17 July 2009

The Art of Fellini's Amarcord

There is an implicit trust in audiences evident in Federico Fellini's Amarcord (1973). The director believes in his audience. The great Italian film maker did not give in to formulas or focus groups or trends. Fellini was an original storyteller.
Many present day American films are finely polished and meticulously made. Their stars are beautiful, the characters they portray are smart, witty and sexy. The stories feature well honed dialogue replete with wit and subtle inoffensive social commentary. The special effects are flawless and the cinematography lush. These films are precisely edited helping the stories sail by while clocking in at around one hour and forty minutes. The musical scores are loud but perfectly accompany the story, often including a memorable song from a popular recording artist. The locations are either romantic international locales or finely air brushed big bustling American cities that look exiting and vibrant.
These movies are thrilling and entertaining and instantly forgettable the moment the credits roll. They're remembered again when the DVD, replete with extras, is available on Amazon.
The directors are gentlemen like Ron Howard, Michael Bey, Tony Scott, or Paul Greengrass. Their films are slick and cool and as nutritious as cotton candy.
Amracord is the polar opposite of this type of assembly line product. It is a work of art as opposed to a product. It is the result of a director's passion to tell stories with imagination and verve.
The story takes place over the course of one full year in the late 1930's in the Italian sea side town of Rimini. While Amarcord focuses on one family in particular it is more about Rimini, which is to say it is about the residents.
Several characters act as narrators, sometimes speaking directly into the camera. One even tells us when the film is over. Characters do not walk purposefully, they glide, they amble, they dance, they appear. One scene is the re-telling of a story and the character are highly mannered, they even start the scene frozen into position, not by the camera freezing, but by them holding a pose.
Fellini's camera work foretells what Martin Scorsese would later do in Goodfellas. Long wonderful tracking shots help evoke the kaleidoscope of a town's people and the events that shape their lives. These events can include anything from a peacock landing in the town square during a rare snow storm or a fascist rally or celebration of Spring's arrival.
The film's characters are, well, characters and quite eccentric ones at that. They're at once broad and as real as if this were a documentary. They are certainly not the archetypes or stereotypes of modern mainstream cinema. Some are bulldog ugly and gap toothed. Others are skinny as beanpoles some are as fat as houses and still others are impossibly old and leather faced. But not a one of them is repulsive or unpleasant in the least. For they are all unique and true to themselves. The town's beauty is a perfectly handsome woman of about 40. She'd be too old, too short and not stunning enough for today's Hollywood. But I'd take her over Julia Roberts or Kate Hudson any day of the week.
The goings on about town are at once of the everyday variety and wildly improbable. (Trust me if you see the movie the sentence makes perfect sense.) A family takes their mentally ill relation out of the institution for a monthly outing and he climbs up a tree demanding a woman and throwing rocks at anyone who climbs up to get him. This same family's teenage son gets himself into the tobacconist's shop after hours. The proprietor has humongous breasts and after arousing this ample woman by lifting her, he's veritably smothered by her breasts. The whole town sails out in all manner of watercraft for a midnight rendezvous with a passing luxury liner. It is several stories high, lit up like a Christmas tree and a sight to behold.
Amarcord is full of magic. The magic of everyday life. The magic that is there to those who look for it, who stop and sway to the music and wait for it to come.
Fellini could find that magic without reverting to high speed chases, jewel heists or global conspiracies. Hell, he could find it all in one village.
In Amarcord there is tragedy, there is romance, there is laughter and there is a wedding. There is everything. The film lasts a little over two hours. When it ends one wishes this were only the intermission. Another two hours would do nicely.
Amarcord does not fade quickly from memory. It is too visually compelling to be forgotten. The characters, the stories the wholeness of it resonates. It is not pretty and glossy and hip. No, it's so much more than that. It's art.

1 comment:

Joe W. said...

You are spot-on about the reasons that this film is so magnificent. Thank you for taking the time to express some of the reasons that Fellini is one of the great film artists of recent times. I would also encourage everyone to explore beyond this film and experience Fellini's other great works including "Nights of Cabiria", "La Strada", "8 1/2" and oh so many others.