Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


The pictorial splendor of Satyricon
FELLINI SATYRICON (1969). Director: Federico Fellini. 

"Better to have a dead husband than to lose a living lover."

Petronius' episodic novel "Satryicon," which survives in fragments, is one of the oldest works of literature that still survives in any form. Fellini's film version, which is "freely adapted," is just as episodic and fragmented as the book. The film is full of pictorial splendor and often striking settings and scenic design, making it rather good to look at for the most part, but its lack of a strong narrative structure occasionally makes it exasperating and eventually tedious. The story, such as it is, takes place in ancient Rome and concerns Encolpio (Martin Potter), who tries to wrest his lover, a sixteen-year-old slave boy named Giton (the unprepossessing Max Born), from his, Encolpio's, former lover, Ascilto (Hiram Keller). Unfortunately for Encolpio, when asked to choose between the the two men, the fickle Giton decides upon Ascilto. Giton eventually disappears from the film as the two other men have a variety of bizarre adventures, including attending the garish feast of a pretentious rich man, and becoming slaves of the weird Lica (Alain Cuny). whom Encolpio has to marry before the former is beheaded. In scenes that were not in the novel, Encolpio and Ascilto murder the guards of a hermaphrodite with magical powers, and kidnap her, basically turning into two thugs. Another added Fellini-sequence has Encolpio battling a man made up as a minotaur in a maze beside an arena. Although Encolpio's bout with impotency and attempts to cure it are in the novel, it doesn't seem to occur to him or anyone else that he might regain his potency by bedding a male [after all the only one he is in love with is Giton] instead of the typically grotesque females paraded across the screen by Fellini. It's strange that Fellini made a film with so many homoerotic aspects to it, although most of the characters in it seem bisexual, if not pansexual. Apparently in the novel Encolpio was a former gladiator, so his begging for mercy from the "minotaur" in an almost cowardly fashion -- he says he's just a student and not a fighter -- makes little sense and might even be considered homophobic to a degree. [But the movie seems as confused on that subject as the novel probably was. ] The sudden collapse of a Roman apartment building is an effective sequence, and there are others. The film has sub-titles but because of the international cast it is also dubbed -- and quite badly. Among the many attractive and hideous faces on view, the only recognizable actor is Capucine [The Pink Panther]. 

Verdict: Sometimes this resembles a really bad Russian sci fi flick but if it's more artistic it's not necessarily more successful. **1/2.

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