Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

"She lives the life".

Italian week: 2 - Early Fellini

"Welcome to a bittersweet world of episodic adventures and strange encounters. Welcome to a sordid, nocturnal world of ruthless, callous boyfriends and stray movie stars looking for seedy kicks. Welcome to the harsh, unforgiving streets of a crumbling Rome, where hope can still prevail and dreams cradle the lost. Welcome to the world of Cabiria, a feisty, loud, outspoken and somewhat naive prostitute waiting for a miracle, and one of the most unforgettable and endearing characters of European cinema.

Eventually remade in Hollywood as SWEET CHARITY, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA is an often humorous, poignant, unflinching and vivid portrayal of one woman's picaresque existence and her perseverence through adversity. Starring Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina as the irrepressible protagonist, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA marked Fellini's last foray into gritty neo-realism before venturing into the surreal satire and dream logic of LA DOLCE VITA and EIGHT AND A HALF".

Thus that boxset of early Fellini movies describes NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. When I was 12 my "Picture Show" Annual for 1959 (which I still have) had a photograph (right) from it among the previous year's Oscar winners - and its taken me all this time to see it! I absolutely loved I VITELLONI (Italian label) when I saw it last year - its one of the great coming of age movies and it applies to life in any small town, I saw my own Irish one in it vividly - more mixed feelings though about CABIRIA - we are back in that Fellini world of happy go lucky prostitutes and their pimps who all seem a friendly gang looking out for each other, with visits to the country, and to the music hall. At the start someone asks who Cabiria (who has just been fished out of the river) is and what does she do. "She lives the life" a young lad answers.

"She works hard for the money" as Cabirina has her own (jerry built?) house and no pimp looking after her - its just her boyfriends who rob her blind as she naively trusts them time and time again. At the start one of them pushes her into the river and grabs her handbag - but at the climax (after selling her house and getting all her savings together) she has lost everything but still manages that smile .... we do not actually see her "working" apart from when the movie star picks her up, there is a lovely sequence of her dancing and Masina is indeed of course a great clown - and that disturbing sequence when she gets caught up in a religious pilgrimage at a local shrine where she seeks the Madonna's intercession to change her life and be loved for herself .

But of course now one keeps seeing Shirley McLaine as Charity Hope Valentine singing "If My Friends Could See Me Now" or making a meal of that climax in Central Park. Masina keeps it more real as she turns up to meet her latest man - Francois Perrier (who also ruined GERVAISE - French label) - who suddenly looks very shifty in those sun-glasses .... CABIRIA could be seen as a bleak, often depressing film as Cabiria seems too naive and so desperate for affection, she is almost simple-minded with her bundle of money for her latest beau - will she now end up living in a hole too? - like that older prostitute she recognised in that strange sequence with "the man in the sack" feeding the poor who live in underground caves ... one wants a happy ending for her. It is one of the great endings though, and the whole film captures that post-war Italy (like in Pasolini's grimmer ACCATONE or MAMMA ROMA with Magnani) before the LA DOLCE VITA highlife took over...

Masina made her first appearance as Cabiria in THE WHITE SHEIK in 1952 which I imagine I will like a lot, it will be my next Fellini (shortly) along with, finally, LA STRADA. I also recently got EIGHT AND HALF as a gift (thanks Jerry)  which I had not seen since the '60s, - and of course I loved AMARCORD and ROMA - perhaps Federico's most accessible films, and also have SATYRICON - how we rushed to that in 1970. I have not seen Masina's other great role JULIET OF THE SPIRITS since the '60s also, and liked Fellini's CASANOVA a lot too in 1976. So there are some other late Fellini's (like GINGER AND FRED, AND THE BOAT SAILED ON to catch up with too then ....  some Antonioni rarities next though. Of those Italian titans it has always been Antonioni I gravitated towards most but Fellini and Visconti make up that great triumvirate who came to prominance after Rossellini and De Sica.

I had another view of Masina too today in HELL IS THE CITY (Nella Città l'inferno by Castellani) or CAGED, made in 1959, a great scene where she is leaving prison and Anna Magnani is still locked up - its a stunning sequence on YouTube at:

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