens flare and surging montage, is the very opposite.

Here, Unsworth’s vaseline smears convert the sun’s rays to a weird gold slash, rather unlike anything found in nature — a striking effect, for sure. The movie is almost TOO beautiful, and anybody who has a resistance to David Lean type grandeur would probably find it hard to take. We rather loved it.

Film Club April: The White Sheik

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2010 by dcairns

It’s eight forty-five on Wednesday 31st March and I’m finally sitting down to write about Fellini’s THE WHITE SHEIK. And by the way, the April Impossible Film Quiz will appear tomorrow morning.

The movie starts with a blast of Nino Rota. “This music?” asks Fiona. “They reused it?” I explain that Nino Rota’s various Fellini scores all sound like circus music but that this isn’t the theme from EIGHT AND A HALF. If you have a collected Fellini scores album (I have two or three), they do tend to blur together. Which isn’t intended as a knock. If you ever go to the Cannes Film Festival you absolutely must have this music on your MP3 player. The first time I was there I was lucky enough to find a cassette for sale for 30 francs in the market place, and the connection was cemented.

But this is the first ever Fellini-Rota collaboration, and thus momentous. Rota’s death in 1979 tore a hole in Fellini’s screen world, although it’s nice to see his later, post-Rota films garnering more appreciation now than they did at the time of release.

It’s amazing the way this film prefigures the rest of Fellini’s career, while still remaining a modest comedy with no great pretensions. The concern with low-grade showbiz activity, already introduced in the co-directed VARIETY LIGHTS, which will culminate in GINGER AND FRED (Berlusconi-era TV is the only form of showbiz not to be looked upon kindly by Fellini), is already present. We get traveling shots past Roman fountains and monuments, which will eventually make up about ten minutes of ROMA. We get a tracking shot past a man asleep in bed, which is reiterated four or five times at the close of I VITELLONI (Fellini’s first hit, which rescued his career after this movie tanked). Somebody says, “…and the ship sails on.” And we get Giulietta Masina as Cabiria, who will famously return in her own movie.

Vittorio DeSica, speaking of his matinee idol days, said he was so handsome that women would leave their husbands on their honeymoons and seek him out. So either DeSica saw this movie and borrowed the idea, or he said this in the 50s and Fellini swiped the notion for his screenplay (co-authored with regular collabs Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano, plus Antonioni). Wanda (Brunella Bovo — whom Fiona calls “The Italian Jessica Harper”) ditches her pompous and controlling new spouse (Leopoldo Trieste, popping his eyes like Mantan Moreland) in order to meet her beloved White Sheik, star of the fumetti.

Alberto Sordi is fantastically pasty and flaccid as the Sheik, Fernando Rivolli. I assumed this was a Fellini joke, where the Valentino figure is a grotesque, but Sordi did play some straight leading man roles (as in I TRE VOLTI) without any apparent irony, so maybe I’m wrong, and he was considered some kind of catch.  His tight trousers expose the proportions of his thighs, like overstuffed sausages, to unappetizing effect. And his arse is a colossus. But I think Fellini is on top of this — as a good cartoonist, he tends to reveal character through appearance (leading to later accusations of Manicheanism). So the fact that Sordi’s sleazy actor is a sleazy actor is obvious to us long before Wanda realizes it, and that’s OK.

The movie follows two parallel lines, with Wanda’s adventure with Sordi and his crew intercut with Trieste’s efforts to conceal her absence from his family. Through his comical misery, Trieste gradually gains a bit of sympathy, having started as an insufferable prig (and not being the most prepossessing fellow). Wanda gets sympathy mainly by being sweet and cute, and by the romantic and essentially innocent nature of her quest.

All the supporting players are starry-wonderful, like the dyspeptic policeman who considers Trieste crazy, and the hotel manager who keeps trying to interest him in postcards.

For those of you watching the Optimum Releasing Region 2 DVD — isn’t the sound quality terrible? Every time there’s quiet dialogue or music it sounds as if it’s simultaneously underwater and on fire. And yet the louder stuff sounds OK — I suspect the intervention of incorrectly calibrated digital technology, but I’m no expert. Maybe the film needs restoration — or maybe Optimum’s notoriously slack quality control is playing up again (if you’re ever searching for a truncated cut of a celebrated film, however obscure the mutilated version, the chances are Optimum will have released it.)

I made a point of looking at THE SHEIK and SON OF THE SHEIK too, to see if Fellini actually drew anything specific from them, and in fact, the much more sophisticated SOTS (with a credit for “turbulent music” and production design by William Cameron Menzies) has one composition which does strongly resemble a key shot in Fellini’s movie, at what Fiona called “the world’s most pathetic suicide attempt,” when Wanda throws herself into the Tiber but picks an unfortunately shallow spot, her sitting position recalls a shot of Vilma Banky which I’m unfortunately unable to screen-grab.

The fumetti makers are of course a film crew in all but name, and probably a bit more elaborate in their set-up than any real photo-strip creators (I certainly can’t imagine the artists of Jackie magazine having such an infrastructure). The fast montage of stills being taken — with no apparent story discernible, just a pop-art collage of faux-twenties romantic exotica — is the cinematic high point of the movie, as well as the only but with any relationship to Antonioni, although it’s ten times more Felliniesque. Actually, the failed suicide recalls Antonioni’s episode of AMORE IN CITTA, released the following year, but only very dimly.

(There’s a lovely story about Orson Welles shooting DON QUIXOTE in Italy, while simultaneously directing his own scenes in DAVID AND GOLIATH. Leading his crew on donkeys up a weird rocky promontory, Welles was not in the least dismayed to find a fumetti crew already set up at the summit, right in the path of his shot. These denizens of an inferior form of art were apparently beneath the range of Welles’s lofty perceptions, so he carried on setting up as if they weren’t there — and by the time he was set up, they’d duly gone.)

Despite the humour of Fellini’s work, and his past as co-proprietor of the Funny Face Shop, selling caricatures to American servicemen (one customer, Sam Fuller, wrote, “He’s made better pictures since.”), FF didn’t make many pure comedies, and his next few movies swing closer to tragedy, so this is a slightly unusual mode for him. He uses dramatic techniques to amp up the comedy, as in the fast cuts of expectant faces staring at Trieste when he has to flounder about in his own lies, and the POV shots tracking towards his relatives as he approaches them.

It’s a pretty funny film, and the gags are delivered with affection. At the end, when Wanda is reunited with her panic-stricken husband, it’s genuinely touching. First, Fellini threw away most of his dialogue and had Bovo and Trieste communicate in comedy sobs, like a couple of Stan Laurels.

Then, at the Vatican, Bovo discovers that Trieste’s family is very nice, and he kind of realizes it to. “You’re my White Sheik,” she says to him, and he looks briefly perturbed by this new and mysterious responsibility, but he’s recently tested his resilience in new and challenging ways and it seems like he might be up to it, whatever it is.

This has been a delayed, and slightly truncated Film Club, so I promise an epic next time — SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS seems like a film we all have lots to say about, so I’m suggesting that.