Last night I met up with some of my former Amazon colleagues, guys who, like me, served tours of duty on the DVD team, to watch Fellini’s Amarcord at Siff Cinema. The faces, rumps, busts, and girths of the cast jiggled, jumped, and danced. Fantasies and art direction cast their vaudevillian spell. The movie is all about the auteur’s nostalgia for the events of his childhood in 1930s, Fascist Italy, but I read film more as an evocation of a feeling of a place. Which is why my thoughts this morning were drawn to memories of floods, migrant workers, dusty fields, forests, gnarled apple trees, and livestock. By offering the feast of his own childhood, Fellini made me hungry to remember my own.
I’ve noticed a pattern now in my reactions to the four Fellini films I’ve seen. When I watched Juliet of the Spirits I admired the exuberance with which a dinner party turns to discussions of the supernatural, their brains on fire with ideas. I was impressed with the audacity of 8 ½ and felt happily drained by the one-party-after-another of La Dolce Vita. From the moment in Amarcord when the puff balls delight the residents of this seaside village of Rimini as a sign of spring, I found myself sitting in the near-empty theater thinking, Imagine living like this. Imagine being this excited about the sight of a peacock, the coming of a cruise ship, or snow.
Fellini’s characters appear to be more alive than I feel. They don’t get up in the morning, drive two kids to preschool, go to work on the 16th floor of an office tower, squeeze in 45 minutes to work on a novel during lunch, pick the kids up, come home, make dinner, get the kids to bed, then start in on the student work that provides their second source of income, all the while obsessively checking their iPhones to see what their Facebook friends are doing that very moment and whether there are any new postings on The Rumpus.
Watching Fellini makes me feel guilty. Compare Amarcord‘s characters reaction to snowfall with my recent grousing about Seattle’s inability to cope with a snow storm. Yes, the resident matriarch of Rimini is driven to pronouncements of homicide when her family drives her crazy, the fascists torture the town communist, and the school system is led by autocratic buffoons, but still this panoply of distinct individuals lives in such a way that we know any one of them would be deeply missed if he or she were gone. Which is actually how the movie ends, with the sad wedding of the town temptress, who must bid farewell to all those fascinating characters who tormented and loved her.
Perhaps this is the aching heart of what we mean when we say “Felliniesque.” His films are full of people who appear to be none other than distinctly themselves, and even if they only appear on-screen a moment or two, their absence would render the whole carnival that much less enchanting. Think of the lady who does that crazy little dance at the end of La Dolce Vita or the motorcyclist known as “The Fart” in Amarcord whose sole cinematic responsibility is to haul ass through the town square. Every one of Fellini’s characters counts, and by extension, he seems to be telling his audience–those of us shrouded in darkness external and otherwise–that we count, too.