Sunday, June 16, 2024

Fellini Watch: La Strada (1954)

Watched:  06/16/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Federico Fellini

Back in the 1990's, I managed to escape film school without much in the way of a "film studies" background.  I was a "production" guy, so I was taking classes that required hauling around equipment and working with fellow students to try and get shorts made - and there weren't credit hours or time for me to also take the classes offered on Fellini and others.*  

At the mercy of the syllabus for the classes I did take, I saw a wide variety of film, but we weren't shown some of the giants, which I now find... odd.  Because in the mid-90's, people still cared about European film and the work of folks like Bergman, Fellini, Godard and others, both inside and outside of academia.  It would be like securing an English degree, but they assume you're reading Shakespeare on your own.

As a result, some of this became so monumental in my head as "challenging viewing", I just never took the Pepsi Challenge.  

But...  then, I realized as I turned 49 -  why not?  So.

Anyway, I am currently on a quest to make the most of my Criterion subscription by checking out a few movies from name directors, especially non-American directors.  You may have noted my recent four movie sprint through some Akira Kurosawa.

Mentioning Fellini on facebook, our own NathanC, who tends to dip into these kinds of film better than many, recommended I start with La Strada (1954).  My only prior exposure to Fellini had been randomly watching Roma back in college.**  So, La Strada it was.  

I have zero complaints about this movie.  I get it.  I know that's not much of a review, but this is what had been advertised to me about Fellini since college, complete with circuses, clowns and sadness.  This is not a complaint.  It's like hearing "well, Dr. Seuss features a lot of Loraxes" and there you are, spotting a Lorax.  

To me, the remarkable thing about the film was that La Strada is the art that a post-WWII Italy was producing.  While certainly not directly commenting on the war, I can only imagine the mood of the post-Mussolini Italians climbing out of the rubble after the Allies bombed and shot their way across the country.  Of *course* the need to tell stories about the people living on the edge of society, the misfits, and making the cruelty casual no matter what love you throw at it came from this era and this place. 

I also understand how folks trying to imitate what is on screen here could go very, very badly indeed.

I was confused and delighted that this movie starred Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart, both Americans, and my eyes about fell out of my head that Dino De Laurentiis was a producer.  

Anyway, the movie is one of the most written about in cinema, and I don't think anyone will gain much from my scribblings, so I'll cut it short here.  But thanks to Nathan for the suggestion!  I'll be seeking out La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2 and Amarcord soon (with a possible check in with Nights of Cabria).  

*I'll talk about the abortive Bergman class I took, soon
**which I need to rewatch as I think Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson is in it as a young woman after reading her memoir


Steven said...

I can't wait for you to get to 8 1/2.

I got into it because of neo-swing Austin franco-jazz 8 1/2 Souvenirs being Austin-big back in 1997-ish. The 8 1/2 being a reference to the movie.

So it was, I think, the first summer after my college, the last one that I'd go back "home" for summer, that I rented 8 1/2 from the Blockbuster up the road (two cassettes!) and as it finally closed after Anouk Aimee and Anita Ekberg and goddam handsome Marcello had showed me that world in glorious vivid black and white I realized: It really just is a circus, isn't it?

I sat there as the cassette ran to stop. The VCR belched and started auto-rewind.

I sat in the dim dark of the living room and realized I'd seen one of the greatest bits of film that ever would be. And it's stayed so.

The League said...

I very much remember 8 1/2 Souvenirs, and had at least one CD back in the day. I think by the time they were a thing, my avoidance of The Big Movies was already intact, and I wish it weren't so. It also seems like the death of the Memorial Union Theater at UT was also the end of being able to see these sorts of movies listed for a screening somewhere in town. The Village was for new art house, the Dobie for genre and new international stuff, and the Arbor was for Oscar bait. Paramount Summer Series was old Hollywood. So campus picked up the slack. And once that died a grim, myopic death, we ceded everything to chance, VHS and I Luv Video.