ARISTOTLE, DANTE, FELLINI :
The Cinema’s Paradigm of Anti-Platonic Ideas
J. R. Kerr
“Considering the era when the films of Fellini were released, I have anticipated discovering some examples of Structuralist criticism - There is a lack of using post structural deconstruction paradigms to understand Fellini’s films. I hope to use existing criticism and add new understanding to the critical view of Fellini’s films.”
The above statement was my proposal for an independent exigesic study on Fellini. After seven years of college toward a film degree I had never seen any Fellini movies and had become really curious what cinephiles meant by “Felliniesque.” Connotationally I inferred that they meant ‘weird’ but I had to see for myself. I began with watching the canonical Fellini films ( 8 1/2; La Strada; La Dolce Vita) and then jumping around to the earlier and later films (The Miracle (writer); And the Ship Sails On; Ginger and Fred; and Cassanova). Throughout these films I detected no decadence, no decorative excess, no ‘weirdness’ (I guess cinephiles have sheltered existences); instead I got the sense that Fellini had a serious agenda.
My thesis was crystallized by a moment in Cassanova : Giacomo Cassanova stands atop a bridge preparing to commit suicide and announces that he “goes to join the great men of the past: Aristotle, Dante, Petrarch...” I was familiar with the names of Aristotle and Dante but had never read their work. I was prompted to read their work, research the authors and have discovered excursive, yet important ways that all of Fellini’s films contain and reconfigure these ideals of Anti-Platonic (I’m using this word instead of neoplatonic or Aristotelian) tradition.
One last bit of introductional pardon, I realize how problematic a “Great Man” view of History can be. I don’t think Aristotle would have come to be without the Lyceum (his school - where he learned from his students). Dante was a rebel at the core of an enormous civil war in Italy. Shakespeare is doubted to be the author of all the plays we recognize as his. So too the “auteurism” of Fellini films is not all his (He had great cinematographers and actors). Art is not in a vacuum. These ideas got around and have been reinforced throughout the dominant culture of the past two millennia. I can only hit the landmarks (celebrity authors) of how these ideas transformed over time. The emergence of new forms of art serves well in choosing how I pick who to look at. Aristotle’s art was rhetoric, Dante’s art was poetry, Shakespeare’s art the theater ( I’m only interested in him as a neo-Aristototelian), and then Fellini’s continuance comes through the cinema.
Cinema (or Television if one rents Fellini as video) is the dominant mass media. Using Fellini to introduce these other works is a really good “gateway drug.” These films should help bring to bear the issue of nature/culture arguments and even extend into radical thoughts on the neo-colonialism/ revolution debate. In Dante’s day the Church and State were married. Religion regulated the economy (the Knights Templar invented banks and ‘cheques’). Now in the 20th century when the Church and State are separate it is hard to use Inferno as a useful guiding allegory unless one can read Hell as an economic Chaos. Fellini is observant of economics in the same way, he sees economic dilemmas as being the same then and now. La Dolce Vita critiques Capitalism in the same way that Inferno warns against Sin.
Aristotle, Dante and Fellini all emerge from an “enlightenment” whereby secular teaching/ government conquer after centuries of sacred control. All three emerge in periods where public schools flourish. The Lyceum eventually subsided into a millennia where only the priesthood had libraries. Dante as a proto-renaissance political revolutionary emerges just before the Medicis restore public libraries to humanity. The Renaissance gives way to Baroque and the sacred takes control again. Shakespeare would fit in to the cycle as his plays occult an allegorized secular ideal; but his time saw the rise of an “absolutist” state and a deified monarchy. A world of sacred devotion to Catholic or Protestant maxims (essentially the same to me since both are Pauline Christianity) dominated the next centuries. The Industrial Revolution heralds a coming century of secular providence. The twentieth century sees a return of Aristotelian secular ideals and Fellini emerges. All three men try to retain sacred moralism within a secular allegorized sense. Recognizing the cyclicity of this historic struggle of sacred vs. secular as we live in these Halcyon days will allow them to prevail longer than they ever have before. A Pantisocracy can be moved toward with attention to the Anti-Platonic ideals in narrative Art.
Within this view of history what I mean by Platonic is that belief that men ‘are governed by passions, and must be controlled by a system of pitting passion against passion (paraphrased from Republic).’ Aristotle in Anima is like, “No, men have souls. Essence precedes Form;” and in his constitutions relied more on individual logic. This “are men innately good or bad?” debate recurs throughout history. I would label the Federalists as Platonics and Benjamin Franklin as an Aristotelian or “Anti-Platonic.” Rousseau vs. John Locke. Calvin vs. Hobbs. Dante vs. Petrarch. So too, I feel like Fellini is answering to the film tradition that reinforces systemic control of mankind (Griffith and on) and saying “No! Look at the midgets! They exist in a state of natural innocence! It is possible for man to be free!” He takes a place in the tradition of anti-Platonic paradigms and is unique in presenting the best of the new, and seventh Art.
For instance I’m not saying that Fellini meant to make La Dolce Vita a version of Dante’s Inferno; however, Fellini was informed by this work and an intertextual criticism of both yields a better understanding of how both are important to mankind now. I’m thinking that along the same lines as the way that some teachers will show Apocalypse Now as an introduction to assigned reading of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is the same way that: La Strada can introduce King Lear, Aristotle’s On Breath and Parva Naturalia; La Dolce Vita can introduce Inferno and Purgatorio; Cassanova can introduce Petrarch’s Rime and anything else about “Laura.” Seriously, I would have finished college without reading Aristotle or Dante if not for watching Fellini, so I think that there is something really important about the way Fellini “reveals” (thank you Sartre) the world. I want people to change the way they say “felliniesque.”
Lastly, I have begun to think that Fellini’s work falls into three categories or “periods” for him. The first era of his work is thematically analogous to Dante’s Inferno which shows ‘how not to do it.’ Fellini’s Inferno period definitely includes La Strada, La Dolce Vita, and 8 1/2. I think his second period is thematically analogous to Dante’s Purgatorio where the virtues of the protagonists are recognized beyond their sin, but they must “wait” to meet God. Fellini’s Purgatorio period definitely includes Casanova; maybe it includes Satyricon, and Roma too, but I haven’t seen these yet. Finally Fellini’s Paradiso period is clear in And the Ship Sails On and Ginger and Fred where truly virtuous characters meet their God and experience Transcendence. My analysis of Fellini is organized thematically around exposing these elements in each case.
PART ONE : FELLINI’S INFERNO
Chronologically the first of the canonical Fellini films and the first to earn him merit at festivals and the Oscars alike, La Strada (The Road) seems fairly straightforward. It seems to be about a girl, Gelsomina, who is apprenticed to a traveling one man side show, Zampano. He is mean to her, she gets depressed. Zampano kills (extinguishes) her friend, she dies of sorrow. He continues on alone. Once she dies, the film reveals that the girl is not the conduit for the “unifying action” that Aristotle prescribes for a story - that it is Zampano’s story and you need to watch it again to get it. The action is more at how Zampano must journey through life. From this focus the story emerges as a recontextualized King Lear (and to some extent MacBeth).
The initial incredulity of a Lear/La Strada comparison is rooted in that people are like “No, Lear was king... Zampano is a gypsy.” This misses the deeper significance of how both men are wanderers. Lear gives his kingdom away at the very beginning. Throughout Lear he travels light and yet carries these notions of being in control of a kingdom. Zampano is king of his mobile castle. Zampano constantly gives commands and never obeys any. Both men are undone by their delusions of being above the law. In this light La Strada is not as capricious as other critics read it, but contains a parable of existential thought.
When I say “existential” in reference to Fellini I have to be careful. Apparently existentialism exists in a couple different ways. It seems there is atheistic existentialism ala Camus and then Christian existentialism ala Jean-Paul Sartre. I for one think that for Fellini, what Aristotle had to say about Sisyphus is entirely more important than what Camus had to say. Further this Aristotle assumption on how spirituality is individual and standing trial before God happens to you alone forms the basis of Dante’s work, Shakespeare’s, and even Sartre’s. So I’m playing up Shakespeare as neo-Aristotelian and through existing criticism showing Lear as existentialist, then showing how La Strada is useful in reconfiguring this whole discourse. In none of these cases do I find any futilitarian sentiment, so I want “existential” to mean something like being free and responsible as the result of being an irreducible human.
In the Cohen chapter(1980) is a discussion of how Lear is an expression of crisis - the transition from feudalism to capitalism. The 1605 King Lear was written under the rule of King James and as such falls into the period of plays that all have a triumvirate representation of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the poor. Lear is unique in not having any reference to Christian ideology at all. It focuses then so much more tightly on politics. Shakespeare is at this moment considering Dante’s De Monnarchia and infusing his beliefs of how to run the right kind of a secular government (Fergusson, 1977). La Strada likewise “assumes ethics and politics to be parts of the same topic: the true welfare of man the political animal.” Consider how Gelsomina is taken in like a serf or indentured servant as the beginning in feudalism. The end where Zampano tries to assimilate into the circus is representative of capitalism. Lear/ Zampano cannot cope in the new economic/ political system. They are theorized so differently then the site they occupy at the end.
The presence of the storm, the presence of a character referred to as “the fool”, and the triumvirate presentation of the roles of power available to women hint at how La Strada is like King Lear. This last, the triumvirate, is seen as the three women that Zampano talks to (or has “intercourse” with) which are in order: a Harlot, a Mother, and a Nun. To what extent these positions are analogous to Lear’s daughters is a stretch; yet seen in terms of how both sets of characters are about women taking a Mantle of “office” there is a certain similarity. The Harlot boozes with Zampano and leaves with him to sleep (adulterously?).
The widow positions Zampano as a beast with immediately gratifiable needs. The mother / widow that has Zampano perform at her household also sleeps with Zampano. She positions Zampano as a beast and man hybrid whereby his intellect is apparently sated with the donation of her dead husband’s clothes and then his more bestial “anima” is sated with sex. The Nun theorizes Zampano as a superego driven altruist that she answers with compassion and purely soulful nourishment. All three women are wrong in their concept of Zampano, he is not one of the above and is shown to be more complex and more devious through his angst after killing the fool. Lear’s daughter’s likewise have an incorrect assessment of their father. The youngest has an unconditional love for Lear the way the Nun has for Zampano. Both Lear and Zampano both suffer the consequences of being untheorized selves at the end they face alone in clearly existentialist anti-climaxes.
La Strada is a reverse MacBeth. The three sisters warn MacBeth against ambition. The three Women roles in La Strada encourage Zampano’s ambition. Lady MacBeth urges MacBeth to kill his competition for the purpose of advancement. Gelsomina urges Zampano not to kill his competitor act, the Fool, so as to maintain his advancement. Both Lady M and Gelsomina are driven crazy by the murder and succumb to self-immolation. MacBeth is slain by Duncan - Zampano is merely punished by police escort to a beach where we see his punishment is the loss of Gelsomina.
Shakespeare has a heavy connection to Dante - he was heavily influenced by Dore’s prints, I seem to remember reading although that doesn’t seem right - Dore came along like 200 years right? (Fergusson said so)
All Shakespeare plays begin with the main character telling you who they are, what they’re gonna do, then they do it and it still surprises you....like Dante, like Fellini....
Aristotelian concepts of the four elements of Nature are dealt with as the primary subtext of La Strada. This notion is from Walter Metz, who pointed out that the force that breaks Zampano’s chains is the air in his lungs - not Zampano’s muscles. In 1983 Donald Costello in Fellini’s Road pointed out that Gelsomina is a child of the sea and is seen most often in shots involving the water as an element. She is at the shore in the first shots, runs errands involving drinks or the like, etc. The fool, I would think, is attached to Fire - his defiant stunts involve some fire and his character catalyzes or sets alight the final turning point. The fool as an agitator really burns Zampano. Lastly, I would position the three women archetypes as the locales upon which the Earth rests. Each of the three women are revealed in long shots where top soiled earth is seen underfoot as their anchor. Primarily the mother-widow is the location for the dirt (Earth) that surrounds her household - and upon which Gelsomina ultimately sleeps.
Aristotle’s Parva Naturalia has a number of subtopics. The coolest thing I found out from looking at two of these subtopics, On Breath and On Respiration ,while hoping to find some Fellini connection is that Aristotle knew about atoms. In On Respiration he talks a lot about the cycles of “spherical particles” as air. This is really important because the whole Parva Naturalia is generally dismissed as being wrong; especially in the 1935 edition before atomic power! Fellini is reclaiming the worth of these books with the reference to the power of the breath (for me anyway).
LA DOLCE VITA
La Dolce Vita (the Sweet Life) is regarded as the second of canonical Fellini films. Initially this film was acclaimed as a critique of a bourgeois society. Structural criticisms of the sixties and seventies positioned the film as the clincher to define a new kind of Italian cinema “break with neo-realism.” I don’t see how Fellini “broke” from something he wasn’t really a part of and I think his referent was older than “neo-realism.” The late seventies and early eighties saw the emergence of a more post-structural criticism combined with the economic crisis of the international art cinema (Bordanello). As a result of these trends, Fellini and La Dolce Vita are starting to lose status as academically worthy paradigms.
So, I began watching this film with expectations of figuring out what would emerge ideologically from decoding what was and what more importantly wasn’t there. I took notes as I watched luckily, because I was completely immersed in the text of the film. A week later when I watched Cassanova with Gary Price, we took note of the mention of Dante. Gary mentioned how he saw the young girl “Patricia” as Beatrice. I looked at how I might intertextually relate La Dolce Vita to Purgatorio which is where Beatrice finally emerges as a character. I did not get far but then looking at notes I had laid out corresponding to nine scenes I began to realize that La Dolce Vita is Inferno.
In a magnificent tome on Fellini, the author Tornabuoni (1995) includes several pages on how Fellini was courted by several investors to film a version of Dante’s Inferno. Negotiations went on with Japanese and American investors from 1989 until he died. There are several pages about how Fellini was laying out how to “see” hell. These pages notably describe a hallway in hell lined with refrigerator’s and toy with the notion of substituting Fellini for Dante as a character. So I don’t think that Fellini meant to make La Dolce Vita so similar to Inferno; rather I think that Fellini as a student of Aristotelian, Dantean ideas espoused analogous ideas from his unconscious. The Alpert biography (1986) reveals that Fellini went to “Dante High School.” How much more can his unconscious have been saturated than that?
In order to further my thesis about how Fellini works intertextually with classical European masterworks to comment upon twentieth century situations I feel like a review/ criticism of Dante is mandatory. However, all the stuff about Dante that I read is entirely less helpful than just reading Dante’s Commedia. This gets called “the Divine Comedy” and so I have always wondered about “comedy,” but come to find out that “comoedia” is just a play that “ends well - doesn’t have a sad ending.” I think these works should be referred to as the ‘Divinity Plays.’
The Cambridge Companion to Dante is helpful in figuring out the historical context of Dante in the parts that deal with Dante’s biography; yet the parts that deal with Dante’s texts are like stereo instructions that don’t make sense. At the end of the book the author reviews with amused contempt the “phenomenon of American Dante scholarship.” The Companion calls a number of American authors “cavalier” in attitude toward previous Dante scholars and goes on to further fustigation. This kind of pedantic discourse really prohibits “engaging” with Dante to apply Inferno to the modern day. The remaining bits that I want to try and make sense of are the places that position Dante as an existentialist, because I think Fellini positions Dante the same way (when he consciously quotes him) and that La Dolce Vita holistically is sort of an unconscious experiment with existentializing (further) the theologic prescription of Inferno.
Dante Allighieri was banished from Florence (like Casanova will be banished from Venice!) in 1302. Dante liked to hang with Charles “the Hammer” Martel. Dante gave a lot of thought to Aristotle which he accessed first through the St. Thomas Aquinas commentary on Ethics. So too am I using St. Jean-Paul Sartre’s commentary to see Dante and Lear. How did Dante access and engage and then reconfigure Aristotle’s ideas? Where is the connection? I think Dante read more.
Dante and Aristotle. In the Poetics Aristotle mentions a play called Helle (author and play unknown today) and a play called Prometheus, where all the scenes are set in hell. The loss of one of these plays, Helle, to record may indicate how Dante saw himself fulfilling a mandate to restore a referent to Aristotle’s sign.
Aristotle wrote much of his work on the nature of things. He spent the better part of two books examining how the form of things is equally important as the soul or essence of things. Put simply he states that vision is to the eye what soul is to the body - while no vision is occurring “it” ceases to be an “eye” which is somewhat obvious but also when not involving an eye “it” is no longer “vision.” Da Vinci and the Medicis ran amok with this notion in their architecture under the theory “Form as the Symbol of Function.” Dante is right in there with this Form/Essence Debate.
Later still, architect Antonio Gaudi changed this notion to “Form as Function” which is exactly, I believe, what Fellini is up to. Gaudi studied natural shapes, such as a beehive, for ideas upon how to push the envelope of engineering and enable the imagined spectacle of Sagrada Familia. Gaudi through use of bio-morphic shapes and contours was able to pioneer an amazing architectural precedent. So the “Neo-Realist” school that gave rise to Fellini is important similarly. Fellini studied real people and real stories and started to notice how ‘life imitates art’ and ‘art imitates life.’ Gaudi felt that architecture must reveal the built environment within nature. Fellini must have felt that film must reveal the world and the way to live in it. Now of course the English language uses “gaudy” (after Gaudi) as an adjective for over decorous nouveau-riche excess; and in much the same way film critics have maligned Fellini as being typically excessive to the extent that the adjective “Fellini-esque” is used.
So in order to read Fellini films as employing the encoding strategy of “form as function” two things must happen as assumptions. First, I think, you take encoding to the film as vision to the eye and as soul to the body. Second you reduce what is happen to simplest terms and “squint” at them. In such a fashion look at the beginning of La Dolce Vita. It opens with a helicopter borne Jesus crossing the city. It is Jesus rising (Easter?). It is people below Jesus, people stuck on the earth. It is people moving away or separated from Jesus. The presence of this statue is not an absurdist gesture, it is literal. Fellini is preparing us for the coming story with this adumbration. This is apocryphal in nature, most similar to the book of Nicodemus whereby immediately after Jesus rise from the dead he descends to Hell for battle with Lucifer.
The various parties and events that Marcello attends can represent the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno. Frantz Steiner is the substitute for Vergil and as such, the substitution represents a Fellini shift upon the archetypal Inferno narrative. Marcello is left alone to make his journey in what is clearly a Christian Existentialist twist. There are other shifts in how Inferno applies to us now, Fellini actually makes it easier, more accessible. As a clue of Steiner’s status as the Vergil character, in the episode involving Marcello’s Father, Steiner quotes Dante: “disperto dolor che il cor mi prime.” This line is from the Count Ugolino, the father who eats his son in Inferno.
Really strangely, but of note is that Tarkovsky analyst Maya Turovskaya reads Steiners’s act as sparing his children the horror of atomic war and claims that Tarkovsky ran with this reading in Stalker (p.127). I think it has something to do with a possible mistranslation of Steiner quoting Petrarch’s lines about “burning and Freezing” as like Nuclear Winter. She also states that Tarkovsky embraced Fellini and Kurosawa as cinematic ideal from here on; and that The Mirror could have been called Amarcord (I remember).
The nine circles of Inferno are organized within three broader categories of sin : Incontinence, Violence, and Fraud. So too, are the nine big scenes of La Dolce Vita.
Inferno and La Dolce Vita begin in a silent landscape. There is a moment before even the helicopter noise is heard. Once the “whupping” is audible, it drowns out the dialogue of sunbathers and of the pilot, paparazzi and Marcello. Dante is driven to hell by three beasts. Three celestial virgins vouch for him. Both tales have this. Vergil’s apparition appears to act as a guide - I seem to remember Steiner at the initial restaurant scene but then I think that the circles are also re-prioritized within La Dolce Vita from Inferno. Intimidated by Vergil, Charon the Ferryman ferries Dante and Vergil across the river Acheron, the river of Hell. La Dolce Vita seems to not have a Charon figure; but then all drivers (unless Marcello drives himself) are silent and intimidated by our protagonists who are “grim and fell” in their journeys.
Dante is seeking to find Beatrice. Beatrice has been known only as a young girl and died young and unfairly in Dante’s eyes. Beatrice is Dante’s Muse, his inspiration. “Beatrice” is pronounced something like ‘bee ah treetch ah” ,so the scene where the Perez Prado song “Patricia” heralds the introduction of a young flirtatious country girl (Called “Paola” in the film) to Marcello at an outdoor cafe while typing is a reference to Dante (however unconscious). This is the only moment in La Dolce Vita where Marcello engages in any kind of artistically pure novel writing and is presented so detached from the rest of the film that it seems like a flashback.
In the first circle of Hell on the internal Elysian fields stroll the unbaptised , the heroes and the wise men of antiquity and avant garde - there Minos uses his tail to assign the sinners to their place in Hell. The Minos is the maitre ‘d of the restaurant. The unbaptised are the unplaced, untheorized paparazzi - who do not sit but hover around tables. In the second circle of hell is the groaning of the lustful who are driven by the wind. Dante calls the famous Francesca del Rimini (Fellini’s hometown was Rimini!) from the throng to him. She tells him of how she was led to adultery, and Dante faints from sympathy. In La Dolce Vita Marcello and Madalena take a drive in a convertible on a windy night. Marcello calls a prostitute from a balcony where he takes her home while listening of how she came to prostitution. He is with a married woman, Madalena (even though this was the name of Fellini’s sister, it is no doubt a tip to the wise non-Pauline christian audience of the director’s savvy towards Mary Magdalene). They retire to a room where Marcello falls asleep (after sex with Madalena). The room is flooded and must be reached by means of planks laid by the prostitute across her floor.
Dante awakes to the cold heavy rain on the putrid earth. Marcello awakes at water from the flooded room. Dante also awakes to the face of Cerebus, the three headed dog guardian of Hell; a clump of earth from Vergil silences it. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think Madalena is also Cerebus, the guardian of the Bourgeois class and she is silenced in Marcello’s mind only by Steiner as they meet that afternoon. behind Cerebus is the Third Circle of Hell where the gluttonous lie in vomit and excrement. Pluto is here as a guardian of Hell. This is the party that Marcello attends to celebrate the arrival of the film actress. The glutinous patrons indulge in banquet and dancing and music. Pluto or Pan is represented by the actor comrade of the blonde bombshell. Remember this actor’s Pan-like appearance as he makes a flamboyant entrance to the party and interrupts Marcello and this girl.
In the Fourth Circle of Hell, the Hoarders and the Spendthrifts roll stones against each other for ever and ever. This is represented by the sighting-of-the-angel mob gathered that Marcello must cover. Vergil urges Dante to hurry. Steiner has urged Marcello to leave hack writing and return to real writing. The competing journalists roll against each other upon waves of scooters.
In the Fifth Circle of Hell the Wrathful are stuck in the mud and tear each other apart with their fists and with their teeth. To Vergil’s delight, Dante brusquely pushes back one of the souls who stretches out for his sympathy back into the bog. This fifth circle occurs as the party at Steiner’s penthouse. The indignant intelligentsia rip into each other with their wits and their mouths. The older woman who seeks an affirmation from Marcello is instead rebuked, to Steiner’s delight. Having arrived in the city of Dis, the inner city of Hell the travel is halted by screaming Erinyes who have snakes for hair and are bloodstained. Marcello’s progress is halted by Emma, his self-proclaimed girlfriend. She screams at Marcello for being callous. Marcello defends himself with the righteous statement “I’d rather be alone than live with your clingy maternal love. Life in the kitchen and in the bedroom bores me.”In the shadow of a pope’s grave, Vergil gives Dante a detailed description of hell. In the shadow of the Father’s departure, Steiner’s suicide gives a map and an agenda to Marcello’s tour of Hell.
The Seventh circle of Hell is divided into a river of boiling blood and a forest of suicides. Steiner’s suicide and its whole ensemble is this seventh circle. Frantz Steiner has shot his two children and himself while the wife was out shopping. Marcello is there to see the dead infant get prodded in its crib by inspectors who proceed to question Marcello. Again, Fellini follows anachronously the tour of the descent; but at one level Steiner remains the guiding motivation of Marcello’s journey - Marcello gets depressed and “sells out.”
The Eighth Circle of Hell is divided into ten pits for criminals. The travelers walk across bridges where there are: Seducers being scourged by devils (Madalena’s assignment of Marcello to the confession room); whores wading in mud; simoniacs buried in holes of fire; sorcerors with contorted bodies; Barretors boiling in lakes of misfortune; Hypocrites in coats of lead (the suit of armor); thieves being devoured by snakes; counselors of fraud enveloped in flames; sowers of discord with mutilated bodies; and falsifiers like the dadaists covered in ulcers. The eighth circle is both the party where Marcello stays up all night chasing debutantes and is also the final party where the empty house is broken into. The Nadia striptease to Patricia is in a sense her wading in mud as it is in no way alluring. The upcoming casting couch would-be farm girl is a sower of discontent and is contorted bodily by Marcello who rides her as a chicken.
At the ninth circle of hell is a freezing lake where traitors, with freezing tears on their faces, are frozen up to their necks. At the center of this lake is Lucifer. At the end of La Dolce Vita the decadent partygoers wander to a beach where they are more or less frozen in a tableau montage where they gather around the centered dead manta ray (also called a devilfish in the dictionary). The Manta is horned and demonic although tranquil in death. In Dante’s time of need Lucifer is merciful and on his fleece sends him through the centre of the universe to the light of earth. Marcello is nearly rescued by the encounter of the Manta. The young “Patricia” song Beatrice muse girl has returned to try and call Marcello back. She is away on a sand dune; and although Marcello notices her because she waves her arms, he cannot hear her. Marcello cannot hear his muse. He has lost his inspiration. At this moment is Fellini’s experiment with existentializing Dante’s Inferno complete.
How much so is Fellini a Catholic like other Italians? he would have said “it was inescapable” to have Catholic Guilt (Alpert, 1986). However there is something distinctly more Cathar in what Fellini espouses. If you don’t know “Cathar” try “Gnostic” or “existentialist.” La Dolce Vita is an esthetic theology of the totality of history eclectically made up of elements from the theologies and philosophies of Augustine, Albert the Great, Aquinas, Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare... and so on, but never reducible to any of them.
Fellini is with us out in the audience. He forces an interaction with Inferno in an allegorical sense whereby its paradigm is useful within our society. He cannot tell us how he decodes Inferno - he shows us. He takes the myth out of it (and out of the apocryphal Nicodemus indirectly). The sweet life is hell, he warns us.
I discovered after I wrote this whole thing that there are two other people who have done an Inferno/ La Dolce Vita comparison. In the Alpert biography he mentions the work of Barbara K. Lewalski and of Richard A. Duprey insofar as they examine Dantean prototypical characters. Duprey points out the “seven dawns” in the film as being tied to astrology. This Duprey guy sounds like a nut and doesn’t notice that the locales and other “actions” (and not characters) yield something when read against Dante. Worse, the seven dawns are better read as the seven spheres of Paradiso. Lewalski gets at how the film progresses from “the natural sins of the flesh to the more reprehensible perversions of the intellect.” I have not read her stuff yet and I hope that I noticed some things she didn’t.
The third of Fellini’s canonical Inferno trilogy is the dreamy 8 1/2. From this film emerges the features that constitute the label “Fellini-esque” and represents the last word that academia would hear of Fellini’s strength. From here out Fellini would be doomed to repeat narratives that were full of midgets, circuses, carnivale behavior. From this moment, Fellini became thought of as a style and not as having any kind of content. Personally I found it to be the least accessible of Fellini’s works, yet it provides the key to understanding how the protagonist is almost always a substitute for Fellini himself in all the rest of his films - since the Mastrionni character is an “art” film director.
8 1/2 opens like Falling Down (obviously vice-versa) with our protagonist in gridlock freaking out. A series of tight shots through and around the car convey his presence amongst other people who in classical Kitty Genovese related style do nothing to help him as he freaks. He starts beating on the windows, as if suffocating in his own car. Then he takes flight in cruciform. In the next shot he is revealed as being tethered by kite string to a beachcomber. He wakes up in a doctor’s office revealing that what preceded was a dream sequence and not “magical realism.” He walks directly to a black and white tiled bathroom where Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” blots out the sync sound. This seems to cut against what is seen, but consider that both are about ascension from earth after a “death” (whether it be borne by wing helmed Viking women or kite string). The “Ride” music carries across to an outdoor scene of octogenarians quietly frolicking. Valhalla is outdoors with the old folk?
Aristotle’s works in Parva Naturalia are continually invoked by Fellini’s unconscious. In this film are useful examples of how to understand what Aristotle was talking about in On Dreams. Aristotle is concerned a bit with the “persistence of vision” (the phenomenon whereby one still “sees” spots or light after closing eyes) in perchance explaining dreams. He concludes that dreams are not directly due to perception, more at imagination in the unconscious.
In On Prophecy in Sleep, Aristotle throws out the ideas of dream as prophecy. Aristotle is talking about how dreams serve to reveal the world in different and useful terms to the dreamer. Reading this stuff blew me away, I mean here is a guy 2300 years ago doing the stuff that Jung and Freud would get famous for. Marcello is seeing his life in the terms of his dreams and it is only by the end that Marcello figures out his life through what he is dreaming. The images are interpreted as metaphors and thus Marcello is reinforced in realizing what he must do to remain at peace within himself.
Nagisa Oshima points out that 8 1/2 captures a really useful sense of the inner state of non-productivity. Oshima states that Fellini alludes to the dormant director on furlough attaining this perspective. This includes “understanding the point of view from which one confronts a film...” etc. Oshima waxes post-structural but gets around to explaining that this will yield texts that include things that cannot occur to the purist cinephile. (I hope that I’m on this path.)
8 1/2 is traditionally seen as an excessive film with purely decorative substance; yet this is the first and almost only time (in what I’ve seen) that Politics emerge as dialogue from the protagonist (Fellini) where Marcello comments at a lunch discussion that “In this day - it is arrogant to say one can be Left or Right as if it is that simple.” Fellini as having grown up under the reign of Mussolini is commenting on the political arena of 50’s and 60’s Italy where multi-partisan systems redesigned the government at least every six months. Fellini is cautionary without being conservative and as a political manifesto is giving us “Accept Complexity.” The ending affirms this motto as after the film within the film is abandoned the cast holds hands and nobody fights.
Aristotle responding to Plato in the Poetics says that Art is more useful than History. Art does have a place in the Republic. Art may not be the “truth” Plato looks for, but it is “universal truth.” (paraphrased)
PART TWO : FELLINI’S PURGATORIO
The 1972 film begins with the announcement that it is a “Free Adaptation of the Petronius classic.” The first image is of a Hiroshima like blast shadow carbon impression (really a silhouette) against a tan chalked wall. A voice over reads,” The earth has not dragged me into the abyss, nor has the tempestuous sea engulfed me. I have fled from Justice, from the arena. I have even stained my hands with blood to end up here, banished and abandoned. Who was it who condemned me to this solitude? He who knows every vice - who himself admits he deserves banishment, ...Ascilto!” It should be no surprise that I would then place Satyricon amongst what I would call Fellini’s Purgatory films; but I have a feeling that I have a lot of explaining to do insofar as it could be read as Hell.
The Gamelan and African finger box music combined with the Lyrichord Ghana polyrhythmic drums throughout the opening scenes denote Time. This time is occurring simultaneously and overlapping; but it is nonetheless a suggestion of temporality. This music swells through the banquet following Gitone’s decision to go with Ascilto. The time of purgation begins for Encolpio with the loss of his surrogate Beatrice.
Ganymede, Narcissus, Apollo...legendary lovers- turned youth’s shadow into a flower.
The very structure that the film begins in is terraced ionteriorally like Mt. Purgatory. Ascilto is in a sense a surrogate Vergil.
Eumolpus says,” The Art doesn’t make you rich. Indicative of the apathy of our times. What caused this decadence? What happened to Dialectics? Astronomy? Philosophy - which once taught us the art of living?”
Gauius Pompeius Trimalchio. “gut that pig!” burping is very amusing - symbolic? Eumolpus says “those lines are Lucretius’!” Into the ovens? No, just harrassed.
“Pretend I am Dead..” They all grieve. Then he dies.
After meeting with Eumolpo who has said he would let him inherit anything, Encolpio awakes to slavers who take him and Ascilto, and Gitone aboard a slaver ship.
Lichas, the glass eyed wrestler takes Encolpio for a wife. This is a form of another trial the wandering soul must take to purge himself of the lust for Gitone. Humiliation is the name of the game. The presence of the grotesque hunchbacked midgets who hoist aboard a dead whale is symbolic of the useless labor of stone rolling. I would posit that Lichas can be read as Sordello, the poet who embraces Virgil; but then again Eumulpo and the Minotaur can be read this way also.
Three armed vessels appear. Cut to coast scene of woman seppuku - “The tyrant is dead!” “Your emperor is dead! We drowned him. There is a new Caesar!” Popeye gets mad and yells “Traitor!” See, Lichus is not a UN-VIRTUOUS guy, he just needs to chill. Similarly for all the charcters that seem demonic, consider the difference in their time and ours, they all felt righteous. As a gesture of sympathy to Popeye, Fellini gives us a shot of Lichus’ severed head floating adrift like Orpheus. Blaring trumpets.
Quiet then a child rolls a ring past two peacocks in fron tof a villa. A master frees all his slaves, knowing he will be set upon by the coup. He and his wife then suicide. See, suicice is a sin -but we have just witnessed the virtue of this man - definitely a candidate for Purgatory. Ascilto and Encolpio come upon the estate and find a remaining slave girl that they sex and capitalize upon to get food. This girl apparently speaks like Dutch or something?? Browless Negress with corn rows - Flirtatious fleeing.
The pair wander off at the omen of the soldiers burning the bodies of the house masters. They come upon a black horse heralding a woman strapped inside a cart as if pregnant - Ascilto nearly mounts her. The attendant invites them to see Hermaphrodite, the Oracle, at the temple of Ceres.
In the temple, Mbuti Pygymy music signals ..... A quadroplegic is brought into the albino teen. Grizzlor the disgruntle dpilgrim provokes our dauntless duo into murdering the octogenerian guardians of Hermaphrodite. “Blood stained hands adumbrated earlier. “ Our albino dies in the sun - Lupus? Our duo snuffs deranged Grizzlor. A wicked confusing cut takes us forward....
A Purgatorial hill with Encolpio being pushed down it by soldiers. Ascilto in stands with aristocracy. The priveleges of being Vergil. Enclopio refuses to fight the Minotaur, “I am a student!” which pleases the Minotaur warrior. Stunning big blue eyed Isis, but Encolpio is limp which annoys her!
Final trail and last act is for Enclopio to restore his flag from half mast. Eumolpo is there andd helps by taking the Duo to “the Garden of Delights” where homeboy gets a spanking. Are not spankings purgatorial? There is an elephant here....
An attendant, Goonies star, recommends the witch Oenethea after a tale of how she came to have fire in her nether region orifices. She’s Indian/ African ? Speaking Sweahili or Ghanian.... They must journey across the great swamps to get to her. Guy in fish suit??
Into the temple and our boy Encolpio gets like stoned on eleixir. He has a vision of Ascilto stabbed in a duel with the ferryman, didn’t pay his silver coin, I wager. A vulture crossses the room. He Confesses his sins, he is puged of them. he is able to mount the apparition of the Venus of Willendorf (Oenethea) !
Encolpio walks past an obelisk.
Ascilto falls into the tall reeds.
Encolpio walks across dunes where he comes to the entourage of Eumulpo. The poet has died. They announce the ship will not go to Africa. His testament is that no one inherits anything without eating a part of his body - revenge on those who made him miserable. A bunch of fity year old slobs sitting around chewing diseased flesh in order to gain material wealth.
Encolpio leaves with a Bacchal captian and his giggling Negro sidekick (both in Red). He goes as crew on to Africa. thus he passes beyond Purgatory into his heaven.
I have a feeling that nobody is going to agree immediately with my reading of the 1974 Amarcord (I remember) as being analogous to Purgatorio. I confess I expected to see it as Heaven, but there are a number of ways that clearly indicate that childhood was a kind of purgation for Federico and not the “training on what not to do” that I would call Hell.
Laundry hanging. “When the puffballs soar, winter is no more” The churchbells ring. Haha.
Bonfire mount = Mt. Purgatory. Man with the sack analogous to Cato?
Town artifacts from 268 b.c. Aristotle’s time! People have Roman and Celtic blood in their veins.
The seven (more or less) teachers embody the terraces of the seven deadly sins. paticularly the fiery redhead who embodies Wrath. Thor, Vulcan, Mars....
“Dante, Pascali, D’Annunzio have all lauded this land” says narrator Fellini-surrogate.
The killer proof: The Pendulum is indicative of the uniqueness of Purgatory in its presernce of Time.
All classes are Purgatorial - not Training - all the kids hate it.
Woman coming out of Fulgore Cinema, “It was wonderful. I had a good cry.” Katharsis. purgation. She passes by a shop window full of standee saints like the relief paintings of saints on Mt. Purgatory.
Victory Monument: Angel with plump rump leaning over shoulder of soldier.
The “looking for something?” moment - a fib.
“internationales” Hymn of subversives during blackout - in Bell tower - they shoot at - making bell ring - for whom does it toll? - Finally kills the music.
Aurelio forced to drink castor oil.
Grand Hotel / Old Lady. harem fantasy.
The narrator compares Leopardi to Dante.
Crazy Uncle Teo carries stones in his coat pockets out on annual carriage ride with the family. He shouts “ I want a woman!” and throws stones at would be rescuers. Finally a dwarf nun coerces him down.
Everybody gets to sea to watch the big jumbo liner “Rex” go by. Blind “Man with Sack” accordion player is surrogate “emperor has no clothes.” Fog: g-dad goes to house bu “Everyone’s gone. where am I?”
Boy in cape finds white bull in fog. (I need one of those Wordsworth ‘dictionary of symbols’)
The Gang shadow-dances in front of the Grand Hotel. We hear the orchestral strings.
“hey its snowing” so they all run out of the cinema - haha -never see that today. A Peacock flies out to fountain and spreads its tail feathers amidst falling snow.
Mother sick...and dead. After the funeral all of them sit down in front of a big sign that says “Paradiso.” This is probably something to do with the end of the Purgatory films and the emergence of the paradisiacal ones.
Gradisca’s wedding. Just like Beatrice departure that allows Dante to continue on. Nino Rota’s music is really cool here. Long long shots....credit...and sudden end.
This film is held academically as artistically bankrupt and as a sellout to Hollywood with the incorporation of Donald Sutherland. Having seen it, I find Casanova to be my favorite Fellini movie and I thought Donald Sutherland gave a brilliant performance. Casanova, as the main character, is again a surrogate Fellini and delivers soliloquies to the camera in a way that makes it clear that Fellini is trying to directly address the audience. The film is based on Casanova’s real diary and as such can be held against the chronicle of Dante through the Divine. Casanova is not really vilified or given much sympathy; thus he exists in a kind of moral limbo. There are significant ways in which the film can be used intertextually to work with the ideas of Dante’s Purgatorio to comment upon twentieth century dilemmas of wage, labour and capital.
Purgatory is unlike Hell and Paradise in that Time is occurring there. Souls are existent in Hell/Heaven for eternity and in Purgatory a “wait” eventually leads to passage into the eternal. There is no scriptural authority for Purgatory, it was developed in the early Christian centuries to deal with the problem of those who’d begun repentance but not fully turned toward God yet. The landscape is made up of the displaced environment from the centre of Hell where Lucifer cratered on impact. So Purgatory is a three leveled mountain where the last two areas have seven terraces that deal with each of the Seven Deadly Sins. “At the base of the mountain is the caretaker Cato. Cato seems like an unlikely candidate because he was a pagan, a suicide, and an opponent of Julius Caesar. Through Cato, Dante is reminding the reader that matters we might think we understand from having journeyed through Hell are indeed more mysterious.” (Cook, 1995)
Similarly the status of Casanova is like that of Cato. Casanova is seen as an altruist and ultimately repentant even though a pagan, even though tempted by suicide, and even having been banished from Florence by opponents. The film begins with a giant Buddha sinking at a Venice festival. The spectacle of the issuant head is reminiscent of the mountain of Purgatory. The “Dante” traveler is the audience itself since Casanova delivers soliloquies right into the camera.
Casanova crosses the water (water, sea, birth) to rendezvous with a nun to engage in sexual favors for the audience of a nobleman aristocrat French Senate. This and the encounters with the key women that Casanova sleeps with can be read as the Seven Deadly Sins that have a terrace each on Purgatory. Obviously each is reducible to Lust but I think that the nun is the best site of Lust to examine. The other can be seen as embodying attributes of Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, and Gluttony. I don’t think it takes much to see this so I’m not listing each.
The mechanical Owl can be read as a symbol of Judaic lore Lilith or as a symbol of Archimedes built owl; yet I think the important aspect of this owl is that it signifies the Time that is present in Purgatory. Clockwork is the key to how the universe of Purgatory runs. It is the musical owl that enables Casanova to perform his task of repentance that he feels will enable his transcendence eventually.
Casanova wanders toward will-o-the-wisp light which lures him away from the bridge he would have leapt to death from. It is a tent of an arm-wrestling BIG WOMAN with midgets in tow. This giant woman can be read as embodying the terrace of Pride where scenes of famous acts of humility must be carved. The humility that this big woman teaches Casanova enables him to continue on without suicidal tendencies. Later still on the terrace does Dante encounter the rock-rolling Sisyphus guys. Three that Dante talks to are a politician, an artist, and then another politician. These guilty of pride are analogous to those Casanova talks to before seeing his mother at the Opera. There is something odder going on in Casanova here reminiscent of the Hamlet mother scenes (Oedipal implications).
Later still in Cassanova I broke out laughing when the aged Cassanova announces to a room full of sniggering Bohemians that he will be remembered as ‘a great writer, a man of science, a philosopher’ since of course we only remember Cassanova as a porn star. The more I thought about this the more I realized that this moment is Fellini himself addressing the world. Fellini as director did not reveal any of Cassanova’s works: we never heard about his novels, his philosophies, his science. Cassanova is the Fellini surrogate. Fellini is addressing, criticizing and apologizing for the very word “Fellini-esque.”
The mechanical woman I think really shows how even this great legendary lover winds up alone - again an existentialist thought and an existentialist ending - we are alone in the end. That is, Casanova is free of all ties yet responsible for his fate and not understandable in exhaustive scientific terms. So on one hand I think it more significant to read that Cassanova winds up alone rather than read that he evolves a preference for robot girl. The irony that the great lover Cassanova has no “longtime companion” and dies alone is a real stab at the way society is fixated upon reducing people to bumper-sticker philosophy. This isolation at the end of a life remembered for life particularly calls to mind the life and works of Petrarch, which is why I think Casanova mentioned him earlier.
I was not able to find much on Petrarch. His books are next to but only like a shelf as compared to the wall of Dante stuff. This by itself is significant information in realizing that Petrarch has apparently not been translated very well. Tons of Italian arts refer to this guy’s poetry; but it seems like Hemingway translated it (it is kind of bland). Petrarch did a big novel-like story of Hannibal called Africa. I didn’t think this was what Fellini was referring to. The other big thing is Petrarch’s Rime, which I read parts of and are obsessed with Love stuff. The coolest and most useful stuff I picked up was the printed Journal and Letters of Petrarch. Most of the letters are to the painter, Boccaccio. Fellini did a film about Boccaccio, so I wonder if that’s where he got hooked on Petrarch.
The thread of how Petrarch fits in to the Casanova quote is that Dante, as pariah, came to live with Petrarch’s grandfather for a while. A bunch of letters talk about Petrarch’s dislike for Dante. See, Petrarch fell in love with this girl “Laura” in his twenties. They never got together but Petrarch fanned the flame for twenty years. Then Laura dies and Petrarch remains obsessed with her for another ten years. At last, Petrarch comes to and “finds God” where he’s like,” What was I thinking?” So into and through the romantic period Dante is seen as the authority on “Ideal Love” and Petrarch is seen as the authority on “Real Love.”
I think the means by which to best understand the end of Casanova is through one of Petrarch’s poems. “I keep lamenting over days gone by - the time I spent loving a mortal thing. High God, to you devoutly I return.”
“Beatrice” was not a real person, she was an idealized form of love. Petrarch’s poems are held up as the counterpart love of the real through fixation upon “Laura.” Cassanova has just wandered through Purgatory as the landscape of the film and is emerging through the dedication to ideal love into Heaven, Paradiso. This robot girl serves as an illumination about the artificiality of Beatrice and leans more toward Petrarch’s ideas about love. Both avenues of love wind up in standing before God without that love; yet they prescribe truly different ways to live. Casanova is paralyzed by the choice. Which is why Casanova ends rather nebulously in terms of his fate.
PART THREE : FELLINI’S PARADISO
The reason that I think an ideal of heaven is mandatory for society is that there be some kind of goal. I don’t feel so bad about stretching Heaven metaphorically over the themes of Fellini’s later films because I feel like they are goal-oriented rather than process-oriented (as were the ‘how not to live’ ‘how to live’ films he did earlier). I’m told that James Joyce read a page of Dante a day as he wrote his last three books and never finished the third that would have been analogous to Paradiso. This seems to be a weird trend amongst authors whether their topic is Hell, Purgatory, Heaven or whether it be Reluctant King, Round Table, and then Holy Grail (lots of people have died in the middle of their version of Percival). Perhaps this is how life should (or does) imitate Art. There is Training, Process and then Goal. in these Fellini terms of what the goal is I begin to understand Dante’s God and heaven a little better. Applying it is hard, because where I’m at is all process stages of my life (although graduating will be nice).
AND THE SHIP SAILS ON
The main reason that I would mark this film as being the best example of how late Fellini films follow the Paradiso is that from here out there aren’t any real sinners or bad-guys. There are some surprises in Dante’s paradise like finding Siger of Brabant, a philosopher who was thought to have gone too far in his use of Aristolte. Fellini’s later films also lionize some otherwise suspect caricatures like the protagonist Orlando.
The opening montage of real-looking photographs into ocean voyage seems to follow Terrence Malick’s brilliant opening of Days Of Heaven. I was really surprised to see the weird cameo old man from David Lynch’s Wild At Heart (“they’re ruining the soil. You see that don’t you” to Cage and Dern in bar N.O.) as the journalist Orlando. The exigence for the story is that opera diva Edmea Tetua has died and in her will requests to be buried at sea off the coast of the isle of Erimo. The time is right during the outbreak of World War I. The ship is full of bourgeois opera stars who are paying their last respects, and includes a few members of the Austro-Hungarian Aristocracy (the Archduke and his mother). After two days of fooling around at sea, a group of Serbian refugees are picked up from a shipwreck. These are all the ingredients one needs to find a story about Capitalism.
“Everything’s been said and done. And Better- I am a narrator of an ocean voyage. Or the voyage of life - what’s the point?” questions Orlando in address to the audience. Fellini gets very post-modern with this sentiment from his protagonist but answers with a movie that is content driven and not stylistically driven. Just like Aristotle is a “stream of consciousness” writer and I feel, incredibly easy to read - Fellini is a “stream of images” filmmaker. What can make a style sublime? Starting with Aristotle’s On the Sublime is the idea that “metaphor is the token of genius - it cannot be learned.” Fellini examines this idea on the streamlined journey of mourning opera divas. Is their genius sublime? Can the style with which they perform (not what they perform) emerge as the means by which a criticism of post-modernity falls apart?
The moment where the opera stars sing to the men in the boiler room who love it is an amazing utopic vision of synergy between the two classes. In the political and artistic sense then Fellini is addressing the situation of being capitalist and prescribing a union through Art. This is not just a decorative way to move through the story. In fact film critics of Fellini’s day in Italy called ‘style over content’ a genre of “calligraphy.” This is really pretty mean and I can definitely see why Fellini felt like he had to do make these narrative gestures.
There are a huge number of little moments where post modern references to classical Art occur. The sea gull that dive bombs the dining room is later named “Icarus” and heralded as the ship mascot. This doesn’t have any tie-in to the myth of Icarus and Daedelus; although the fact that the sphere of the Sun is so significant in Paradiso may have the merest hint of useful allegory here. I also find the scene where Orlando faints to be reminiscent of the fainting that Dante does constantly throughout his Divinity pilgrimage.
In the conversation following the Edmea seance emerges an important trope of the film. It occurs where the pouty rival of Edmea’s asks about how Edmea was able to sing over three octaves in one breath. Her old music teacher recounts that Edmea had said “I envision a sea shell, my eyes follow the coils up and up and my voice follows, not lungs - breath, I became catalyzed energy.” At the funeral, the conductor adds, “ I am the instrument of my voice. I am its diaphragm. it obliged me to its will.” This is a lot to work with for me because I see elements of how Aristotle’s Anima is referenced among other things. Later on the bridge captain’s office we see a giant hanging portrait of a seashell; so I think this sea-shell business is symbolic of the bio-morphic Antonio Gaudi “Form as Function” stuff I mentioned earlier.
My friends Gary Price and Scott Rhodes related to me that a lot of English feel like the Aristocracy (Queen) represents a fourth and crucial component of the “checks and balances” system. The Aristrocrat exercises a humanistic authority over the other branches. I hadn’t been understanding what they meant until I considered the scene where the young Archduke is able to spare (however briefly) the Serbs just by his presence. I was thinking that if his character had been replaced by a Senator or House Representative that the warship would have fired regardless.
This film is basically Fellini getting to fulfill the wish of going to his own funeral. He recognizes that he is going to be remembered, as Casanova, as being more of a style than as a contributor to the content of revelatory art. Fellini is begging for a closer look, a rescue of what he has been up to. I think this is why the camera swings out to show us the set and “lay bare the device.” Furthermore he presents caricatures of those he feels belong in “heaven” also.
The final sepia tone black and white footage of Orlando’s escape is rather puzzling. The Paradiso and other transcendental works end with meeting God and passing on. I’m trying in that light to read what the Rhinoceros means, or could mean. In the dictionary, “rhino” is also listed as meaning “money, or cash.” I think this could have something to do with it; there’s a happy ending that Orlando gets away with the money, the milk. “Rhinoceros” also means ‘waxed nose’ so I wonder if it might not be read as a symbol of Perception, the sense of Smell? The Italians probably draw something entirely different from this cryptocrystalline sign (is it, has it ever been a political mascot?). In any case, I think Rhinos are cool and in stature alone impart some sense of God; but then cool animals like Rhinos and Gorillas are the only reason I think there might be a God.
GINGER AND FRED
The landscape of this film can serve to work with the landscape of Heaven in Paradiso. TV is God. The landscape of the train station busy with commuters under a barrage of “loud” advertising can be read as something like the “pearly gates” where choirs of angels and trumpet fanfare welcome the traveler Dante to Paradise. At another level the grotesque spectacle of things like the dangling pig’s foot drive home the sense that “God works in mysterious ways.” This God is clearly analogous to the apparatus of the television in Fred and Ginger.
The TV screen exists at every locale in the film. There is TV in the car that picks up the heroine, a Ginger Rogers impersonator. There is TV on in every room of the hotel. And the whole exigence of the story is that there needs to be a Christmas Special televised. “Fred” and “Ginger” continually refer to television as being dominant. “Ginger” when asked why she has returned, and what if people don’t like it replies, “because of TV - the artist is a wolf and cannot resist the call of the wild.” This is significant because it helps understand God in terms of being an indomitable force, not necessarily a desirable or easy to cope with force.
The early moments with Giuletta Masina, “Ginger,” recall for me elements of the last five cantos of Paradiso. In these, Beatrice replaces Vergil as Dante’s guide. “To complete the Purgatorial process Dante confesses his sins to Beatrice, who acts as his stern judge, but also as a compassionate mother.” (Cook 1995) In the same way Giuletta articulates this dual judge/mother position in her response to “Fred.” She at once scolds his lascivious manner and shabby appearance, but underneath is really glad to see him and is ultimately always protective of him. She is living the lines of the Admiral character who says “artists are the benefactors of humanity.” Giuletta and Beatrice are this kind of benefactor.
“Fred” or Albert Light, a.k.a. Pippo Boticello, has a different motivation for coming to God. He intends to tap out the Morse code like message, “You are all sheep.” His action helps understand the dominance of a “swift and terrible God” that some religions appeal to in order to catalyze man’s progress. While at god, Pippo is looking for the absolution of Giuletta’s company. By the end of the film he says to her that meeting her is the reason he has come; but I don’t think the meeting is ‘get back together’ so much as the same kind of ‘ I’m going to prove that I’m not down and out yet’ that drives the ‘you are all sheep.’
The references to Aristotle are all over the film. Not many have much depth but seen as a landmarks all over the landscape frames the Aristotelian ideas as significant to heaven. The female impersonator/ transvestite talks about “prophecy in sleep” in the same words as Aristotle does (although of course Aristotle dismissed it). Later when the Clark Gable impersonator chases after this transvestite he calls, “come here you displaced person.” The only time I have ever heard the words displaced person is in the Inferno. When the mayor visits Giuletta and tells her he “used to imitate the sublime Fred Astaire,” I’m thinking about On the Sublime and also that Dance as an Art is credible when Style overrides Content (like singing in Ship Sails On). The “flying” pope’s comment on “everything in life is a miracle. It is up to us to discern it” seems to flow from an Aristotelian awe of Nature.
There is a way in which superstition is ridiculed by technology in the same way as religion ridicules superstition. Pippo brings this issue up when his horseshoe sets off the alarm at the television studios. Individualistic practices are sort of crushed under systemic spirituality. In the case of Pippo and the Paradiso ,ego-assassination must precede transcendence. This is a nicely illustrative moment.
The diaphanous plastic sheets draping over the white tile and chrome piped bathroom suggest a heavenly landscape of clouds and ether. This waiting room in heaven is where some purgation (Purgatory?) of their intent for being on the show is addressed. They both reveal how they decry TV and then pass beyond their cynicism. A Dante Purgatory means nothing to me unless I see how in real terms this process leads to a goal within the span of mortal life.
Midgets make me happy. I smile whenever “little people” are visible. Pippo invokes some Rousseau ideas after an encounter with a chimpanzee to exclaim that he wishes humanity could get back to the natural innocence of apes. There has to be something in this with Fellini’s (and mine) delight in midgets. Midgets clearly are not capable of the “violence” category of sin. Somewhere in the film is the idea that “we are not small enough to analyze our relation to the world.” This is the best reason for the midgets, they look up “in awe” at the whole world. It would be kind of cool to go through life in awe of everything. (I know I’m papering over the fact that most midgets would rather not be midgets) However, I for one cannot imagine a Paradise that did not have “los Lilliputs” performing.
The most important aspect of Ginger and Fred that clinches my working with it alongside Paradiso is in both mentions of “Martial.” When Pippo reads his dirty rhyme about midgets to the writers in the waiting room, they laugh and litotically call him “martial.” I had to get a dictionary again. Apparently “Martial” means “suited for war, or warriors.” I’m also drawing that this is some kind of idiom involving at root etymology something like the war god Mars and “cuss like a sailor.” In Dante’s Paradiso the souls all exist as aspects of the mystical rose although they occupy different spheres of it. Dante discovers his ancestor occupying the sphere of Mars, which is how the individual souls appear as most like what action they were associated with. Reading this part of Paradiso is really cool because souls of both sexes inhabit the different spheres. I would position Women are from Venus, Men are From Mars then (because it is wrong) is part of the “Backlash” that Susan Faludi sees hitting second wave feminism. Fellini like Dante is creating a world inside this dressing room where all vocations have a place within God’s landscape. This unity and “innate sense of right and wrong men are born with” is an important characteristic of not only
Dante’s Paradise but of Aristotle’s Anima. That “passion” is not prohibited by God, but is made room for - makes me feel authorized to give Plato the finger.
In the 100th Canto of the poem, Dante sees God face to face. At the climax of Ginger and Fred they come face to face with a television camera. Dante is unable to recount the experience fully, words are not enough. Pippo and Giuletta are stricken by awe, Pippo even forgets some of his steps. I am really sure that Fellini did not mean to say TV is God; however, there is something in stories like this. Where a journey brings the characters to Godhead, the Wizard of Oz, or ‘We Are Proud To Present’ reveals something about the way that man can transcend his immediate concerns and resolve to live in harmony with the environment. Seriously, from there “Ginger’ and “Fred” aren’t worried anymore, they’re at peace within the same landscape that was grotesque earlier (the pig foot train station), and they transcend physical lust to pardon each other and enjoy ideal love. So too, from this point in Paradiso is Dante reading a prayer from St. Bernard of Clairvaux and being led to the Virgin Mary. The Virgin is the site of multiple paradoxes for Dante (virgin birth, holy trinity, etc) and I see how working with paradoxes even in a Pauline sense is useful for figuring out how to live. Lastly Dante reminiscences about how his journey began which prepares the reader to read the Commedia again. Fred and Ginger ends with their nostalgic waxing on their meeting at the beginning of the film which prepares the viewer to watch it again.
If we can retain the moral and ethical guidelines of past sacred systemic control into the secular and political freedom of the twentieth century, we can perhaps ensure that the new enlightenment continues longer. Each time the sacred dissipates, an obsession with ‘apocalypse coming’ returns to the front of societal struggle. At the same time as Fellini’s “Inferno” film period closes, Carl Orff composes De Temporum fine Comoedia which draw upon the third century theologian Origen to prophesize that “The end of all things will be the oblivion of all guilt.” Origen spoke of “guilt, innocence, and God’s forgetting” rather than “sin and forgiveness.” Orff in his Comoedia speaks of God who raises and restores Lucifer to being an archangel at the end of time. The idea of a forgetful AllGod has been heretical under sacred control; yet in a secular world is useful in seeing how to live for the now. Not only would a forgetful God forget sin, he would forget virtue; thus would a man be forced to continually be virtuous. I close with this tangent because I feel like it is a useful way to frame the philosophies of those I label “anti-Platonics.” The idea that individuals behave is the key in a non-Republic world. It could happen.
Alpert, Hollis. Fellini: A Life. New York: Atheneum, 1986.
Aristotle: Introductory Readings. Fine, Gail and Irwin, Terrence. Hackett Publishing: Indianapolis, 1996.
Aristotle. On the Soul, Parva Naturalia, On Breath T.E. Page (Ed.) London: Loeb Press, 1935.
Aristotle. The Poetics. E. Capps (Ed.) London, Loeb Press, 1935.
Broadbent, Geoffrey. Signs, Symbols and Architecture. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1980.
Bordanello, Peter. Italian Cinema.
Burke, Frank. Federico Fellini: Variety Lights to La Dolce Vita. Boston, 1984.
Cohen, Walter. “King Lear and the Social Dimension of Shakspearean Tragic Form, 1603-1608” in Shakespeare: Contemporary Critical Approaches. edited by Harry R. Garvin. Lewisville: Bucknell Press, 1980.
Cook, William R. and Herman, Ronald B. Hell, Purgatory, Paradise: Dante’s Divine Comedy. Books on Tape. Springfield, VA : The Teaching Company, 1995.
Costello, Donald P. Fellini’s Road. Notre Dame Press, 1983.
Descharnes, Robert. Gaudi the Visionary. New York: Viking Press, 1982.
Fergusson, Francis. Trope and Allegory: Themes Common to Dante and Shakespeare. Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1977.
Jacoff, Rachel (Ed.). Cambridge Companion to Dante.
Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Murray, Edward. Fellini the Artist. New York, Frederick
Ungar Publishing, 1976.
Oshima, Nagisa. Cinema, Censorship and the State. Cambridge, MIT Press, 1992.
Petrarch. Selected Poems. Anthony Mortimer (Ed.). University of Alabama Press, 1977.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. What is Literature? New York, Philosophical Library Inc., 1949.
Stubbs, John. Federico Fellini: A Guide to References and Resources. Boston, 1978.
Tornabuoni, Lietta. Federico Fellini. New York: Rizzoli Int. Publications, 1995.
Turovskaya, Maya. Tarkovsky: Cinema as Poetry. London: Faber and Faber Press, 1989.
Wagenknecht-Harte, Kay. Site and Sculpture : The Collaborative Design Process. New York : Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989.