Archive for Voice of the Moon

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.


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.


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!”

12 Hungry Films

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2008 by dcairns

Another one I should have listed in the previous post: Kurosawa’s MADADAYO. His final film as director. I loudly bemoaned the fact that it didn’t get a UK release at the time it was made, nor even after A.K.’s death. I was thrilled to finally get a copy. Then I failed to watch it. I look forward to getting Fellini’s last film, VOICE OF THE MOON, also denied a UK release, so I can fail to watch that too.

Here’s my list of films I’m aching to see (although whether I’ll watch them if I find them is apparently doubtful) —

1. THE DIARIES OF MAJOR THOMPSON. Preston Sturges’ last movie, described as “almost defiantly unfunny” by one biographer. But it’s hard to find anybody with a kind word for THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND either, and that one, though not prime Sturges by the furthest stretch of hyperbole, has a fair few laughs.

2. There are lots of Julien Duvivier films unavailable, or unavailable with subtitles. LA BELLE EQUIPE may be the most historically important one. And it’s got Jean Gabin in it.

3. L’AMORE. I’ve yet to really get into Rossellini, so this interests me more for the presence of Cocteau and Fellini as writers, and Fellini as actor. Maybe it would help me appreciate Roberto R.

4. A GIRL IN EVERY PORT. I know Howard Hawks is considered to have really come into his own in the sound era, and especially once the grammar of Hollywood talkies had formalised into the Golden Age of the late thirties and forties, but shouldn’t SOME of his silent work be worth seeing? Particularly this one, which features Louise Brooks as a prototypical Hawksian dame.

5. DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS. Ken Russell’s Richard Strauss film, suppressed by the Strauss estate. Reportedly the most extreme of Mad Ken’s TV films. Soon to be available in the US in a box set of the Great Masturbator’s BBC works. But I probably won’t be able to afford it. NB There are lots of other TV works by the Mastur which I haven’t managed to see either.

(STOP PRESS — apparently it isn’t in the set, despite being listed on Amazon.)

6. PHANTOM. This early Murnau classic is available from Kino, but I can never afford it (or when I can, the prospect of three other films for the same price as this single one always tempts me) and has aired on TCM a few times, but I’ve never managed to get a stateside correspondent to record it. The clips I’ve seen are truly mouth/eye-watering. They turn my eyes into salivating little mouths, is what I mean.

7. I was going to put Victor Sjostrom’s THE OUTLAW AND HIS WIFE, but remembered that I have a fuzzy off-air NTSC VHS of that, so it really belongs on the previous list. Big Victor directed my all-time favourite film, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED. So, in the wake of David Bordwell’s brilliant piece on it, I choose INGEBORG HOLM from way back in 1913.

8. If Duvivier’s availability suffers from an unjustified downgrading of his reputation (as I believe), Robert Siodmak’s obscurity is a mystery. His Hollywood output is mostly obtainable with varying degrees of effort, but the only pre-American work out there appears to be PEOPLE ON SUNDAY and PIEGES, which isn’t exactly “available” but can be had if you know the right people. PIEGES is a dream of a film, a slick thriller that prefigures the American noirs and would be essential to an understanding of the man’s oeuvre. So who knows what else is required viewing? And the post-American period is almost equally underrepresented. I managed to see NIGHTS, WHEN THE DEVIL CAME, and was bowled over by it (a serial killer in Nazi Germany… some subjects may be too striking to actually do badly). DIE RATTEN is considered an important part of post-war German cinema, but you can’t see it. I’d like to.

9. INN OF EVIL. Of course my shame at not having watched THE HUMAN CONDITION yet should preclude my mentioning more Masaki Kobayashi, but this one sounds too enticing. The fact that there are IMDb reviews suggests it is possible to see the thing.

10. THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED. I can’t believe there isn’t a thriving black market trade in copies of this one. Jerry Lewis’s Holocaust movie is something of a legend, its release forestalled by legal disputes, its reputation as the ultimate bad-taste artistic folly fuelled by only rumour and a few witness reports (I like Dan Castellanata as an actor but I don’t necessarily trust him as a film critic). Some of Lewis’s later films are problematic enough even without death camps, but this demands to be seen.

11. Anything at all by Alessandro Blasetti? Or any of the countless Riccardo Freda films that can’t be seen? Mario Bava’s last work, the TV film VENUS OF ILE? The unseen early works of Max Ophüls? There are too many candidates for this penultimate slot.

12. A note of optimism — I’ve longed to see Nick Ray’s films for a very long time, as it’s measured in Scotland. And finally it seems like WE CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN and THE JANITOR are on their way into my feverish clutches, to join the heaps of the great unwatched in my living room.