Monthly Archives: June 2020

  • La Dolce Vita   Frederico Fellini (1960 Italy)

    La Dolce Vita   Frederico Fellini (1960 Italy) Marcello Mastroianni; Anita Ekburg

    Viewed: Mubi streaming 29 June 2020

     Filmed as a series of psychic fragments Fellini’s (FF) film is an oracular vision of the shape of things to come: the transformation of all areas of life into hallucinogenic spectacle with no distinction between the participant and onlooker. Spectacle fed into the amplification circuitry of the media who both feed off and feed into the images they produce. Fellini’s Dolce Vita is an initiation rite into a Western World driven and controlled by ‘image’ whose present dynamic takes the form of Berlusconni as a demonic hybrid apotheosis of the world of politics and media. As I watched Dolce Vita unfold I was awed by FF’s visionary clarity in relation to the convergence in shape and form of the control apparatus.

    The opening sequence of the movie is a statement of intent. We see, flying low over Rome, a helicopter with a huge statue of Christ slung by ropes beneath its undercarriage. The apparition causes everyone to look up at this giant airborne caricature. La Dolce Vita (DV) introduces Christ as the clown of the skies, a cosmic Christ for our entertainment and amusement Ladies and Gentlemen…… The flying Christ merges publicity stunt with religion, marrying the two worlds in a spectacle that presages the movies underlying theme.

    A thought: where did FF get this statue? It looks like it was made for the movie, for the brave new world of 1960. More interesting where/ how did he get the idea?   Perhaps it was something he actually saw or heard about; anyway, ‘as idea’ it perfectly and succinctly predicates what follows.

    In DV,  FF uses the structurally broken filmic fragments of action as a mirror to catch Marcello’s reflection as he is transformed and bent into shape by the images and social forces that come to define his life. An early fragment of the film sees him, an inveterate womaniser, spend a night trying to seduce and bed the American film star Sylvia (Anita Ekburg who’s a shoo-in for Marilyn Monroe). In the mirror fragment we see clearly that narcissistic narcosis induced by publicity and media attention have totally absorbed this Diva.   Marcello discovers (he takes a little time to get it) that Sylvia is not really of the flesh. She has a body, central to her image but an appendage to her life. She may seem present in the flesh but actually she lives inside an endlessly projected movie of herself.. She isn’t really present; sex with her can only be a two dimensional movie. Sylvia is machine for absorbing fantasy and projecting desire onto the white walls of life. For people like Sylvia life doesn’t flow; rather it takes the form of a sort of eternal recurrence: the same people sets and situations repeated time and time again. This recurrence is only broken by the momentary irruption within Sylvia of fleeting impulses that are for an instant totally insistent, but immediately fade. Time in her life doesn’t flow rather it is compressed into a crystallised everlasting and overwhelming present, bolted like the image of the flying Christ, to an unchanging image of herself.

    Marcello has the chance to avoid being trapped in the recurring movie of his projection as an image in two dimensional photogenic space.   He has a chance to chose to live through time as he is pulled by his girl friend to accept her love to share her carnality. But each glimpse in the DV mirror fragments shows him drawn further into the spectacle by the fascination of himself as an operating image. Through the shattered fragments of time Marcello develops the idea of himself as an increasingly self referential and narcissistic object.   An increasingly emptied out self, refined through the rectifying forces of the media, into a being of pure surface. A centre of attraction and repulsion in the endless parade that he joins to replace the tedium of life.

    The music as in all FF’s films complements in form the content of DV. It’s surging rich gorgeous encompassing. Parade music that is intended like the Pied Piper’s flute, to draw in everyone who hears it, to disarm resistance and allows the children to completely abandon themselves to the show.   The music is an amalgam of mood feeling and thought swamping and bypassing the human mental faculties as FF fills out DV with sequences of extraordinary fluid shots that capture small and large crowd situations and scenes.

    DV opens up worlds as spectacles that absorb, disarm and finally infiltrate the individual.   The world of religion filmed as a hysterical fusion of media frenzy and religious hysteria. Catholicism experienced as a testing ground for experiments that would later be internalised and finally replicated by the profane secular order. Marcello cannot see the hilarious farcical religious and media circus caused by two young children claiming to have seen the Virgin.   He is absorbed by it, and excited by the prospect of living and working outside time. He breaks (or rather the mirror fragments suggest that he does, for there is no convention of continuity in DV) with his girlfriend and joins the parade of partying which is the gateway to a sort of immortality. The movers and shakers the money and the power exist in a never ending spectacular that engulfs life and pulls everything along with it in a frenzied dance lived out in image and gesture, a saturated narcissism that ends in death. But of course death does not stop the show.

    The final sequence on the beach shows the party goers descend onto the beach to gaze at the lifeless form of a huge dead fish. A young innocent girl, introduced earlier in the film as working in the beach café also looks on. Both exist outside the spectacle,

    Adrin Neatrour





  • The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors   Sergei Parajanov (USSR 1965)

    The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors   Sergei Parajanov (USSR 1965) Ivan Mykolaichuk, Larisa Kadochnikova, Tatyana Bestayeva

    streamed by the Star and Shadow Cinema from YouTube 27 May 2020 during the great plague.

    no me

    Like the snow that covers the land in the opening sequences of ‘The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors’ (‘Shadows’), so Parajanov’s film overlays the consciousness of the viewer with the images of a symbolic journey.   The viewer travels not only through the territories of a remote culture but through a mythic soul-scape, on a journey from life to death. And the narrative, like the snow covers and alters the contours of what can be seen; to understand we have to look through the surface and see what lies hidden from our immediate vision.

    Parajanov’s title, The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors points to his intention in making his film: to reveal the shadows. Through music through image, Parajanov calls up the buried psyche of the Hutsul people, giving filmic form to the living ghosts of the past that were negated by a Soviet film industry that was hostage to history and the lifeless illusionary beings of an arid future.

    Inspired by Tarkovsky’s ‘Ivan’s Childhood’, ‘Shadows’ is a personal political response to the dead hand of Socialist Realism which was supposed to guide Russian film makers of this era. Soviet film making was directed in principal by a materialist manifesto. The scripts scenarios context development and interpretation were judged and determined by Marxist dialectic in which ideologically correct time was travelling in one direction: towards the victory of the proletariat, the realisation of Marx’s prophecies. But filmed in a society in which a shamanistic culture remained intact under the outer garb of orthodox religion, ‘Shadows’ follows the another path another time line, the soul journey: Ivan’s movement towards consummation of love. A journey that is archetypal and as an archetype is located outside time. Parajanov’s invocation of archetypes runs counter to the dogmatic shibboleths underlying soviet scientific orthodoxy. ‘Shadows’ embraces the hallucinogenic and the ecstatic. It breathes rare pure mountain air that rises above the stale gasses trapped in the abyss of political dogma.  

    Located in a Hutsul settlement in the mountains, the story told is that of the possession of Ivan’s soul by love. The love between Ivan and Marichka is born in extraordinary circumstances. They come together in blood, after the killing of Ivan’s father by Marichka’s father. Consequent to the killing the antagonistic tensions between the two families might endure for generations, but what happens is that love, as an exterior force occupies the souls of the two young people, overpowering them and fusing their destinies. They become as one, twinned souls in life and death, overtaken by the archetype of ‘the Lovers’ that transcends death, transcends time.

    When Marichka dies in an accident, the separation for Ivan is a violation. After her death they exist in separate forms: he body; she spirit.   The shock of separation is the shock of losing part of himself, because fused in an archetypal form of love he and Marichka are not two but one. Parajanov does not depict Ivan’s loss as melodramatic pantomime in which he expresses the loss as an inconsolable emoting, a flooding out. Marichka’s death does not cause this type of emotional pain, rather another type of response, an imperative to tear away from life and start on the journey to rejoin her.  In the way Parajanov shows Ivan, he has no ‘me’, in the sense of responding as an individual, he is a type. With Marichka’s death Ivan is subsumed into a mythical realm in which there is only the necessity to become one with her again.

    The effect of Marichka’s death is initially to weaken and loosen Ivan’s grip on life, as he experiences a pressure he perhaps does not understand but to which he bows. Acceding to her persuasion Ivan marries Palahna, a union that takes place in the human domain, and which crystallises for Ivan that after Marichka’s death, he no longer belongs to the world of men. Married and crushed by his new earthly bonds Ivan commences an accelerated race towards world of the the dead and re –unification Marichka.   His marriage to Palahna is barren and she desperate for a child that Ivan cannot give her, seeks out the local shaman, which relationship leads to Ivan being axed to death by the shaman in a similar fashion to his father. A death that in blood mimics that of his own father, but this time avows with his own blood Ivan’s tie to Marichka.  

    So one sees things in Parayanov’s film, perhaps one sees nothing more than one’s own shadows.

    The way the film is put together, the fusion of camera work music and mis-en-scene creates a maelstrom of hallucinogenic effects that transpose the action into an otherworldly dimension.  Parajanov’s camera, whether filming in the suffocation of the candle lit interiors or in the exposed raw exteriors, becomes a rhythmic instrument exulting in the intensities of collective and organic life. Most of the music is played by the people, pipes reeds horns jews harps digs deep into the fabric of the images calling up apparitions of daemons spirits and wraiths. And the settings: the compressed churches and wakes and the natural settings in particular the river sequence, become portals to a parallel dimensions of existence. In his fusion of these filmic elements Parajonov projects a vision of a world balanced on an edge between substance and shadow.

    The Soviet film industry was mandated to produce films with narrative structures which could only be interpreted in one way: that is to say in support the state’s official ideology. Tarkovski and Parajanov (after 1965) were not interested in making films that led to one interpretation. Their films were diffuse, structured to exploit material and content that were intentionally malleable, designed to bring out into the light manifold inherent possibilities of human experience.   What viewers take away from their films depends on what they see in the shadows, what is brought into light by their own subjectivities.

    adrin neatrour