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With: Martin Potter, Hiram Keller, Max Born, Salvo Randone, Mario Romagnoli
Written by: Federico Fellini, Bernardino Zapponi, based on writings by Petronius
Directed by: Federico Fellini
MPAA Rating: R
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 129
Date: 09/03/1969

Fellini Satyricon (1969)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Fellini's Ego Trip

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's hard to believe, thirty years later, that Federico Fellini's two-hour and ten minute odyssey of pagan debauchery was adored by such publications as Time Magazine and the New York Times, as well as Roger Ebert, all of whom named Fellini Satyricon (1969, released in 1970) one of the year's ten best. Fellini himself was nominated for a Best Director Oscar.

It's also hard to believe that a foreign-language director could be so popular. But back then moviegoers and critics alike all went to see each new Fellini movie with great anticipation, lining up in the streets, and discussing every nuance in coffeehouses afterwards. Nowadays, moviegoers don't even care if a new Martin Scorsese picture opens (unless it's really stupid and has Freddie Prinze Jr. in it) let alone a movie with subtitles.

We need to understand this phenomenon in order to sit through Fellini Satyricon. The adoration the public had for Fellini is the only reason the great filmmaker was able to get away with making such a huge load of horse dookie.

Based on ancient writings by Petronius, the film is either a celebration of depravity or a warning against Godlessness, though no one knows which and Fellini doesn't bother to make the distinction himself.

Satyricon has no plot, but a series of episodes, most of which feature blonde Martin Potter. He fights with another young man over the love of a young boy, attends a banquet, helps to kidnap an albino hermaphrodite, is thrown onto a slave ship, marries an old man, and fights a Minotaur. If Fellini presented Potter as some kind of character, we might be able to connect, but he's just a pretty face. Other characters try and shock us with as many various disgusting acts as they can think of. Many characters stare at the camera and stick their tongues out at us. It's like a Seven Deadly Sins tunnel-of-love ride.

On the other hand, this Cinemascope film could be one of the most beautiful ever shot. Fellini does not hold back a jot in his use of color, space, and dramatic staging. Every shot could be a bizarre painting by itself. In one scene taking place in an art gallery, one character says, "no one paints like this anymore"-Fellini patting himself on the back. Yet all this beauty adds up to very little.

No other filmmaker that I can think of so radically changed his style over the course of his career. Fellini began in the Italian Neo-Realism vein with great little black-and-white films like Variety Lights (1950, co-directed with Alberto Lattuada), La Strada (1954), and Nights of Cabiria (1957). But somewhere between then and 1960's La Dolce Vita, Fellini snapped. He charged head first into a world of giant-sized megalomania, making enormous, garish, arty, and self-serving films. He even began adding his name to his movie titles, Fellini Satyricon, Fellini's Roma (1972), and Fellini's Casanova (1976). But the public loved him even more because he was playing the Great Director, the autobiographical character Marcello Mastroianni played in Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963). At least 8 1/2 had some value; it gave us some insight into the mad artists' mind. Satyricon does nothing of the kind.

Satyricon was one of Fellini's personal favorites, and, apparently, he was saddened at the time of his death in 1993 that prints of the film had fallen into disrepair. I imagine this new re-release comes in answer to Fellini's wishes (there doesn't seem to be any other reason). Fellini wanted his fans to be enlightened and carried away by the film. But thirty years down the line, we're only repulsed and bored.

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