Saturday, January 11, 2014

Remembering and "I Remember"

Mr. and Mrs. Buce enjoyed a Netflix screening last night of Fellini's Amarcord -- "I Remember" in the dialect of Rimini, Fellini's childhood home (so they say: I never heard the word anyplace else).   I must say I enjoyed it a lot more than I did on my first exposure perhaps 30 years ago--enjoyed it more, largely because I got it better.  At least in those days, I was not one of those who enjoyed carefree summers in Italy (cf. Dave Thomson, infra.): I had never set foot in the place.  Since then I've had the good fortune to spend a fair amount of time in Italy, not always carefree and not always summer, but absorbing and instructive for all that.  I've read  fair amount about the place and even picked up a smattering of a smattering of the language.  But whatever--the point is I think I have a somewhat better sense now of what he was up to.

I suppose there is no dispute with the notion that Amarcord holds a  place in the movie canon--and canonical or  not, it has a 91-91 at Rotten Tomatoes.  But I think it is harder to say just why it is so well loved.  The negative reviews are intense.  My first thought is that is that they just don't get it.  Then again, I'm not sure the positive reviews always get it, either: the movie just  be more subtle and complex than either its friends or its enemies understand.

So: the standard pitch is that Amarcord is a nostalgia trip, a gauzy and self-gratifying recollection of the director's adolescence just before World War II (the auteur would have turned 18 in 1938).  Most people find this a virtue and they are not entirely wrong: it is a nostalgia trip, and a good nostalgia trip is hard not to like.

A few dissenters   agree that it's a nostalgia trip but count that as more of a defect than a virtue. A few see it as just a bunch of fascist ruffians (or worse, cadet ruffians, ruffian wannabees), and what's so pretty about that? Some--Thomson--fault it for ducking all the hard questions, i.e., how did we (Italians) get into this mess and more  important, how do we get out?

I suppose Thomson is right on the big-picture aspect: there is essentially nothing here by way of larger context.  But as to the picture itself: I wonder if the picture is perhaps both a gauzy nostalgia trip and an unpleasant fascist cartoon?    Wouldn't it be fair to say that most of our nostalgia trips are, in some sense, cartoons--buffed down and buttered up for easier digestion?  One step to maturity is the recognition of how distorted and, okay, comical those visions may have been--while recognizing that they were, after all, our visions, and that we can no more disown them than we can disown a big toe.  My guess is that Fellini understands perfectly well the absurdity of the four kids, ahem, consoling themselves in unison in the parked car, like some sort of hands-on (heh!) barbershop quartet.  He understands the absurdity, but he knows that it is he who was there, he part of it all.  On the same theme, I think he understands just how pathetically overblown his little corner of society behaved--and yet knew that it was his little corner of society which he could not disown.   Put it in harsher terms: you can see why Hitler had such contempt for his Italian allies, and you can believe that with a lot like this, it's really no wonder that there was a Mussolini.    Fellini may not show us a way in or a way out, but he knows that it his past and that he cannot--and doesn't even want to--leave it behind.

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