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Sunday, April 20, 2014

FELLINI OUTSIDE TIME

giorgio de chirico
 
I've been in the Tropic of Torpor today, nothing in the mind, nothing I want to do. Take a nap, up for awhile, another nap, up for awhile, another nap. All the time awake I wanted to be asleep. Finally, I rose from the bed intending to stay up for awhile. It was after 8. Put in the movie of the day, Fellini's 8 1/2. Two nights ago I saw La Dolce Vita. Takes me back to the early 1960s. These two films were so very modern then, Italian chic, the new cutting edge in film. Then, they were as obscure to me as what goes on in a donkey's mind. Today, they retain their original obscurity. I've seen them both around five times, and none of those times did I feel like I got what was happening, but followed the stories well enough to stay with them, but what's going on behind the story is still a mystery. This time with them I watched as though sitting on the beach watching the waves come in, crash and fade to a wavering line on the sand. I did not want to figure them out. I wanted to see the stories as Fellini told them, leaving out mental static. First time I saw La Dolce Vita was in the auditorium at Wichita State U, maybe 1962. I think the art department put it on. It was new then and the talk of the cinema world internationally, making it an essential film to see for anyone interested in the art of film making, or simply art. It was my first art film. I'd never seen anything but Hollywood films before. It was my first experience reading subtitles. It was so modern it made me feel backwards. I've seen so many films over the last five or so years with netflix I've quit analyzing films. I receive them now as I believe they are intended to be received, riding the flow from beginning to end, seeing where it goes, immersed in the beauty of the visuals. In both these Fellini films he juxtaposed the modern with the ancient. Much of the outdoors scenes were against the ruins of ancient Rome that continue to stand in modern Rome.
 
giorgio de chirico
 
Perhaps the only scene in La Dolce Vita I recognized as having seen it before was Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni late at night in evening clothes standing in a Roman fountain, water to their knees, making out and talking silly nothings. I invited Lucas Pasley, English teacher at the high school, to watch it. We get together to watch a film a few times a year. He watched very closely with analytic mind full steam. We talked about the role of the paparazzi in the film. We came to see they were Marcello's grounding. He goes back to his fantasy life, lives in fantasy world of celebrities for awhile and the paparazzi arrive, grounding him. I'd have never seen that without Lucas waking up my analyzing mind. I've been out of school long enough to forget how to read and see films analytically, by weariness of it, finding I miss much of what is happening in a scene using mind to figure it out. Sometimes I feel like subtitles are a distraction from the beauty and will watch a foreign film without subtitles, to enjoy the beauty of the language, having learned just about everything is told visually. First time I saw Zhang Yimou's film, Ju Dou, it started without the subtitles and I decided to let it roll and see what happens. I've seen it three times and that was the most beautiful of all. The only thing I missed was names and names of relationships, like uncle, cousin, details in language. It's hard to watch, an extremely sad story, the kind only the Chinese do, devastatingly sad, and beautiful to the same degree. The story happens in a place where silk is soaked in pools of dye and hangs on rods to dry, flowing in the air, reds that are out of this world. The Chinese are the masters of the color red. Seeing the film and understanding the words spoken filled in some blanks, but by comparison gave the film a boring edge. I miss so many visuals reading, I've learned to read and look at the images simultaneously, multi-tasking. Am so free with subtitles now I use them on English language films due to so much muttering and whispering before an explosion, a gunfight, a bomb, a car blowing up. I despise turning up the sound to hear the whispering, then BAM, and turn the volume down as fast as possible, always too late.
 
giorgio de chirico
 
I was thinking about watching 8 1/2 again tomorrow without subtitles. The disk has a commentary with it, too. Thought I might watch it with commentary. I believe my preference would be without subtitles. Having read the script while watching it, I don't see I'll miss anything. None of the talking had anything to do with anything. It was chatter and distracting noise around Marcello's head. Marcello, an Italian film director, is about to begin a new film. Producers, actors, agents, girlfriends, wife, everybody appealing for his attention. He's driven nuts by demands on him from all directions. In the end he pops a cap in his head, then maybe he didn't. Maybe he did. Probably didn't. Probably did. It doesn't matter whether he did or not. The whole story was a dream. Did it happen, did it not happen? Doesn't matter. In one way of looking at it, I can say he died in the beginning of the film. He was in his car in a big traffic jam. His car started filling up with a gas, he banged on the windows trying to get out, then he was quiet. Next, he was seen crawling out a window onto the roof of the car, stood there arms outstretched and drifted away through the air, overcoat waving in the breeze, floating over the tops of the cars. Next, Marcello is up in the sky, a rope tied to his ankle held at the other end by a man standing on the beach. He jerked on the rope and Marcello fell into the sea. Then the story begins. I could say his spirit left the body and went through the review of his life, as they say happens upon leaving the body. The film was his review. It included scenes from childhood. The people around him were telling him what was wrong with him, pointing out his weaknesses, attempting to humiliate him. At the end of the story he pops a cap in his head and next we have a circus band and clowns, the people of his life, mother and father, walking by in a personal parade that includes him and himself as a child. Then the entire cast of the film enters the circus scene. I can very easily see it a vision of the spirit leaving the body, but will not draw that conclusion. I don't want to ruin it with a conclusion.
 
giorgio de chirico
 
Talking with Lucas about La Dolce Vita, no more than briefly in anecdotes while the film was going, and briefly when it was over, I saw much I'd have never seen on my own. He noted the turning point in the film. It had not registered to me there was a turning point. When I saw it, it was plain and right there, obvious. Marcello's only friend, whose name I forget, was an existentialist who waxed philosophical, and was Marcello's other grounding agent in his life in the fantasy world of celebrities, a man who had an air of sanity about him. He killed his whole family and himself. That knocked Marcello off his track. The paparazzi never appeared again, Marcello was lost in space in his world of less than trivial demands. I was glad Lucas pointed that out. I saw it, but it didn't register. I took the murder/suicide for a shit happens day. Perhaps I did not see that as a turning point, because I never think about things like turning points. I found his falling apart inevitable in the flow of the story. Lucas said he had a great deal to think about on the way home before he's satisfied with what he saw. I was in awe that I'd seen a film that totally blew my circuits. I was seeing the juxtaposition of the old world and the old ways against the new world of fashion, celebrity, lights, new cars, pretensions. This story of the trials of modern man was largely filmed in environments of another Age, while still in Rome. It gives the sense, too, that it is an ancient story in modern dress. Lucas and I were both struck by the attitudes of the men toward the women. Slut and whore were frequently repeated words in the script. I remembered the film was made when Women's Liberation was in infancy, and this was Italy, a different culture from ours. It was a little bit shocking, indicating that we, the people of Western Civ have changed in that regard over the last half century. Both films are 50+ years old. They are as if they could have been made this year. Both films were outside time. They continue to be two of my very favorite films.       
 
giorgio de chirico himself
 
 
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1 comment:

  1. Wonderful riff on Miller's book title - Tropic of Torpor. The film descriptions make me want to see both of these again with fresh eyes. And the perfect art pairing. I love the cadence of giorgio de chirico's name.

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