Italyfilm school1969 color 129 min.
Director: Federico Fellini
CAV: out-of-print collectible
3 discs, catalog # CC1135L

CLV: out-of-print collectible
2 discs, catalog # CC1382L

More than any other contemporary director, Federico Fellini has created a coherent and definable universe compounded of his personal vision and anxiety, of which the individual films are the planets radiating out of his imagination, held together by the filaments of memory and imagery. If we follow the director's suggestion that his films should be read as episodes in an endless, unfolding serial, where are we to place Fellini Satyricon, which, at first blush in 1969, bore no obvious resemblance to the earlier works in the canon? To answer that, viewers are asked to go back to the end of the autobiographical 8 1/2, in which the character of the blocked film director failed to realize a science fiction movie that would have sent most of his entourage on a trip to the moon.

That set was, of course, dismantled; but Fellini himself never quite gave up on the project. He knew one could travel into the future or the past via the time machine, and in Fellini Satyricon he chose to go backwards to a planet known as ancient Rome. Fellini has accomplished here what few artists ever have. His Rome is quite literally terra incognita, composed in part of schoolboy memories of distant Latin lessons, but far removed from the maps and drawings of history books and the pseudo-realistic approach of the film studios in Rome or Hollywood. This is a Rome born out of the imagination. In it the costumes, lighting, architecture, gestures, eating habits, all forms of behavior conspire to startle and disorient the viewer. Had we landed on Mars, would not the landscape and (potentially) the new forms of life have filled us with amazement and fear? So it is here, as we enter a world that has so few moral connections with our own.

While it is true that the world of Fellini Satyricon is quite separate from our own, Fellini deduces evidence of malaise in Petronius' canvas that would ring bells in the mind of the public of the sixties (and even of the eighties). In his eyes, both eras share a common rootlessness, a disappearance of accepted moral values, even a lack of divine guidance. Fellini's Rome is a city without God, a pre-Christian Babel where only Priappus and Mammon (the gods of lust and money) shine their seductive lamps through the darkness, and where the power of Caesar -- secular authority -- is as mutable as a change in the wind. A similar view of the human -- and Roman -- condition is common to several Fellini films, notably in Roma.

In a world of mounting confusion and human bewilderment, Fellini places his confidence in youth whose function is to lead the race to an undefined but radiant future. It is the young who are prepared to abandon all that is old, tired and brutal -- to risk life itself in the name of the new, the vital, the beautiful. This Fellini finds in the young protagonists of Petronius' Satyricon (Encolpius, Ascyltus and Giton) whom he sees as the pagan ancestors of the Hippies and Flower Children of yesteryear. This faith in the unfettered, untutored wisdom of the young -- not without qualification, as we see from the punishment of Encolpius and the price paid by Ascyltus -- will strike some people today as na•ve. It nonetheless makes sense to an artist in middle age (one who so often returned to his own childhood roots for inspiration) who, having just recovered from a serious illness, is looking for a revivifying therapy for himself and a jaded world.

The casting of the principals reinforces Fellini's intentions. Martin Potter (Encolpius), Hiram Keller (Ascyltus) and Max Born (Giton) were -- and are -- all unknowns, and chosen for that very reason, allowing Fellini to mold them without resistance into the personalities he had conceived. Furthermore they seem sprung fresh from the counter-culture whose restless energy the director saw as a redeeming sign of the age. The blonde Potter was fresh from drama school in London, with only brief repertory experience. Keller -- in dark and surly contrast -- came to Fellini Satyricon after appearing in Hair in New York. Max Born was discovered by chance in London's Chelsea, where as a local hippie he really had been living by his wits.

Finally we must add a word on Fellini's debt to his author, Petronius, memories of whom take the director back to his school days in Rimini. For years he had contemplated a film version, and was clearly attracted to it not only because of the exotic or even scabrous elements of the book, but for its structure, a fragmentary account of a seemingly meandering journey. What remains of the original text is a series of fragments, similar to the truncated frescoes seen at the end of the movie. All Fellini's films are picaresque and fragmentary, representing a subliminal search by the protagonist(s) for a life more fulfilling than the one lived now. Each episode in the search may achieve an autonomy of its own, with each turn in the road offering an encounter that may illuminate a meaning or cast a shadow over hope. In any case they are narrative fragments -- separate pieces of a puzzle whose ultimate meaning may elude the searcher and is never spelled out by the artist. The unfinished nature of Petronius' novel particularly appeals to Fellini, allowing him the indispensable open ending in his Fellini Satyricon, forcing the viewers to debate among themselves all possible options for a hypothetical conclusion.


Director: Federico Fellini
Producer: Alberto Grimaldi
Story and Screenplay: Federico Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi
With the collaboration of: Brunello Rondi
Based on the Satyricon by: Petronius
Lighting Cameraman: Giuseppe Rotunno
Music: Nino Rota
Set and Costume Design: Danilo Donati
Art Directors: Luigi Scaccianoce, Giorgio Giovannini
Make-up: Rino Carboni
Editor: Ruggero Mastroianni
Special Effects: Adriano Pischiutta


This edition of Fellini Satyricon was transferred from a 35mm internegative. The soundtrack was mastered from a 35mm mono magnetic track.

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