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I just saw this for the first time, after sampling much of Fellini's
later work over many years.
The most surprising thing to me was the sense that Variety Lights (VL) foreshadows Fellini's later "indulgent" work. Here, he bathes the viewer with genuinely warm, almost disconnected bits of life in all its spendor. The fine editing makes it all work; I laughed and sighed out loud through much of this movie, and the first 10 minutes hooked me. A little later in his career, Fellini (with help from other fine story people) showcased straight-up storytelling in La Strada and Cabiria. Subsequent to that, he began exploring "story space" in alinear, character-focused ways, from La Dolce Vita and beyond.
The point of all of this is to express my surprise that Fellini appears to have ended his career somewhat as he started it. VL is almost a "throwback" to the directions he took later in abandoning more traditional storytelling methods. Maybe it'd be better to put it this way: When he began diverging from a more conventional narrative style, he was actually taking a step *back* to the style we see in VL. A very good comparison is against his "Fred and Ginger," which explores story space in a studiedly chaotic way, then bowls you over by tying things together with a profoundly touching moment at the end. In "Fred and Ginger," Fellini gracefully brings together his old and new styles. In VL, he seems to bring these together before the new even happened!
The tremendous abilities of the actors and actresses are delightful in VL. Something conspicuous in post 8-1/2 Fellini is the purposeful lack of traditional acting craft; Fellini talked about this repeatedly in interviews. In VL (as in La Strada and Cabiria), Fellini shows that he was perfectly capable of directing actors who are plying their skills.
Because VL seems to cover the strengths of most of Fellini's career, it is a very fine example of the best he could do. Check it out.
A young woman pursuing her dream of being on the stage, aligns herself with
a traveling variety show band of performers in `Variety Lights,' directed by
Federico Fellini (and assisted by Alberto Lattuada). Veteran comic actor
Checco Dal Monte (Peppino De Filippo) and his troupe of performers are
struggling to get by, living from hand to mouth and show to show, but it
doesn't deter Liliana Antonelli (Carla Del Poggio), blinded perhaps by the
stars in her eyes, from approaching Checco about joining his show. He turns
her down-- they simply have no openings, and certainly no money-- but
circumstances soon prevail on her behalf, and much to the chagrin of many of
the other performers, she joins the troupe. The effect she will have on the
show, and how it will influence her own life, remains to be seen at this
point; but with Fellini at the helm, you know it's going to be an
interesting ride. And it is.
Fellini, a true visionary, is known for filling the screen with vivid images born of his own imagination, especially in his later films. But beyond the sometimes bizarre appearances, there is always an engaging story to be found at the heart of his films, and this one (his first) is no exception. And, though devoid of the surrealism he would use later on, in Checco's company there is something of the carnival motif present that Fellini would return to time and again during the course of his career, and of course, there's the story, presented with that unique Fellini touch and laced with his insight into the human condition, which at it's core is the real strength of the film.
No matter what the subject matter, Fellini always had his finger on the emotional pulse of the material and had the innate ability to transfer what he felt to the screen. Very simply, he knew what worked and how to use it; within the images he presents, there can always be found a reflection of reality-- even amid the surreal-- and it's in his characters. Physically and emotionally, these are real people who run the entire gamut of human existence. Beyond his astounding visuals, it's his ability to cultivate that depth of his characters that makes Fellini special; the way they interact with, and relate to one another or the situations in which they find themselves. And by drawing out his actors, he always gives his audience someone with whom to identify on one level or another.
As Checco, Filippo successfully taps into the humanity of the character, this aging performer with hopes and aspirations beyond his means or capabilities. He's a character with whom you can sympathize, but only to a point-- for you soon recognize his flaws and transgressions. But even then, you are still able to at least understand him. Most importantly, his performance is believable, and his Checco comes across as a very real person.
Del Poggio gives a notable performance as well, as this young woman who makes the most of the opportunity with which she is presented. And as the story unfolds she develops her character extremely well; by the end of the film you know exactly who `Lily' is and what motivates her.
In a memorable supporting role, it's the young Giulietta Masina, however, who steals the show as Melina Amour, Checco's girlfriend. She creates the one character in the film with whom you can truly empathize, and she does it with style. Masina has such a radiant, charismatic screen presence, that whenever she appears the eye is instinctively drawn to her. A gifted actress, she is exceptionally adept at expressing her emotions-- often by merely shifting her eyes-- and communicating with the audience. Few actors can say more or convey as much with their eyes or with a simple expression as Masina. And, sparse as it is, her performance here is alone worth the price of admission.
The supporting cast includes Folco Lulli (Adelmo), John Kitzmiller (Johnny), Dante Maggio (Remo), Carlo Romano (Enzo) and Gina Mascetti (Valeria del Sole). Well crafted and delivered, `Variety Lights' is an engaging story, told in the same straightforward manner Fellini would later use in `La Strada' and `Nights of Cabiria.' The basic elements of the story may be familiar, but it's an entertaining film, and worth seeing, as it prophesies the triumphs of an artist who would soon be recognized as one of the world's master filmmakers: Fellini. I rate this one 7/10.
If you enjoy Fellini's earlier films, Nights of Cabiria and La Strada, specifically, Variety Lights will please you. A sweet-hearted film not much in the vain of Italian Neorealism (Nights of Cabiria and La Strada were more like the neorealistic classics), but more like the poetic realism of 1930s French cinema, Variety lights is straightforward, unlike Fellini's later films, for instance, La Dolce Vita, and very enjoyable. It never impresses as deeply as most of Fellini's masterpiece, but, hey, it was his earliest directorial effort. You also have to see it, Fellini lovers, for Giulietta Masina's supporting role; it gives you a hint of her later masterful roles. 8/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film was co-directed by Fellini and is one of his earliest works
(his first directing, though he'd written some scripts for earlier
films). Most of his films through the 1950s were very straight forward
dramas and many of them were extremely touching and unforgettable. This
movie fits in very nicely with these films such as THE WHITE SHEIK, I
VITELLONI and LA STRADA. If you are looking for the symbolic Fellini
like in 8 1/2 or the weird Fellini such as in SATYRICON or CASSANOVA,
then this movie might just leave you flat because it is such a "normal"
film. As for me, this is NOT a bad thing, as I have long preferred his
earlier directorial work. It's not as complicated or confusing as his
later films but also shows amazing style and grace--as well as a great
ability to create touching characters.
This simple film is about a 4th-rate traveling variety show. They are perpetually broke and most of this is due to the group's distinct lack of talent. Despite this, they have a certain pride in their work and some see themselves as artists--though their audiences thought otherwise. Into this rather bleak existence comes a young and seemingly naive young woman (Lily) who wants to be a star. Unlike the audience, Lily is captivated by the actors and longs to join them. The only one in the group who seems interested in having her join them, though, is the troop's director--and it's only because the lady is so young and shapely. Despite the lady's lack of experience, when she does make her debut it is a success--mostly because the men in the audience liked to see her in various stages of undress.
Since the group is now a success, the director sees his new ingénue as his ticket to fame and he no longer pays attention to his long-time girlfriend (played by Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina). He puts all his creative energy into marketing Lily and his efforts are pretty much wasted--as Lily is much better in marketing herself since men go mad when they see her on stage. Eventually, and not surprisingly, Lily outgrows the silly old director and he's left with no one, as his traveling troop left him because they were tired of being ignored. What happens next you'll have to see for yourself, but the film is an excellent and interesting character study--not so much of Lily, but of the foolish director.
Well acted, interesting and fascinating--this is a lovely film worth your time.
Master storyteller Fellini tried out his directing chops for the first time with Luci del Varieta'. Creating a memorable cast of characters and memorable situations along the way, I think it's safe to say it was a very good first effort. Checco (Peppino De Filippo) is a frustrating man that thinks with everything except his head. An optimist first, the realities of his intentions are just short of ridiculous. Overall, Fellini handles the film with such a delicate humor, the actors are provided with every opportunity to flesh out their characters and make each one very unique. A simple story told well by the man who would go on to telling amazing stories. Rating: 28/40
Variety Lights is Fellini's debut film. The film consists of ideas and motifs that would succeedingly appear in movies like 8 1/2 and The Clowns. However, these traits are still undeveloped but we can see how they would be used as personal metaphors for the director. Running under an hour, the film is shown in black and white with legible subtitles and moving at a smooth pace. The story follows a variety show troupe and an female audience member who is so inspired by one of their performances that she asks to join their group. We are then presented with the rise of the performer's act and how mistakes like having her dress fall off soon attracts the attention of the audience. Soon the variety show begins displaying a more racy repertory all which is fronted by sexy novice. Some images in the film like large behinds and women in bikinis may have been provocative for its time in America --although Italy's standards tended to be more shocking. Nevertheless, as discussed in the documentary Rated X, Fellini's movies was generally restricted to Adult theaters due to subject matter, although much more provocation was soon to come. Variety Lights features Masina, Fellini's wife, in a supporting role as a dancer with few scenes, although she still gives a good performance nevertheless. Masina would soon gather more attention to her acting in succeeding Fellini films like Night of Cabaria and La Strata. However, the focus of this film is directed at De Filippo for his role as the impresario and Poggio as the desperate actress. Veriety Lights is not the best Fellini production but still worth a look.
Lights of Variety is not one of Fellini's(co-directing with Alberto Lattuada) best, there is a slight sense that he was yet to find his feet and style, which was understandable considering that it was his first film. This said, he does delight in revealing human faces behind social masks while breaking with the neorealist tradition of the location of characters within the environment they're in. So there are some interesting touches without falling into self-indulgence yet not as ambitious as some of his middling efforts. The story is a simple one detailing love and desire within show-business but told very movingly, while Lights of Variety is also beautifully filmed, powerfully written and scored with bright exuberance. The characters are not detached yet are identifiable(if not so much as Ginger and Fred, La Strada and Nights of Cabiria) and you do relate to their plights. Peppino De Filippo, Carla Del Poggio and Giulietta Masina give top notch performances. All in all, a strong debut from Fellini even if he went on to even better things. 8/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At the end of Intervista, Fellini mentions the complaints of one former
producer because of the usual dark ending of his films and that he kept
asking him for "a little ray of sunshine". Well if something can be
said right off the bat of VL is that in its case that little sunshine
wasn't necessary after all. If this movie was the work of a single
director I wouldn't hesitate calling it mediocre but as its was a joint
effort I have to conclude there were two conflicting, almost opposing,
styles at work there, so the film works its way to its conclusion as a
ship sailing with two skippers struggling for possession of the helm,
each one prevailing at given a time and producing as the result a
rather zigzagging course. Black humor flirts with drama and then with
tragedy, but that's all.
I haven't seen many Fellini works, but I have seen enough to deduce they are structured on 3 basic components, each one originating its next, something even more clear during his neo realist period. First, individual/collective drama--sometimes presented at as black comedy turning into drama--which occasionally ends up in tragedy, all that the product of fascism, war and the resulting social desegregation and dislocation. Second, as the fruit of it, a thoroughly troubled relationship between his own generation and authoritative figures in society: parents, teachers, priests; institutions in general--fart noises, raspberries, being a usual form of revolt. Third, the childhood traumas resulting from the other two--girl being burned alive in Julietta for ex.--that will manifest later in life as emotional/sexual stagnation. That's the blueprint for most Fellinis I've seen and because of that I conclude about VL is that this film is not a pure Fellini but a very diluted, hybrid, even adulterated one. He was certainly kept under tight control here.
Fellini shot VL in the same period he made two other films similar in settings, characters: Il Bidone & I Vitelloni, All three show people who are leeches of othersrelatives, societywho see them just as preys or at least as sources of income; the only difference being that he loves the characters in IV (I explain that in that review) while he is indifferent to those in IB and VL. That allows me to conclude that had he been left alone doing this one he would have delivered these people to their (probably sad) fate, as he did in IB, but that every time he was about to do so, the other skipper took the helm and moved the ship the other way. I don't agree wit the DVD text, about Fellini, Latuatta loving these characters. I think the first thing writers give characters they love is dignity and in the case of artists, that means talent, at least a bit of it, and what we see here is only a bunch of talentless drones. That's why I don't think Fellini loved them. He may have loved real life vaudeville artists but fiction characters are different. They are our own creation and it just may happen that we disliked them and that we show it by making them pathetic. We may pity them, but pity is not love.
VL is about a troupe of vaudevillians living a day to day existence. We have there the usual characters, magician, clairvoyant, female dancers, etc. To the troupe arrives and sticks like glue, a young, attractive woman who wants to be dancer too. The troupe reject her because they would have to share an already poor pie with one more member, but also for jealousy. Something happens then that forces them to accept her and rapidly she becomes the main attraction. Now most in the troupe love her, specially its director, Checco, who was fond of her from the start anyway, to the great dismay of his girlfriend, Massina's Melina. But the new girl shows up to be just a manipulative leech, only interested in using Checco as a stepping stone. Using her influence on Checco she spends troupe money in hats and dresses so she can frequent ritzier places. In one of those places she finds her next Svengali and then she takes off with him. At the end we see her waving Checco goodbye while taking off to Milan. Later aboard the train where the troupe travels to some provincial town, Checco profits from the brief absence of his now wife Melina to work his charms on yet another young woman who just got into the train.
The story is trivial and predictable; we know early on that only lame things will happen because Fellini's pathos is kept well under control. For. ex. when they are all invited by a duke to his estate. During he night he aristocrat tries to work his way into the starlet's bed but he's stopped by Checco, who suddenly appears keen in preserving decency. Later there's absolutely no tension between him and Svengali II when this last steals the girl from him. The only pathos we see in the whole film is when he goes back to Melina, asking her for money, because of the starlet and Melina cries, pitying herself. The rest is lame, predictable.
In all, not interesting enough for regular viewers. Only for those interested in Fellini's work, to see the results of his genius being kept under tight rein. 6/10.
I admit it: I struggle more with Fellini than any other "master" of the cinematic cannon. If you recall the annoying guy in the movie line behind Alvy Singer and Annie Hall, I'm afraid to say that I agree with most everything he said about Fellini. Having said that, this, his first work as a (co-) director, is quite delightful. Here, the things that would get the master excited throughout his career- the circus, the city, night and delirium- are ecstatically expounded, but without the brooding insistence on metaphorical significance that would take over from "La Dolce Vita" on. Watching this, I simply felt myself to be on a wild ride, and there were even moments that made Fellini's signature elements feel as mystical as the director would later "command" his audiences to feel them. But here, the mysticism came naturally, and therefore seemed much more legitimately profound and unexpected.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you have ever wondered why Federico Fellini's film 8½ was called 8½, the reason is simple. It was the eighth full film he had directed, till that point, along with a ½ film credit, which was his debut effort, 1950's co-direction in the 97 minute long black and white film Variety Lights (Luci Del Varietà), along with Neo-Realist film directing veteran Alberto Lattuada. The film's story and screenplay, however, were both penned by Fellini, and the most manifest thing about the film is its similarity to the Hollywood film All About Eve, released the same year- albeit it is a bit grittier, more realistic and less melodramatically star-driven, and its influence on Fellini's own later La Strada, as well as presaging many Fellini trademarks and tics. It is not a great film, but a thoroughly enjoying light bit of entertainment. Before this film, Fellini had mostly worked as a screenplay writer and script doctor. His most well known contribution prior to this film was on Roberto Rossellini's Open City .despite their poverty and idiocy, selfishness and ill manners, the characters in Variety Lights are lovable and utterly human. They are not the grotesques and caricatures that would become Fellini's stock in trade in later years. They merely have to clutch to a goose, shrug an eyebrow, or yawn lazily on a divan, and the sense is that these are real people, not mere fictive characters. Even the camera lingers on them in soft hues, suggesting the empathy of the filmmakers'. The insider knowledge the film displays is classic Fellini territory, and despite being an ensemble film it is really the stellar acting of Peppino De Filippo that raises this film above mere schmaltz, which it could have become rather easily. No, it's not as deep nor poignant as Charlie Chaplin's Limelight, released two tears later- a film with similar themes and backgrounds, but it is a worthwhile film, and one that stands up to repeated viewings.
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