Day 292: Amarcord 1973

Day 292
Tuesday 17 April 2018   11.58pm
Amarcord   1973

Academy Awards

Best Foreign Language Film 1975 (and nominated in 1976 for Best Director & Best Story, Original Screenplay)

Golden Globes, USA

Nomination for Best Foreign Film

New York Film Critics Circle Awards & National Board of Review, USA

Best Foreign Language Film & Best Film and Best Director

Tonight, I invited my oldest friend, James, over to watch his favourite Fellini film, Amarcord (1973). I’d mistakenly thought he was a Fellini fan but he corrected that misconception by telling me that he neither loved or hated Fellini films, but largely felt indifferent to them, with the exception of Amarcord which he remembers being taken with, forty-five years ago. So, I pressed PLAY and went three-years back in time from Fellini’s Casanova (1976) to another film which looks at a boy growing up in a small coastal town in Italy, a similar setting to I vitelloni (1953). The difference is that it explores the life – of Fellini, I presume – of a boy younger than the young men in I vitelloni. It takes us further inside his school and his family and the people that populate the town he grows up in.

It feels far more hit and miss than I vitelloni which was in essence a far more serious film. Amarcord is a comic observation of Titta’s (Fellini, we assume) life and the things that he liked and disliked about growing up. There’s an array of characters that are quickly but clearly drawn. There are no deep characterisations. It’s all about Titta and how Titta sees the world. The camera is not particularly positioned to make it look like it’s describing how he views life, but as he’s the only fully developed character, and the other characters are sketches or caricatures, it stands to reason that what Amarcord gives us is Titta’s perspective.

There are some wonderful moments and some moments where the shouting in the family squabbles  could have been more restrained. It probably was allowed to go over the top because Fellini is into the overblow, larger-than-life, period of his filmmaking which was preceded by the twin lavish films: Roma (1972) and Satyricon (1969), and followed by the equally lavish: Casanova (1976).

I can imagine that Italian audiences would have found it very amusing to be depicted in this way, just as many Australians like Muriel’s Wedding and The Castle, and many Americans like American Graffiti (1973) and Diner (1982). Looking back at a film made forty-five years ago, I found more in common with I vitelloni, made fifty-five years ago, released in the year of my birth.

Nino Rota, a long-time Fellini collaborator, has written one of his most delightful melodies and scores for Amarcord. Along with The Godfather, it contains his most beautiful music. And The Last Metro. And War and Peace. And Waterloo.

Of course, there are many directors who worked with the same composer several times: Joe Dante & Jerry Goldsmith, Franklin J Schaffner & Jerry Goldsmith, John Sturges & Elmer Bernstein, Alfred Hitchcock & Bernard Herrmann, Howard Hawks & Dmitri Tiomkin, Christopher Nolan & Hans Zimmer, Brian DePalma & Pino Donaggio.

There are, however, fewer relationships which are so strong that it’s easier to count when they didn’t work together than when they did. That relationship is so strong and defining that it sounds strange when another composer was used in a film (such as – with Spielberg – Thomas Newman in Bridge of Spies and Quincy Jones in The Color Purple; and – with Blake Edwards – Jerry Goldsmith in Wild Rovers and John Barry in The Tamarind Seed – but less so with Lee Holdridge in Micki and Maude).

The Fellini-Rota composer-director collaboration is one of the longest ongoing collaborations where, almost always, a famous film director works with the same composer. Notable associations where one composer has worked on the overwhelming majority of a director’s output, ranging from the director’s earliest feature films until one of them fell ill or died are:

Federico Fellini – Nino Rota (every film but the first)

Steven Spielberg – John Williams (all but three films, and a segment)

Tim Burton – Danny Elfman (every film)

Robert Zemeckis – Alan Silvestri (every film since ‘Romancing the Stone’)

Blake Edwards – Henry Mancini (all but three films, I think)

Joel and Ethan Coen – Carter Burwell (every film, I think)