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Federico Fellini

Review: Roma

[Originally published in Movietone News 23, May-June 1973]

Roma is a product of Fellini’s self-indulgence. He puts everything he’s loved about Rome, and himself, upon the screen, in semi-documentary style, with the only unifying factor being a weak autobiographical framework. It’s like a big home movie shot by lovingly nostalgic professionals. The color is exquisite, and many of the individual segments are unforgettable. For instance, at one point we’re treated to an ecclesiastical fashion show, complete with red-carpeted runway, announcer, lively organ music, and increasingly fantastic outfits modeled by nuns, priests, bishops, and a pope (whose robe comes with flashing lights). During scenes of Rome of thirty years ago, a rather insipidly handsome actor plays Fellini as a young man, making his way through lusty dinners in a piazza and even lustier evenings in whorehouses. There’s a graceful transition from past to present in the film—showing much of the director and his crew in the later parts—ending in a nocturnal zoom through the city by a motorcycle gang. Apocalyptic? Who knows? Fellini never gets further than suggesting bits of meaning; one gets the impression that that isn’t his point. Unfortunately, nothing seems to be his point, less so than in The Clowns, Roma, a conglomeration of episodes—visually fascinating as they may be—leaves even seasoned Fellini lovers a little cold.

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Review: We All Loved Each Other So Much

[Originally published in The Weekly, October 12, 1977]

The Pizza Triangle opens with an all-male reenactment of a crime of passion before a judge and jury. Everything else but the final scene is flashback, a reconstruction of the cockeyed lovelife of a bungling leftist, a streetwalker, and the protestor’s best buddy, a pizza chef. The prostitute first sees the protestor while she is riding in a delirious, fluorescently colorful circle above a makeshift amusement park; he is lying on some rubble. She disembarks, walks over to him, and kisses him back to life. They become a couple. She meets the buddy. Everyone is friends for a while. Then she and the buddy make love. Alliances form, shift, realign. Everyone gets older. The three inadvertently meet again after time has passed and the girl and buddy have married. There is a clumsy fight, fully as graceless and absurd as—and much more moving than—its comic reenactment; the original is funny, too, but the woman ends up dead.”

That’s from a review I wrote six-and-a-half years ago. You’re reading it now because Ettore Scola, the director of that idiosyncratic 1970 comedy, is the guy who made We All Loved Each Other So Much, and because I was struck, upon rereading the piece, how true it also seems of the newer film. Make it a girl and three men instead of two, expand the time frame by a couple decades, change the lethal reunion into a self-designated “ambiguous conclusion” wherein three old friends discover a fourth is not what he pretended to be, and you have much the same film, in style, essential scenario, and sadly comic spirit.

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Review: ‘Amarcord’

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

“I remember.” Perhaps that’s slightly misleading if you regard memory as purely objective recollection, which this movie obviously isn’t. And yet, no matter how strong Fellini’s tendency toward dissociation of events, scenes, etc. on any sort of rational level may be, I think Amarcord is finally more “together” than its temporal and narrative drift through this brightly colored cross-section of Fellini’s memory and imagination might indicate. People seem to come and go as they please, but after a while one is aware that more or less the same people are doing the coming and the going. In any crowded scene, just let your eyes drift toward whatever part of the frame the gravity of Fellini’s mise-en-scène seems to be pulling them, and you will see a face that looks familiar. No scene is impersonal in the sense of being just a crowd scene, and it might even be argued that the people who appear to be most especially cherished by Fellini are often those on the periphery of the milieu: the old man who recites his poem about bricks, the blind accordion player who fairly oozes an ecstatic agony as he pours his soulful melancholia onto the sidewalk, the whore Volpina who scurries catlike along walls and through dark alleys licking her lips in sexual anticipation, the thirty-ish, fading-but-yet-to-blossom Gradisca whose dreams are realized at the end of the movie when she at last finds her Gary Cooper (as the self-styled Ronald Colman points out in a toast to the newlyweds). Winding his way around this hub of eminently Felliniesque citizenry, travelling through murky labyrinths of time and space, Fellini finally winds up in control of the situation, having in the process integrated his sequences into an organic cycle which encompasses the movement of the entire film and which, by extrapolation, is molded by forces outside Fellini’s cinematic universe: seasons, life, death, youth, love, even madness.

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Send in ‘The Clowns’

Federico Fellini’s ‘The Clowns’

Federico Fellini loves his clowns. They are the stars of La Strada, part of the sideshow of 8 ½, and revelers in the dreamscape world of Juliet of the Spirits, and those are just the literal incarnations in whiteface and costumes. You find their cousins in Il Bidone and The White Sheik and the circus spirit in the society sideshows of La Dolce Vita and the flights of creative fantasy in 8 ½. He loved to cast clowns in his supporting casts and directed one of Italy’s great clowns in his movies: Polido (aka Ferdinand Guillaume), who played Pagliaccio in La Dolce Vita and appeared in Nights of Cabiria (as a monk), 8 ½, and Toby Dammit (Fellini’s section of Spirits of the Dead). The Clowns, directed for Italian TV (where it debuted on Christmas Eve, 1970) and subsequently released in theaters, is his celebration of these modern jesters.

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Off the Beach: Fellini Satyricon

Fellini has been widely perceived as a moralist, ruthlessly portraying the corruption he saw around him in the social, political, and cultural flounderings of postwar Italy. But to regard him as a sometimes appreciative but more often critical observer of his world is to see only half the puzzle—the less interesting half. For Fellini always knew that he was part of the world he beheld, and what haunted him most was the impossibility of objectivity. The quasi-documentary approach of neorealist film-making became meaningful—and honest—only in combination with the self-examination more commonly associated with expressionism.

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Fellini Satyricon: Bodies as landscape

La dolce vita and 8½, still for most viewers the two jewels in Fellini’s crown, present unapologetic self-portraits of the director at two stages of his creative life: the passionate would-be novelist, underemployed as a gossip reporter, unable to avoid becoming what he beheld; and the celebrated film director struggling to reconcile his creative visions with the expectations of an increasingly demanding public and to find common ground between his personal life and his public image. They also reflect a pivotal two-step process by which Fellini moves away from the linear neorealism of his earlier work and toward the surreal episodic narrative form that to one degree or another informs all of his later work.

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