Friday, 4 December 2009

It Was A Lovely Party, But Enough Is Enough.

Have a few to power through here - I’ve been slack and putting them through after the fact. But now I’m in Heathrow with a couple of hours until my flight, so thought right now is as good a time as any to get these out of the way. By my count (going off memory) I’m one film behind. And I’m about to spend five days in Iceland, so there is some serious catch-up to play when I get back - we’re talking two or three films a day every time I can manage it.

I watched La Dolce Vita almost a week ago - appalling behaviour from me. The film is acclaimed as a masterpiece - it is often cited in ‘Best Of… Forever’ lists, sometimes getting damn close to the top. It was a breakout Italian film from 1960, nominated for a bunch of Oscars (in 1962), though, curiously, not for Best Foreign Language Film, though I understand it was Italy’s official submission. I guess it’s a situation like that which affected Cidade de Deus earlier this decade.

The film has been noted as Federico Fellini’s breakaway from the neo-realist cinema he had made his name with previously. I can’t claim to be incredibly au fait with his oeuvre (how do you like your French?), but I do remember some Italian neo-realism from my university days. It’s also three hours long. I was going to have a rant about the length of films (I have a short attention span. I don’t care if it’s a classic, I need an interval if I’m going to be watching for that long. I’m a child of the MTV generation, right?) but then I watched Angels In America, so we’ll leave it for that entry, coming up.

The film is great. I don’t watch a lot of old-school cinema because they generally frustrate me for a number of reasons. I recognise they may have been important and influential then, but audience mindsets have changed, especially with the advent of television and multiplexes and hundreds more films in any given year. What we expect is different, and how we expect it to be delivered is different. Older films don’t ring as true to me because of the historicism involved - I can appreciate them, but generally it is an appreciation drawn from an understanding of the historical space it comes from, or from a deeper understanding of the overriding themes and styles predominating cinema at that time.

La Dolce Vita, however, I did like, despite the fact that I don’t really know much about Italian film period, let alone from then. And despite the fact that it is in black and white. All of the elements that normally frustrate me with older films (hammy acting, over-stylisation at the expense of any sort of realism, actors playing up to the fact that they’re ‘acting’ etc) all seemed toned down in Fellini’s masterpiece, as though he had anticipated that in forty-five years or whatever, people will have changed and this is what they will be wanting - and isn’t that just what makes a masterpiece? Without a little prescience they won’t survive, which I guess is why so many of the classics of cinema were completely unregarded or derided at their time - true cult films. The same can, of course, be said for music, literature, most any artform, but I’m going to limit myself to film for this moment in time.

The film looks stunning. I’m in love with some of the outfits they put Anita Ekberg in - her scene in the bar towards the beginning with the rocky backdrop is incredible, at least partly because of that gorgeous frock. The setting in and around Rome show up perfectly in black and white. Fellini does seem to mingle in elements of realism and expressionism seamlessly, simply heightening what is happening within the characters in an external sense, without overbearing. And the progression of the story throughout the long running time, getting from one place to one that, on reflection, seems completely unrelated, easily and naturally. It was beautiful to watch.

I’m going to give the film 4 stars for now, but I want to go back and watch it again, probably with a good rest behind me. However, even my tired, short-attention-spanned mind couldn’t deny that the film is a great one. I think its estimation has, in fact, increased since my viewing.

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