Overenthusiastic girl imposes herself on a shabby traveling variety show – this is Lily: Carla Del Poggio, who worked with every 1940’s Italian director I’ve heard of, plus G.W. Pabst, who apparently enjoyed a late Italian phase. She gets hired against the wishes of star Giulietta Masina, and hijacks the show, enjoying her new popularity but getting too big for her britches almost immediately.

We end up following the little-mustached company leader Checco: Peppino De Filippo would pair up with comic star Toto for a series of comedies (including a Fellini parody) and also appear in the cool-sounding Atrocious Tales of Love and Death with Mastroianni and Piccoli. On the street after the company’s destruction, Checco meets a sharpshooter, an American trumpeter and a Brazilian singer, and recruits them to start a new show. But Masina has her own solo gig, and Lily is too ambitious, joins another company behind his back.

Codirector Lattuada made forty-some movies including the Criterion-coronated Mafioso. It’s not clear whether this Fellini debut is the half in 8½ since he co-directed, or if the half was a short film, and I’m not looking it up since I’m not a numerically-oriented film viewer. Very good visual drama, too bad the sound was synched by fifth graders.

Voiceover on opening titles tells us it’s a city film and has no story, good to get that out of the way. Italian folklore involves praising the ducks for helping the army? (google says it was geese). As expected, everyone is crazy for the pope. Memories of filmgoing with obstructed-view seats. The rainy highway sequence is a highlight. I know my standards have been lowered by a recent Argento, but sometimes the dubbing is almost good, like somebody gave a shit. Cheerfully profane once it gets to the theater for a variety show. Ancient artworks are discovered beneath the city, then minutes later the air exposure destroys them. Significant time spent with prostitutes, of course. Corny holy fashion show, and an outstanding Anna Magnani cameo. Bikers ride through the city at night, and okay so it’s not a narrative movie, but it really lacks an ending.

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.