Friday 13th April 2018 3.52pm
‘The Fellini Curse’ 2018
This morning I watched Juliet of the Spirits (1965). I could have watched La Strada (1954), La dolce vita (1960), 8½ (1963), Amarcord (1973), I Vitelloni (1953) or Putting Fellini on Hold for Another Week. I opted for Juliet of the Spirits because I thought it was the earliest of his films I had access to, and without checking, I just put it in the DVD tray, pressed close, pressed play and watched it. I’m so mad at myself. I always watch the earliest films first and then work forward. I never like to start in the middle of a career of anyone because their earliest works always tell a tale in the development of a director. Every director ever, in the history of the world.
For me to start with his eleventh film when I could have watched his third, fifth, eighth or ninth film, first, is complete insanity. Especially believing (and deceiving myself that) it was one of his earliest works, when it was actually one of his most mature works.
I haven’t liked (or had any significant praise for) any of the films I’ve seen directed by Federico Fellini. I don’t like the bits and pieces I’ve seen in clips and I haven’t enjoyed the style he has adopted in several films. This all begs the question, given that he is undoubtedly one of the greatest directors from any country, from the first film he ever made up until Friday the 13th, 2018, “what films of his have I seen?”
I have a memory loss when it comes to remembering what Fellini I have seen and haven’t seen. I saw at least one Fellini at University, and at least two or three because two or three friends of mine admired his work. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen The White Sheik (1952), Amarcord, 8½ , Satyricon (1978), Fred and Ginger (1986), The Ship Sails On (1983) and Orchestra Rehearsal (1978). Definitely not La Strada, La dolce vita or Juliet of the Spirits, nor I Vitelloni. Probably The Nights of Cabiria (1957). With Fellini I have a strange absence of memory. With most other films I can remember either 1) where I saw it, 2) with whom I saw it, or 3) the year I saw it.
With Fellini: I get nothing. A complete blank.
My strongest memories are that I know the music by Nino Rota for almost all of their most famous film collaborations. I’ve heard it on LP and several friends have played me their favourite Nino Rota scores for Fellini films.
Next memory: I don’t seem to be able to comprehend the leaps Fellini takes between what is meant to be experienced as reality and what is a dream, a flashback or some kind of alternate reality. The line, between what reality and fantasy look like, is so blurred in so many Fellini films, I don’t know what’s real and what’s some kind of technical error in having some scenes interspersed, as if the antenna on the tv had gone haywire and was swapping between this film and another five films.
Dare I say it, I enjoyed the first Friday the 13th movie more than any Fellini film so far. While it wasn’t a great film, or even a good horror film, I immediately understood what it thought it was, or thought it was attempting to be. I think I completely understood Friday the 13th and where it was coming from: its roots, its beginning, it’s middle and its end. It was low-budget. It was B or C-grade but it was always very clear what it was, whereas but Fellini is a world away – from a different culture and country, in a different era, in a different language.
Fellini’s films, with their episodic narrative, and their bizarre mixture of what is real, what is fantasy, what is fantasised reality, what is truth and what the viewer is left with at the end, alienate me from any kind of comprehension or any kind of understanding of what I’m meant to take as the real parts of the story and the unreal parts of the story. This need for clarity in what I see and what I read, is so fundamental to my ability to live day-to-day in my own world, that Fellini’s films – partly real, partly false, partly bizarre and often crazy – do-my-head-in.
Last night I finished updating the website, writing my thoughts on The Death of Stalin (2017) and decided I needed to have 20-30 minutes winding down time. I have done this before with films or with directors who I see as threatening to my ability to understand the things in the world of cinema around me which I think I understand. What I watched was episodic, with strange flights of fantasy, with very little conventional plotting or film narrative.
Fellini is that man. I dipped my toe into the first 25 minutes of Juliet of the Spirits and found myself bewildered. There are some obvious moments which are dreams or inner thoughts and there are moments where the wife’s reality doesn’t match the real reality of the style of film I’ve been watching so far. Dream sequences are easy to spot because people close their eyes – have a dream – open their eyes, and then it’s over. If you live in the world of Freddy Krueger then it’s not that simple. That’s the genius of Wes Craven’s concept. You close your eyes, someone’s chasing you with ten knives, you dream you’re opening your eyes, but you’re still in the dream, and despite the fact that your mind thinks you are now safe because you’re awake, you’re still asleep, Freddy can still get you and slice you into pieces.
I wonder if Wes Craven got his idea of blending reality with thoughts in one’s mind, and dreams and nightmares, from watching Fellini films of the late sixties and the seventies. I think Wes Craven could have created Freddy Krueger out of not knowing what’s real and what isn’t, from his experience of watching Fellini films.
I sure as hell know that when I’m watching A Nightmare on Elm Street or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare that I’m far more comfortable in my own skin, and of my surroundings than when I’m watching Fellini.
This alone probably makes Fellini one of the greatest directors of all-time. He developed an approach, which was quite original, as far as originality can possibly be viewed as original, which was then copied by many other people:
“Hello 12 Monkeys (1995), Hello The Sixth Sense (1999), Hello Wes Craven, Hello Stephen King and The Shining (1980).”
Tonight, I broke the barrier that kept me from liking Fellini. To not be sure of what happens in Fellini’s films and where we are at the end of a Fellini film, is to accept Fellini between the early sixties and the mid-seventies. To live in a world (like Terry Gilliam’s world) which is so real one minute and so bizarre the next, is to accept Fellini.
I’m surprised it took me so long to grasp this understanding because the music in Fellini’s films have been describing reality and fantasy in the clearest terms. I’ve just never cottoned on before.
Wow. Wow. Wow. Nino Rota’s music gives the viewer the cue for what’s real and what’s not.
I loved Juliet of the Spirits. It’s a brilliantly conceived film containing a hundred different things I now want to write about. So clever. So brilliant. It all connects up until the last scene. Then I’m at sea again.
Life is made up of moments where we suspect things which may or may not be important. We mistake many things as being significant. We ignore many things which are significant. Everything we do in life is process information our brain receives. We can interpret it any which way. Mostly, I suspect, our brain deduces the right supposition, which is that our partner (a committed being, so we think) is cheating on us with someone else.
Films of course are fantasies. Sometimes they’re based on novels. Sometimes based on someone’s thoughts. Often based on our own experiences. But they’re always a concoction of a person who sees something that rings true and wants to express it as reality, or wants to take it to the next level, what they see in their dreams.
I think it would be interesting to take all the real scenes out of Juliet of the Spirits and to write them all down, including the dialogue. Then you can set aside the fantasy elements and know what is real and what is fantasy.
Jeepers! This is an excellent film mixing different realities and different fantasies. Like dreams, they are confusing and when you try to put the storyline together, it doesn’t match.
I now love Juliet of the Spirits. It’s an extraordinary movie and this is how I got to see it that way despite my preconceived ideas about Fellini.
I think I finally get Fellini.