Nights of Cabiria (1957) Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Pier Paolo Pasolini Directed by Federico Fellini
Failure is not the end. This is a lesson that it’s tough for people to learn and understand. We’re conditioned to see failures & mistakes as signifiers of personal faults in people. The homeless are viewed with such rancor by the general American populace. Their financial ruin is seen as a quasi-divine punishment, while successful people are blessed by a benevolent god. Fellini’s early failure was the soil from which one of his best movies grew. The White Sheik, his first solo-directing venture, was not a tremendous success, received middling reviews, a few signs of the genius to come. Fellini extracted a supporting character from that film, Cabiria, a prostitute played by his wife, Giulietta Masina.
La Strada (1954) Written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Flaiano Directed by Federico Fellini
Some of the best filmmakers, living & dead, talk about coming to their projects based on a feeling or intuition. Fellini found La Strada through a tone he felt, described by the director as “a diffused sense of guilt, like a shadow hanging over me. This feeling suggested two people who stay together, although it will be fatal, and they don’t know why.” Images came to Fellini while he meditated on this feeling: snow falling on a quiet ocean, clouds, a nightingale singing. As with many of his greatest films, Fellini was profoundly inspired by his wife Giulietta Masina; pictures of her as a child helped him see La Strada’s central character. And his hometown of Remini, a place that became mythologized in his movies, provided the director with inspiration. He recalled the story of a pig castrator that was a known womanizer. The man impregnated a mentally handicapped woman in the town and cast her aside, claiming the baby was “the devil’s child.”
I Vitelloni (1953) Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, and Tullio Pinelli Directed by Federico Fellini
There are names in film that evoke a plethora of reactions. I’ve noticed within the filmTok sub-community of TikTok an effort to mock “film school dudes,” a class of people who often do deserve the mockery. The loudest ones certainly carry themselves with an air of superiority and pretentiousness. One way that people seek to make fun of film school dudes is to point to different directors as “red flags,” implying these filmmakers are problematic. This is where they lose me, choosing to point to directors like Martin Scorsese or Coppola as figureheads of toxic masculinity. If you watch their films and look beyond the surface presentation, you’ll quickly find these movies are brutally dissecting ideas of masculinity and pointing at the attitudes of their fathers & grandfathers as horribly destructive. I sometimes see Fellini’s name brought into the mix, and I couldn’t disagree more. The film bro may not understand Fellini and walk away with a pompous view of his masculinity, but that is more indicative of Americans’ lack of critical thinking than the actual work Fellini was doing.
The Last Picture Show (1971) Written by Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
We continue our “The World is Hell” series with this look at decaying rural life in an increasingly industrialized and inhuman America. Peter Bogdanovich has directed one movie, Targets (1966), and was searching for his next film. One day waiting in line at the grocery store checkout, he spied a paperback copy of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. Reading the back cover, he noted it was kids growing up in Texas and didn’t really feel any immediate connection and put it back. Weeks later, actor Sal Mineo shared a copy of the book with Bogdanovich’s then-wife Polly Platt and the director wondered if he wasn’t being led to do something with this text. McMurtry would come on board to help with the screenplay, and the film was shot in his hometown of Archer City in north-central Texas. The combination of this profoundly New York filmmaker and a story of the loss of innocence in Texas would be a perfect match.
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) Written by Don McGuire and Millard Kaufman Directed by John Sturges
The frenzy of war often brings the greatest evil out of people. Humans have a penchant for looking for an Other to blame for their ills and the sins of the world. We don’t have to go too far back in our history to find an endless parade of atrocities and hate crimes perpetrated on these Others. The murders and savagery never quell the sense of discontent in the perpetrators, instead planting a ball of guilt in their stomach that festers & boils. How foolishly we target individuals rather than the systems in the place that create war and strife. Easier to kill an innocent person who doesn’t look like you or speaks a different language than work for solidarity to overcome the wrong we all feel. Bad Day at Black Rock is a modern folktale about justice being visited on people guilty of such crimes.
Dead Poets Society (1989) Written by Tom Schulman Directed by Peter Weir
Dead Poets Society was undoubtedly a box office success and garnered much positive acclaim from critics. In college in the early 2000s, I met several people who loved this movie, especially fellow English majors. You might love this movie. I didn’t watch it for the first time until around 2006, and so this was only my second watch, but…this is such a cheesy ass movie, not in a good or charming way. I was astonished that Weir would direct this, and he was working towards making Green Card when Jeffrey Katzenberg reached out to him about Dead Poets Society. I find the movie to be some of the worst examples of maudlin shallow sentiment and a film that began Robin Williams’ path down, making ridiculous pseudo inspirational tripe.
Forbidden Planet (1955) Written by Cyril Hume Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
I was utterly blown away by Forbidden Planet, which was helped because I went into my first viewing with pretty low expectations. I kept seeing the picture pop up on Best of Science Fiction lists, but from the images I’d seen, it looked like a collection of a lot of sci-fi cliches. I’d seen Robby the Robot in pop culture since I was a child and always associate him with The Robot from Lost in Space. Leslie Neilsen is the protagonist, and his association with comedy probably had me expecting something cheesier. What I was met with was a psychedelic powerhouse of a science fiction movie that certainly pushed the boundaries when it was released.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Written by Edmund H. North Directed by Robert Wise
This month (May 2021), I will be looking at films considered Science Fiction Masterworks. In October, I did this with some horror movies and wanted to do something similar. Science fiction is an extensive film category that has overlaps with other genres like comedy, action, and horror. It can also be very futuristic and high tech or grounded in our present-day with light elements of the fantastic. To start things off, I watched The Day the Earth Stood Still. I know some things about this movie, the theremin music by Bernard Hermann, the famous “Klaatu Barada Nikto” phrase, and the opening scene of the flying saucer landing in the middle of Washington D.C. A remake was done in 2008, which I have heard was dismal, while the original has garnered a ton of praise.
Early Summer (1951) Written by Kogo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
As the second part of Ozu’s Noriko trilogy, Early Summer is a more complex examination of post-War Japanese lives across three generations of a family. Setsuko Hara returns to play another character named Noriko, like in Late Spring. Chishū Ryū, who played the father in Late Spring, plays the eldest brother in Early Summer. Once again, a young woman living with her parents and being pressured into marriage is at the forefront of the plot. This time the story has more layers and humor, always remaining tender and empathetic with all its characters.
Early Spring (1956) Written by Kōgo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
Since I became deeply interested in film & filmmakers, Yasujirō Ozu’s name has been one that has come across my radar time & time again. Anytime a piece of criticism would talk about Japanese cinema’s great directors, it was Akira Kurosawa & Ozu. For whatever reason, I’d never sat down to watch an Ozu film, my list of movies piling up while ignoring those listed as essential. Not much about Ozu’s early life stands out, the son of a fertilizer salesman, living a relatively Japanese middle-class life in the 1910s. Things get interesting as he became a young adult starting with his expulsion from his boarding school dormitory after being caught writing a love letter to another boy. While Ozu’s sexuality was never confirmed before his death in 1963, he seemed to at least be questioning who he was attracted to.