There’s a Guy Maddin retrospective on Criterion so I rewatched the great Saddest Music in the World, where everyone is tormented and traumatized except for cheesehead Mark McKinney, so he has to die in the end. Since this came out, Mark has starred in Superstore, which I heard was very good. Amnesiac Maria de Medeiros was in Son of Joseph and Pasolini. Serbian Ross McMillan was in a Dave Franco zombie/cannibal horror called Bad Meat. Canadian dad David Fox was in Jessica Chastain horror Mama. And Isabella… half the actors I’ve looked up this week have led to Two Lovers, so maybe it’s time I watch that thing.

How to Take a Bath (2009)

In its original form, so the MPEGing transitions predate The Forbidden Room by a few years. Mmmm, that’s what bathing is all about.

Lines of the Hand (2015)

Wow – another Forbidden-adjacent short. This one takes a John Ashbery poem, a Jean Vigo script, Vigo’s daughter Luce, and Udo Kier, and smooshes them into a colorful impressionist blob.

Accidence (2018)

A music video masquerading as installation art. Single take, mostly wide shot of an apartment building where a murder/investigation is happening along with much hanging-out.

The Rabbit Hunters (2020)

A sequel to My Dad Is 100 Years Old! This time Isabella plays Fellini, and the short is a dream fantasia with very funny dubbing. The rabbit hunters are discovered inside a bed, after searching in vain for the screening room of a movie premiere, and en route to a flight with Fellini’s ailing wife… it makes more sense while watching then written down.

Set in the days leading up to WWI, opens as a sepia-toned silent film with projector noise. Narrator/society reporter Mr. Orlando leads us around an ornate cruise ship packed with opera singers on a ceremonial trip in memory of a departed fellow artist. It’s all quite perfect-looking (and perfectly fake), except of course for the inexcusably awful lipsync. There’s some scheming, some rivalry and nervous looks but most everyone appears to be in the grand spirit of things, even spontaneously singing for the stokers during a tour. But there’s less goodwill to go around when a boatload of Serbian refugees is picked up by the captain and they stare hungrily through the windows as the elite try to enjoy their opulent meals. Eventually the Serbians and opera singers start to blend, and we get some Titanic-like inter-class scenes.

I’m not too good with WWI-era Euro-nationalities but I thought the ship (and some of its royal passengers) was Austro-Hungarian, so when an Austro-Hungarian warship shows up demanding the surrender of the Serbians (but agreeing to wait until after the burial ceremony) I get a bit confused. The art-ship finally sends the Serbians over to the war-ship, but one lobs a bomb and the war-ship ends up sinking the art-ship. Rather than take this seriously (are there enough lifeboats? are the stokers all killed?), Fellini puts the narrator in a lifeboat with a rhinoceros and shows off his sets and camera setup.

Fellini: “The sea was created from polyethylene. The obviously artificial painted sunset looked beautiful. The appearance of artificiality is deliberate. At the end, I reveal the set and me behind a camera, the entire magic show.”

The pudgy Grand Duke’s sister, the blind princess, is played by Pina Bausch, the only time she played a character (not herself) in a film. Narrator is Freddie Jones (Dune, Krull). Barbara Jefford (Ulysses, The Ninth Gate) is an elegant, sad singer, the only one who appears to be in mourning. Not the latest Fellini movie I’ve seen – that would be Ginger & Fred, which seems similar to this one in my memory (assembled group of artists in single location).

My first time watching this one, which is like a full-color, freakier 8 1/2 from the point of view of the director’s neglected wife (played by the director’s neglected wife, Giulietta Masina). Her husband has a much smaller role, not Mastroianni-worthy, merely Mario Pisu (Gloria Morin’s man in 8 1/2). Giulietta’s friends Valentina Cortese (Thieves’ Highway, Day for Night) and especially Sandra Milo (also a sexpot in 8 1/2 and Il Generale Della Rovere) lead her into temptation. Meanwhile, as per the title, a seance has opened her connection to the spirit world, leaving viewers like me unable to tell movie-spirit from movie-reality.

First wide/color movie watched on the Big New TV – lovely! I’ll have to find a way to capture screenshots while watching these. Next time around I’ll report more details – this viewing was just for sensual immersion.

J. Baxter for Criterion:

If the success of the psychoanalytical 8 1/2 persuaded him of anything, it was the need to examine even more thoroughly the sources of his creativity, which lay in dreams, and in his ambiguous sexuality.

I remembered the atmosphere of this movie but not the story or characters, so watched it again – turns out it’s 98% atmosphere. What story? What characters? Even Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido is a weak and confused lead. Instead it’s an impressionistic glimpse into Fellini’s life and work, a film about filmmaking, or about itself. I’m not saying anything that everyone doesn’t already know, but I had to be reminded – there’s not really a story of Guido casting and shooting some big picture, just fragments: agents and critics and hangers-on as the director deals with his fame, personal life and artistic indecision.

Opens with a wordless dream sequence – film director Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) floats away from an oppressive traffic jam, flies over the ocean but is roped and pulled down by business partners.

Guido is “taking the cure” at a vacation retreat, prescribed holy water, keeps running into people he knows in a sort of choreographed dance of acquaintances. Soon he’s on his film set, arguing with a writer (Daurmier?) who criticizes the script, placating coworkers and avoiding making decisions. Soon I lose all ability to describe plot or characters as it spirals inevitably into the spinning whirl of an ending.

I’ve seen an even five of Fellini’s 7 1/2 previous films. Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo shot about half the Italian movies I’ve heard of – this was his first for Fellini, having just worked on L’Eclisse.


Claudia Cardinale of The Leopard the same year, supposed to be starring in Guido’s film, seems good-natured about the whole thing.

wife Luisa (Anouk Aimée, shortly after Lola) with mistress Carla (Sandra Milo of Juliet of the Spirits)

His buddy Mario Pisu with new mistress Barbara Steele

Magician Ian Dallas, who according to IMDB inspired the song Layla. He and his apparently psychic partner pull magic words from Guido’s psyche cueing a flashback schene wherein young Guido is told that these words could make a portrait come to life… a “motion picture,” if you will.

Saraghina, wild woman of Guido’s youth

Guido and Carla

A. Sesonske:

8 1/2 is a film about making a film, and the film that is being made is 8 1/2. Notice how everything Guido says about the film he is making turns out to be true of 8 1/2, even the sailor doing a soft-shoe dance; how all the screen tests are for roles in the film we are seeing; how some camera movements create an ambiguity between Guido, the director in the film, and Fellini, the director of the film, thus taking self-reference one step beyond the work to its maker.

Fellini: A Director’s Notebook (1969)

“I composed a poem on the ruins of your film.”

This masquerades as a documentary on Fellini’s working methods, but is really a self-conscious fake-doc made by Fellini himself. Suspension of disbelief lasted about 30 seconds – you can’t convince anyone you’re making a documentary, interviewing random people on the street, when all the voices are badly dubbed.

In 1966-ish the director was to film Mastorna, “perhaps the most famous unmade film in Italian cinema.” Its half-built sets sit unused on huge lots, so Fellini shoots them here, haunted by poets, then roams Rome at night. All the places he goes are full of people who seem like… well, like characters in Fellini films.

Giulietta Masina introduces the “man with the sack” sequence from Nights of Cabiria, which at this point had never been seen, claiming it’s based on a true story. Some Satyricon, then we get a frenetic sepia-toned ancient-Rome silent short watched by a screaming audience (including a raptly attentive young Fellini).

Recreating Fellini’s childhood cinema:

A cab ride with a clairvoyant, and a subway ride with a professor. This last one is great because he tries to talk about lost societies beneath Rome but Fellini keeps interrupting, asking him to speak into the camera – then their train accidentally travels through time, proving the professor’s point.

We visit Mastroianni, who gives us a fake screen test, then off to an early morning slaughterhouse to summon the feeling of ancient sacrifices, where the workers keep transforming into ancient Romans. Then a stream of non-actors come to Fellini’s office to submit themselves for film roles.

That’s F.F. at left:

Criterion: “Producer Peter Goldfarb … had suggested the project as a way for Fellini to deal with his inability to make the film The Voyage of G. Mastorna. As Tullio Kezich and others have pointed out, 8 1/2 is strikingly prophetic of this development in Fellini’s career.”

On a bit of a Fellini kick. On a recent shopping trip I found two different books about this movie, so I thought I’d do the full research project, (re)watching the DVD then reading the books. But about halfway through the DVD I decided I was ready to be finished with Satyricon, so the books will have to wait. It’s an imaginative adaptation of an ancient novel, Fellini-grotesque-style with a huge cast and massive sets. Seems like it should work, but everyone is a bit too wild and campy and I couldn’t get on the movie’s wavelength.

Our hero (or protagonist, anyway) is blonde Encolpius (Martin Potter of Demy’s Lady Oscar), introduced vehemently seeking his ex-lover Ascyltus (Atlantan Hiram Keller of Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye), who stole away E’s underage boy Giton and sold him to pig-faced actor Vernacchio. E gets the boy, immediately loses him again, then his entire apartment building is destroyed by an earthquake so E goes to a banquet thrown by super rich poet Trimalchio and attended by bitter rival poet Eumolpus (Salvo Randone of Hands Over the City), who nearly gets thrown into the oven.

Poetry party:

Trimalchio and Fortunata:

Eumolpus vs. the oven:

E is captured by a slave ship and “married” to an old man called Lichas (Alain Cuny, mysterious caped dude in The Milky Way), who is soon killed by enemies of Caesar. Little Giton is there too, but captured again, of course.

Baths are taken, and the demigod Hermaphrodite is kidnapped then allowed to die of dehydration. E fights a fake minotaur then loses his mojo and has to visit the fire-crotched witch Oenothea to get it back.

Oh yeah, there are some women in the movie besides the witch – Capucine (Clouseau’s wife in The Pink Panther) and Magali Noel (temptress of Amarcord), mostly playing bitter wives.

The wikipedia claims the dubbing was unusually horrendous by directorial intent, but I’m not buying it.

Opens with prostitute Cabiria being robbed and pushed into the river by her boyfriend Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi, shitty husband Fausto in I Vitelloni). She takes comfort in her friend Wanda then goes to work. Severe-looking blond Marisa’s pimp tries to hire her, but Cabiria prefers independence. Most awesome character moment: she grabs a chicken for comfort then quickly regains her composure and tosses it in the air. Cabiria is sorta awful to everyone around her, and there’s much shrill, trebley yelling in the movie, but you warm up to her pretty quickly, especially in the next sequence. . .

After she sees film star Alberto Lazzari (Amedeo Nazzari, heh, dreamy lead of Matarazzo’s Chains) getting dumped by his girl Jessie, he picks up Cabiria and takes her to a fancy nightclub with African dancing. When she cuts loose on the dance floor everyone watches her drearily, her enthusiasm not contagious among the stuffy rich club denizens. Then it’s back to his place (he has a toucan!). They start talking and she gets starstruck, then he hides her in the bathroom when Jessie comes back, and she stays there quietly all night – admirable restraint shown by the loudmouthed Cabiria.

The next night her compadres are teasing about her supposed run-in with a famous actor. She sees a passing religious procession, and follows a man (played by the film’s editor Leo Cattozzo) who provides food to people who live in holes in the ground, including a former coworker, now toothless and destitute. This is the scene I remember best from when I watched this years ago, so it’s surprising to read that it was missing from the film’s original release, cut by demand of producer Dino De Laurentiis, and only restored years later.

Cabiria and Wanda go to some garish candle-lighting Virgin Mary festival that reminds me of the quasi-religious commercialized camp in Tommy. “Madonna, help me to change my life,” she says tearfully, then the next day, “We’re all the same as before.”

At a magic show she’s hypnotised by Aldo Silvani (La Strada), acts out a youthful love scene in front of the crowd then feels humiliated when she awakens, but a man named Oscar (Francois Perier, the princess’s companion in Orpheus, also in Le Samourai) insists on talking to her afterwards. They go on a few dates, and he proposes. Cabiria sells her house, gathers all the money she has in the world, and meets him – but he’s a scam artist, intending to take the money and throw her in the river, back where we started.

But he doesn’t go through with the murder, and she walks sadly home, until cheered by some roaming musicians, smiling into the camera, one of the best film endings (and characters/performances) I’ve ever seen.

Film Quarterly: “All the Fellini virtues are here: the fluent camera, the wit, the elegant composition, the theme-and-variations style, the melange of theatrical and religious symbol, the parabolic eloquence, the vocabulary of private motifs.”

Won an oscar for foreign film (beating Mother India) and Giulietta Masina won best actress at Cannes. Pasolini, a few years before his directorial debut, has a co-writing credit. The disc also includes Cabiria’s scene trying to pick up the new husband in The White Sheik. Remade by Bob Fosse as a Shirley MacLaine musical before shit like that was typical (see also: Rob Marshall’s Nine).

I’m still figuring out Fellini – his movies seem to fall into categories, but I’m not sure how to define those categories, since it’s been ages since I watched most of them. But however you divide it, I Vitelloni’s portrait of aimless, night-owl youth must sit near La Dolce Vita’s portrait of aimless, night-owl aristocrats. Unlike La Dolce Vita, I didn’t hate all the characters (only most of them). This was Fellini’s second solo feature after The White Sheik, but I’ve also watched four Rossellini movies he co-wrote.

The Guys: womanizing leader Fausto (Franco Fabrizi, also in Ginger & Fred, so maybe the longest-lived Fellini actor), cool Alberto (Sordi, title character in The White Sheik, later star of Mafioso), smarty Leopoldo (Trieste, lead newlywed in The White Sheik, later in A Farewell to Arms), singer Riccardo (the director’s brother), and young Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi, star of Shoeshine and I Vinti).

Fausto knocks up Moraldo’s sister (Leonora Ruffo of Hercules in the Haunted World), reluctantly marries her but keeps sleeping around and can’t keep a job. Leopoldo spends his nights writing a play, which he reads to a famous actor who turns out to be enthusuastic for Leo more than the play. Moraldo mopes around every night, makes friends with a newsboy, seems bewildered by this boy because he has a proper job instead of just fucking around all the time. Finally Moraldo has had it with the movie and leaves town. As his train pulls away from town, the camera pulls past all his sleeping friends, a fun visual touch in an otherwise realistic film.

A sad carnival:

T. Piazza for Criterion:

I Vitelloni marks a big step forward in Fellini’s ability to get deep into his characters’ psychology; it points ahead both to the bitter social satire of La Dolce Vita and to the great canvases of nostalgia and the artist’s nature, 8 1/2, Amarcord — and the neglected late masterpiece Intervista.

Against their narcissism and lassitude is posed the solidity and maturity of the town’s older men, who have assumed the standard responsibilities of middle-class family life. But admirable as they may be, these solid citizens — unimaginative, satisfied with their lot, stuck in claustral interior settings — are hardly made to seem a stimulating alternative, and at the end Moraldo leaves the town’s tape loop of foreclosed possibilities for another arena of possibility in the city.

Allergic to endings that sum things up too neatly, or that resolve in a definitive way the tensions set up in the film, Fellini once remarked, “Our duty as storytellers is to bring people to the station. There each person will choose his or her own train… But we must at least take them to the station… to a point of departure.” It is a striking image, one foreign to many popular storytellers: the ending of a story seen not as an arrival, but rather as a prepared departure. I Vitelloni, of course, brings us literally to the station at its end, with Moraldo’s departure from his provincial town. But on a deep level the film was Fellini’s point of departure, too—the beginning of his important work as a filmmaker, the place where he got serious. And as he made clear at the end of Intervista, the only thing that kept Fellini truly happy was his work; the end of any project was a kind of death, overcome only at the moment at which one was ready to begin again, to try and get it right one more time.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination is the title on the print, and IMDB calls it Histoires extraordinaires. An anthology film with three shorts based on Edgar Allen Poe stories, its reputation is of a brilliant Fellini film saddled behind a harmless Malle and terrible Vadim – but I like the Vadim (and I watched it twice, so I’m sure) and found the Malle unpleasant.

Metzengerstein (Roger Vadim)

Started watching this on DVD in French with bad dubbing – I noticed Jane Fonda was mouthing the words I saw in the subtitles, though I was hearing French voices. So after this segment, I started over with the British blu-ray, which has a great picture-quality advantage even if some of the voices are still dubbed. IMDB claims Vincent Price is narrating, but it sounds more like Rod Serling.

Jane Fonda, happiest when someone is getting hanged:

Frederique (Jane Fonda a few months before Barbarella) is a countess who wears outrageous clothing and hangs out with her rich friends and exotic pets (a blue/gold macaw, a baby leopard) taunting the peasants, sometimes to death. She meets a distant relative who lives on neighboring land (Fonda’s actual brother Peter, between The Trip and Easy Rider). She’s infatuated with him, but he doesn’t fall for her power trip, so she orders his barn burned down and he dies trying to save his prize horse. Just then a black horse appears at her castle, and she becomes obsessed with riding it, finally riding into some burning fields to be with her deceased cousin. It’s not much of a story, but I liked its mix of gothic brooding and 1960’s decadence. Also I liked Peter’s baby owl.

Francoise Prevost, a conspirator in Rivette’s Merry-Go-Round, plays “friend of countess” – not sure if that’s the friend Jane was fondling naked in a bathtub or not. The Poe story (in which the Jane Fonda character was male) was filmed again in the 1970’s by some French people I’ve never heard of.

William Wilson (Louis Malle)

Opens with the jump-cuttiest scene of a man running intercut with a rag doll falling off a church tower. Alain Delon (year after Le Samourai, two before Le Cercle Rouge) barges rudely into a confession booth and subjects a priest to his flippantly-dubbed flashbacks. First, as a psychotic young boy (fun fact: 27 years later, the actor playing young Delon would appear in Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak), Wilson was tormenting his classmates when another boy named William Wilson showed up, frustrating him. “Several years later I entered the school of medicine out of curiosity,” and as a psychotic young man, he rapes and tortures some girl on the autopsy table in front of his colleagues, again is frustrated when another William Wilson (now clearly played by Delon himself) shows up. Finally as a psychotic adult, Wilson is cheating a rich woman (Vadim’s ex-wife Brigitte Bardot, a few years before her retirement) at cards then whipping her (!) when Other Wilson arrives and reveals the fraud.

That’s the autopsy girl, not Bardot:

I don’t know what Wilson wanted the priest to do about all this, and I’m not sure if he’s just bringing up a few specific examples of the many times WWII turned up in his life, or if the guy only arrives once a decade. WW goes running outside, fights his doppelganger in a duel, and either stabs himself or leaps off the church tower, it’s hard to tell which. Good. It’s a misogynistic little film with diabolically bad dialogue. The Poe story (which has less nude-woman-torture, and fewer leaps from atop church towers) was filmed before in the silent era with Paul Wegener and again with Conrad Veidt, and I can tell just from its wikipedia entry that the original story is better than Malle’s visualisation.

William the Second:

Toby Dammit (Federico Fellini)

A drugged-out British actor arrives in Italy to appear in a film, for which he has been promised a ferrari. After suffering through his flight, cast and crew meetings and a party (haven’t seen it in a while, but looks like they’re partying on the set of Satyricon), he gets his hands on the ferrari and drives through the confounding Italian countryside, finally leaping an out-of-order bridge but failing to notice the steel wire just at neck level.

A decadent little film – every shot is crazy and imaginative and essential. Terence Stamp (year after Poor Cow) was so good in this, that it will now be necessary for me to watch everything he did between it and The Limey. Creepiest is the devil girl with a white ball who alternately torments and provokes the volatile Stamp without any dialogue. The Poe story actually features a character named Toby Dammit’s bridge-jumping beheading – though not in a ferrari, obviously.

Bonus image – a Jean Cocteau snowball fight:

For a while there, I dismissed all Italian movies. Their horror is badly acted and makes no sense, 98% of their movies have awful lipsync and among the higher-quality pics I’ve seen are The Leopard (which I hate) and flicks starring Roberto Benigni. Sure, I admit Antonioni and Fellini can be great, and I liked Suspiria a whole lot, so I figured I’d give the country another shot this year via poster-boy Rossellini. Rome, Open City was wonderful, but before moving on to Paisan I took a pit stop with L’Amore, wanting more Anna Magnani – and what a pit it was.

L’Amore is actually a film and a half, or an hour-long feature preceded by a short. First off is The Human Voice, a one-woman play written in 1930 by Jean Cocteau. I’d heard it performed before, on an LP by Ingrid Bergman recorded sometime after her divorce from Rossellini and return to Hollywood. So two Rossellini lovers recorded the same French monologue – coincidence? The play is pretty straightforward, a woman who’s been dumped awaits a call from her ex-guy, talks to him through a failing connection, going through various levels of grief. Should be a showy actresses’s dream role. The Bergman LP sold it better, as far as I’m concerned, sounding more like an actual phone call, all the visuals imagined. Rossellini’s version adds straightforward visuals – an unkempt Magnani on the phone in her room, with no fancy editing or showy camerawork. The biggest problem is the sound, distractingly out of sync (distracting even for me, who was busily reading subtitles), harsh and shrill, Magnani’s whining getting on my nerves until I finally turned the volume waaay down. You’d suppose a one-person movie in a single room would have been a good chance for the Italians to try recording synchronized sound for the first time ever, but even the pioneering Rossellini didn’t think to try that.

In the second part, The Miracle, from a story by Fellini, simple Nanni has a religious mania. While up in the mountains herding goats, she meets a lone dude, whom she welcomes as Saint Joseph (as in the stepfather of Jesus). They share some wine and she wakes up later, wanders back to work. A few months later she’s pregnant. Neighbors taunt and joke with her, a devilish midget throws her from her “home,” which looked like a pile of clothes in a plaza, then literally the entire town comes out to throw her a fake parade then throw stuff at her. So she flees up the mountain, delivers the baby herself.

G. Moliterno: “… largely made, as Rossellini himself acknowledges in the film’s epigraph, to showcase the consummate acting talents of Anna Magnani.”

He also mentions that the Human Voice segment was shot in Paris during prep for Germany Year Zero. “A clear indication of Rossellini’s greater than usual attention to visual style here is given by the pronounced presence of mirrors throughout the film in order to underscore the ongoing fragmentation of the self.”

And if I may overquote from the same source:

[Nanni] clearly anticipates the characters of Gelsomina and Cabiria in Fellini’s La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, but Magnani channels an animistic vitality into the role that makes the poetry of Fellini’s two later creatures appear wan in comparison. And in fact, despite Fellini’s own appearance in the film as the silent and mysterious vagabond who prompts Nanni’s religious delirium… Nannì brings to mind the “durochka” or holy fool, of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev. … [Appeals against the film’s banning in the States] also overturned the Court’s own decision in 1915 which had for decades denied films the status of self-expression and thus protection under the First Amendment. Part of the miracle of Il miracolo, then, turned out to be its role in initiating the beginning of the demise of film censorship in the United States.