FILM REVIEW | JULIET OF THE SPIRITS
for me, FEDERICO FELLINI's film JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (RIZZOLI FILM/FRANCORIZ PRODUCTION, 1965) is one of the best cinematic examinations of that feeling of being inadequate. i could be wrong, but each time i watch it i am only further confirmed in my belief that for all of this film's absolutely luscious use of color (the first FELLINI film to utilize such) and the sumptuous NINO ROTA score creating a dream-like otherworldly paradise filled with beautiful people and lavish garden parties, this film at its core is about loneliness and estrangement.
all of that carnival-like imagery and sound design is used to highlight how estranged the main character, played by FELLINI's frequent collaborator (and wife) GIULLIETTA MASINI, is from her philandering husband. it is a very unique device that is commonly utilized in MUSICALS whereby the set design, cinematography, dialogue and character behavior is meant to showcase the singular perspective of a character, not a representation of "reality." i am assuming in JULIET OF THE SPIRITS that all of the above is meant to convey the husband's charmed perspective of an idyllic, romantic idyll that his wife is only a minor character in. it is his fantasy and she comes across as a willing participant that doesn't quite fit.
again, it feels like a film on its face about inadequacy. but MASINI's character comes off grounded, stable and the epitome of a loyal partner. the husband is anything but. perhaps this is all a metaphor for the real-life partnership of MASINI and FELLINI, as his mistress was his love of cinema and filmmaking. he role being a stabilizing force and collaborator in his artistic visions.
if that is the case it is one of the most honest and deeply romantic films i know of. if anything it is the inadequacy of the director/husband to truly appreciate his wife that is on display here perhaps.
this film is worth viewing for the visuals and soundtrack alone. full disclosure: this is my personal favorite FELLINI film but virtually any of his films are worth checking out, especially 8 1/2, AMACORD, LA DOLCE VITA, SATYRICON or LA STRADA. could not recommend his work any more passionately for anyone interested in film.
FILM REVIEW | BLOW-UP
italian director MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI has made several canonical films throughout his career, my favorite being L'AVENTURA (CINO DEL DUCA,1960), but his first english-speaking film BLOW-UP (Bridge Films, 1966) created at the height of the mi-60s BRITISH INVASION is a remarkable film on several levels.
as mentioned before it is a document of an all-too brief moment when there was a liberating sense of artistic, cultural and sexual possibility. at times it is hard for americans to understand british class politics as it is a bit foreign to our culture which is more underpinned by nefarious forces like structural racism and conservative, puritanical, often binary inherited constructions of sexual preference and gender identity. in england markers of identity such as clothing and regional accents gave you away as being of this or that class, which was often a permanent strike against an individual despite their success thereafter. once lower class you are always lower class. in america we may make fun of a unique accent (i'm looking at you LOUISIANA, BROOKYLN and the SAN FERNANDO VALLEY), but we won't let that stop someone from running a company or holding political office. for this reason i think american BLUES, R&B and ROCKABILLY provided british youth a foreign cloak to don and transcend whatever their class prescriptions were in england's rigid, almost caste-like social hierarchy.
this freedom can be viewed in a legendary scene where THE YARDBIRDS oerform. this scene is notable as it was shot during the brief moment that JEFF BECK and JIMMY PAGE where both sharing guitar duties (BECK would amicably depart shortly thereafter).
beyond the era that this film depicts and its influence on modern culture, this film also dives deep into the nature of reality as scene through technology. the film itself showcases a photographer who notices in his darkroom while processing film from a recent photoshoot in a park that he remarkably has evidence of a murder after magnifying, or blowing up, his film several magnitudes.
i think now ideas of HYPERREALITY in the digital age are common place as concepts such as DIGITAL DATA COLLECTION, VIDEO SURVEILLANCE, PAPARAZZI/TABLOID CULTURE and DEEP FAKES have provided means of both documenting and manipulating our belief that what our eyes relay to our brain cannot be relied upon. our reality can be dissected and cross-examined by a seemingly endless myriad of perspectives to the point now that TRUTH seems like a relative ideal, not based in actual fact.
science fiction has long toyed with this idea of authenticity and the limits of empricism (as seen in the the work of ISAAC ASIMOV, ARTHUR C. CLARKE), as have minds dating back to antiquity (SHIP OF THESEUS PARADOX, PLATO's ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE). i think were this film excels is that it asks us at what point do we stop trusting our senses and totally bow to the high reality brought on by technology. i think right now we are still dealing with this question as DIGITAL MARKETING and RESEARCH TECHNOLOGIES of such corporations like FACEBOOK and GOOGLE have already made us subservient to algorithms. its already happening.
this is a classic film that deserves to be watched repeatedly and i highly recommend it. also, it is worth paring this film with the later FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA effort THE CONVERSATION (PARAMOUNT PICTURES, 1974) as it is a similar premise, except this time dives into audio manipulation. in a world accustomed to AUTO-TUNE and the wizardry of PRO TOOLS, this film may also strike a chord, pun intended.
authenticity is one of those weird things in life, especially with regards to art. a pet peeve of mine is when a person criticizes a piece of art for not being "realistic" enough, as if portraying reality (which reality? your reality?) is a goal of value or perhaps even approachable. film, along with any piece of art originating in the human consciousness, is a construction. even documentary films are pieced together to create a viewpoint and in that sense are as "fake" as any narrative film. it is just the nature of art.
i'll give an example. QUENTIN TARANTINO chose in his western DJANGO UNCHAINED (A BAND APART/COLUMBIA PICTURES, 2012) to feature a song by florida rapper RICK ROSS in the opening credits, which numerous critics took umbrage for, you guessed it, not being realistic to the genre or time period. TARANTINO responded that the lilting orchestrations common to classic JOHN FORD, HOWARD HAWKS, SERGIO LEONE and SAM PECKINPAH films were constructions in of themselves, in fact the only music that would be native to the time period would be fiddle music from appalachia given that many of these frontiersmen were of scotch-irish origin.
what interests me more than the vapid chase for "realness" in film, which is completely quixotic in nature, is what actual choices directors and their production teams made and what are the consequences of those decisions. this brings me to ITALIAN NEO-REALISM, which was an aesthetic of the post-WWII period (popularized by ROBERTO ROSSELLINI, VITTORIO DE SICA, LUCHINO VISCONTI, FEDERICO FELLINI and others) meant to convey the physical, psychological and spiritual toll inflicted by the destruction and personal hardship of the period.
enter director PIER PAOLO PASOLINI and his deeply religious film THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATHEW (ARCO FILM 1964). his fidelity to the Bible made people question whether he was taking aim at the catholic church, who famously sided with the fascist BENITO MUSSOLINI government during the war (in fact, this pact is how the vatican gained independent nationhood). a famous choice PASOLINI made included depicting the Madonna as a preteen, which is historically accurate given the culture and life expectancy of the period and region.
this predictably cause an uproar, which is unfortunate. orthodoxies are meant to be challenged in a healthy debate over what constitutes faith, belief and the boundaries of interpretation. people look to confirm their own biases and viewpoints and it is the power of art to hold a mirror to such and examine, probe and question their validity. obviously religion is one of those settled areas of inquiry for some, which is ridiculous given that faith requires doubt, otherwise it is mindless blind faith.
PASOLINI made a career of questioning basic precepts of italian society and paid the price by being murdered for it. his example is one of courage, the kind that doesn't get caught up in jingoistic pursuits of dominating an "other," rather his sights were set on himself and his people and culture. to examine and cobble together their true essence on screen. to provide a new cultural identity in the wake of the fascism and compliance to church and state the defined the previous generation of italians.