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Fellini, MOMA and getting older

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The experience of seeing an afternoon film at MOMA, can occasionly feel like landing at a Florida retirement community. Often,  the classic films draw an older audience who remember seeing the films when they were younger.  For some, it is also safer to travel in the afternoon. I love that Moma draws a diversified audience…it has such a terrific programming that there is always something for everyoone.

That said, I am always prepared for a little rabble rousing, somewhere towards the first quarter of the movie. Either a late comer has tripped over the legs of an already well situated viewer or there’s a fight over who knows what…perhaps medications have worn down or a truly disturbed person is just looking for a fight. But it rarely fails…. A lot of brutish noise and then a community ssssh from the rest of   the dignified audience. Luckily, eating is not permitted, so there is little sourball paper unwrapping, something that always happens in live theater.

Last week I went to see I Vitelloni, Fellini’s first feature, about five immature young men in a small, unambitious town. It is a beautiful film which fully explores the frustration these men feel with their lack of opportunity and the women who put up with their monkey business. A young girl,  Sandra, plucked at the height of her beauty, having just won a mermaid contest, realizes she is pregnant and gets married to the less than willing father, Fausto. The other four male friends observe his life with mostly relief at not having to either get a job or commit to a woman.  The brother of the bride, Moraldo, looks for answers in a meeting with a young boy who works at the railroad. Perhaps he sees himself; it is not clear. But later, when an aspiring writer, Leopoldo, meets his idol, an aging actor, Sergio, with hopes of getting his script performed, he comes face to face with the reality of show business; the old thespian wants him to ‘walk’ with him on the beach. Frightened, the writer runs away.

This is the first time I recall seeing homosexuality in an early Fellini film. Though reviews I’ve read, don’t speak of the young railway worker as a seduction, it seems to me that the possibility is there, especially never really seeing   Moraldo  being sexual with a woman. In fact, in one scene, he pays more attention to his buddy, a drunk Alberto Sordi, the great comic actor, than his date for the night, who struggles to keep up with him. Both of these elements give the film a gravitas; a secret part of the otherwise fully public Italian life that Fellini so often shares with us. The Madonna/Whore theory is well known, but this male bonding, be it homoerotic or not, is so subtly depicted.

The film ends rather happily and there is a slow ascent out of the theatre. People do not move fast and as I had already seen  man in his late eighties, coming late, almost tumble down the dark stairs..When I found myself behind a very slow woman, I kept pace with her pace. There was a tiny bit of space to her left, but I was reticent to bump her, and waited patiently behind. My lack of movement so infuriated a man behind me that he yelled “ move to the side, move to the side.” I tried to turn to tell him it was impossible, but he wasn’t interested in hearing me.  When we reached the landing and he raced in front of me, I saw that he was quite young and tall. Not being able to hold my tongue, I said ,”Let’s have compassion; we are all going to be old someday”… to be honest, I might have actually said “You are going to be old someday”. Either way, he turned on his heels, and looked at me as if he could have struck me down with an ax. And here we were in the middle of the Educational Wing of the Museum of Modern Art.  Not wanting to tempt fate anymore, I clammed up and just stared away, letting him fume on as he turned and raced to the bathroom.

I mention all this for a reason: this wouldn’t happen in Fellini’s Italy. Yes, people might yell, bicker, but the undercurrent of warmth and humanity (the Fascists excluded) would not permit such cold behavior. The Italians are not cold. If Fellini had directed this moment, the man would turn around, proud as a peacock, ready to show me that he was fit and fair and offer me a rose or perhaps even apologize and admit that he was meeting his lover outside in the rain and it was urgent as he had the only umbrella. 

That’s what movies do –totally  ill prepare us for life as it seems to truly be; not as the grand illusion that’s projected… and aren’t we lucky they do just that.  Helping us maintain the secret hope that there is something warm and fuzzy in all of us, and perhaps by imagining it, it may someday

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Written by nancykoan

June 3, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Great essay. But I do wonder, would it really be any different in Italy? Is what you’re describing just Fellini’s movie Italy? Having never been there, I couldn’t really say, but having dealt with packs of Italian tourists before I can definitely say that their impatience held no warmth behind it, though there was lots of condescension:)

    Dee

    June 3, 2012 at 7:59 pm


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