Tag Archives: Rome

263. ROMA (1972)

AKA Fellini’s Roma

“Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city.”–Anatole Broyard

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Gonzales Falcon

PLOT: Roma is a series of vignettes, some relatively realistic and some fantastic, about the city of Rome. The closest thing to a plot are the scenes involving Fellini himself, who dreams about the city as a young man, comes there as a teen, and then is seen making a movie about the city as an adult. Other segments involve a bawdy street meal, a vaudeville show during World War II, modern hippies drifting through Rome, a pair of brothels, and the infamous ecclesiastical fashion show.

Still from Roma (1972)

BACKGROUND:

  • Fellini came to Rome from Rimini as an 18-year old to go to law school, although he quickly abandoned that pretense to pursue an artistic career path. Although it seems clear that Fellini means for the young provincial boy who dreams of Rome and the young man who steps off the train and into a Roman pensione to be his stand-ins, the director never makes this explicit. United Artists asked for voiceover narration to make this identification clear in the version that played in the U.S.
  • The film was shortened by nine minutes (to a running time of two hours) for its international release, and some changes were made for different markets. Slightly different cuts have circulated for years, and there is no restored print of the original Italian version, although the extra footage survives in workprints. Among the deleted scenes was one where appeared as himself.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The star image here could not be something other than an offering from the ecclesiastical fashion show. Candidates include the bishops’ uniforms with blinking stained glass patterns and a shrouded skeletal “memento mori” carriage that carries up the end of the procession. We’ll select the grand finale, the appearance of a glowing, flying Pope cast as a pagan sun god, with electronic sunbeams streaming behind his beatifically beaming countenance.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Horse on the highway; fading frescoes; light-up miter

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The speedy editing of the U.S. release trailer misleadingly emphasizes the decadent aspects of Fellini’s Roma, making it look like a trippy sequel to Satyricon for the college midnight movie crowd. In truth, while Roma is experimental and disorientingly non-linear, it’s greatly restrained compared to its psychedelic predecessor. Most of the sequences are only subtly strange, pitched in the almost realistic register of Fellini’s next film, Amarcord. Or at least, that’s the case up until the fashion show, when Fellini ignites the film with a surreal, blasphemous brand. This grand vaudeville sequence, which lasts over 15 minutes, catapults the film from a borderline curiosity from an innovative master to an acknowledged staple of the weird canon.


American release trailer for Roma

COMMENTS: Rome is the eternal city, once the seat of Europe’s Continue reading 263. ROMA (1972)

FELLINI’S ROMA (1972)

“The name in the title doesn’t seem conceited or affected, as it might from another director (Peckinpah’s Albuquerque?) This is Fellini’s Rome and nobody else’s, just as all of his films since La Dolce Vita have been autobiographical musings and confessions from the most personal, and the, best director of his time.”–Roger Ebert.

Despite taking the prize at Cannes, Roma (1972) has often fallen under the radar among ‘s oeuvre and it has been dismissed, by some, as the director at the apex of his “self-indulgence”—code for “non-linearity.”

One might see Roma as a private scrapbook containing overstuffed images cut out with dull scissors. Too much glue is used and it oozes out from behind pictures, making the pages stick together and tear. Naturally, it has far more personality than anything done by a professional scrapbooker, despite not being a complete success. Fellini’s Roma is so personally visual that the dialogue is intrusive.

Fellini inserts himself into the film, played as a young man out of time in 1939 by Peter Gonzales, adorned in white. The director prophetically steps in himself to personify his later self in 1972, but acts opposite no one, merely ushering us into his gaudy compositions, purposefully taking us nowhere.

The narrative as tainted whisper follows Fellini through fantasy page after fantasy page of his Roman imagery and we quickly realize this is a metropolis seen through a celestial lens. Expectedly, the director’s interpretation of “celestial” involves high camp, calmly fusing the erotic with the pious as if it is the most pragmatic marriage since ravioli and cheese. In typical Fellini fashion, Magdalena, the erroneously-labeled garish whore, symbolizes Rome herself.

Still from Fellini's Roma (1972)Through a series of evocative vignettes Fellini, overwhelmed with wistful sights (courtesy Director of Photography Giuseppe Rotunno) including a majestic traffic jam encircling the coliseums in an infernal rain storm, visits a brusque vaudeville show and frequents both underground and chic bordellos. Designer Danilo Donati and set director Andrea Fantacci alchemically fashion a voguish parochial pageant with skating padres and nuns adorned like Christmas trees.

Fellini, unlike , is able to express anti-clerical sentiments without provoking religious institutions, perhaps because of his ability to transform what on the surface would seem banal into something majestic. Additionally, Fellini, despite the primordial excesses, locates the maternity of Rome. She casts a  spell on her sons.

Composer Nino Rota’s score is among his most majestic, romantically ranging from folk music through 1940s big band sounds and, finally, ecstatically echoing the loud, tainted 70s with apocalyptic air raid sirens. In addition to the sounds, we are inundated with visions of groped, fleshy backsides and the smells of food gorging.

Princesses and popes of the past give way to bohemian ideology (a young Elvira—AKA Cassandra Peterson—is one of the beatniks) with Fellini and film crew vapidly chasing down Gore Vidal for an interview. The cameos, in the second half of the film, are jarringly out of place. Aptly, there are no standout performances, except for Fellini himself. The contrast between Rome of past and present is alternately phantasmagoric and obscure.

As we come to the final mercurial pages of Fellini’s Roma sketch-like scrapbook, we find the pulse of his requiem valentine to his sooty mother city seen through the rear-view mirrors of departing, spectral choppers.

110. FELLINI SATYRICON (1969)

AKA Satyricon; The Degenerates

“…to eliminate the borderline between dream and imagination; to invent everything and then to objectify the fantasy; to get some distance from it in order to explore it as something all of a piece and unknowable.”–Federico Fellini on his motives for adapting Petronius’ Satyricon

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Martin Potter, Max Born, Hiram Keller, Mario Romagnoli

PLOT: Two students, Encolpio and Ascilto, argue over their dual ownership of the handsome slave boy Giton, whom Encolpio loves and Ascilto has sold. Encolpio seeks Giton through a series of adventures that take him across the ancient Roman world, encountering a pompous actor, a wealthy merchant who holds nightly orgies and fancies himself a poet, unscrupulous slavers, and other long dead satirical targets. Eventually Encolpio becomes involved in a plot to kidnap an albino hermaphrodite demigod, is cursed with impotence, and seeks the services of a witch.

Still from Fellini Satyricon (1969)

BACKGROUND:

  • Petronius wrote the rambling, erotic, and highly literary “Satyricon” during the reign of Emperor Nero, 1st Century A.D. It is sometimes considered the world’s oldest surviving novel.
  • The original Roman satire survives only in fragments, which explains the often incoherent nature of the story in Fellini’s movie. Fellini invented a few small details (and one major one, in the hermaphrodite character who replaces the penis-god Priapus’ role in the story) to bridge gaps or help the story flow in the direction he wanted to. The director refers to the fragmentary nature of the source narrative by allowing the story to jump forward in time, and even ends a scene in mid-sentence (as Petronius’ surviving work ends in the middle of a sentence).
  • Fellini’s name appears in the title not out of vanity, but to distinguish the movie from a competing adaptation directed by Gian Luigi Polidoro which was also released in 1969. Polidoro registered the title Satyricon first. United Artists purchased the international distribution rights to both films and sat on Polidoro’s movie while they promoted Fellini’s more marketable name.
  • Fellini used international actors for the main parts (joking that he did so because there were no Italian homosexuals). The director saw that dubbing into Italian was deliberately made slightly out of sync with the actors’ lip movements to create an additional feeling of strangeness.
  •  was offered the small but important role of Trimalchio, but was too ill to accept it (Karloff died in February of 1969).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Picking a single image to represent Satyricon is like trying to single out one scene that captures the essence of a sprawling carnival. The film is a nonstop parade of extreme imagery, grotesque tableaux and freakish costuming.  No one scene sticks out as more bizarre than another, and nothing is supposed to; everything inside  the borders of the known world of Satyricon is as weird as everything else, from the whorehouse at the center of the empire to the blank spot at the edge of the map where monsters be. Forced to select something, we went with the image appearing five minutes into the film of the actor Vernaccio, dressed in a porcine pink helmet with a fin on top, carefully placing a tiny pill-like object on his outstretched tongue. It’s Fellini’s signal to the Summer of Love crowd that the movie is dosing itself right now—strap yourselves in for the trip to come.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Fellini seizes upon the fragmentary nature of his classical source material as an excuse to fly off on flights of phantasmagorical fancy; he sets his camera to observe these imaginary denizens of gluttonous old Rome as if they were alien lifeforms. Satyricon is the work of a master filmmaker at his most self-indulgent—but when tremendous talent
indulges itself, the results are typically spectacular.


John Landis on the trailer for Fellini Satyricon

COMMENTS: The surviving text of the Satyricon begins with randy bisexual student Encolpio in Continue reading 110. FELLINI SATYRICON (1969)