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If one rates a film on visuals alone, Fellini's SATYRICON would surely
be completely off the scale: a phantasmagorical mixture of sensual
beauty and the distasteful but evocative grotesque set in an ancient
Rome that never was, never could have been, and yet which plays up to
every extreme concept we secretly harbor about Roman decadence. The
leading men are incredibly beautiful; the women are generally
seductively depraved; and the broad vision that Fellini offers is
easily one of the visually stunning creations ever put to film.
And yet, oddly, the film is sterile. The story is impossible to describe, a series of largely unrelated events in the lives of two impossibly handsome youths (Martin Potter and Hiram Keller) who begin the film by battling over the sexual favors of a slave boy (Max Born) who alternately unites and divides them until all three find themselves sold into slavery and flung from adventure to adventure, most often with sexual (and frequently homosexual) connotations. Clearly, Fellini is making a statement about the triviality and emptiness of a life lived for physical pleasures alone.
But the film is jumpy, disjointed, disconnected; the sequences do not always arise from each other in any consistent way, leaving viewers with a sort of "what the ..." reaction when the film unexpectedly shifts without explanation. (This is actually in keeping with the original ancient text, of which only portions remain.) In consequence, SATYRICON is ultimately less about any philosophical statement Fellini may have had in mind than it is about sheer pictorial splendor and deliberate weirdness.
Whatever its failings, it is an astonishing film, and one that would have tremendous influence on a host of directors who followed in Fellini's wake--although all to often without his style and vision. Clearly Pasolini, director of such works as SALO, ARABIAN NIGHTS, and CANTERBURY TALES spent the better part of his largely unlamented life trying to out-Fellini Fellini; likewise, it is impossible to imagine how Tinto Brass and Bob Guccione arrived at the notorious CALIGULA without reference to Fellini's SATYRICON.
Such efforts to expand on SATYRICON were merely more explicit and less interesting than the original, and I do not really recommend them--nor do I really recommend SATYRICON for any one other than Fellini fans, for with its oddly disjointed feel it is unlikely to please those raised on mainstream. Still, it is a powerful, remarkably beautiful, and completely unexpected film that must be seen at least once by any one with a serious interest in world cinema, and to those I recommend it without hesitation.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
...and because I had read "Satyricon" before I saw it I probably was less baffled by the movie than most people. Very little survives of the content of original story, a few longish bits and lots tiny fragments, sometimes as short as a sentence or a word. All disconnected from each... ...ning and end of Petronius' novel are missing, what we have left suddenly starts in the middle without any background or prelude. And each of the surviving bits is the same way, giving few, if any hints, of how our heroes got there from their last adventure, or how their current one will be resolved. Or even what their current crisis is. We can onl... ...bother making a film of from such a fragmentary source? Because Petronius is wickedly funny and has a gifted insight into human... ...participant in the decadence and depravity, yet judging and commenting on it at the... ...2000 years been read and translated... ...amorallity, but social standards always... ...Fellini captures the spirit not only of Imperial Rome but of... ...doesn't make sense, so like you do in the original, you have to extrapolate based on... ...satiric, sardonic, and visually stunning... ...enjoy...
It was well known that in the late 60's, famed Italian director Federico Fellini experiment with LSD. That's why "Juliet of the Spirits" was so bizarre and colorful. But the 1969 head trip "Fellini Satyricon" was even stranger than previous Fellini films. Loosely based on the novel by Petronius, the beginning of the story concerns two men in the B.C. Roman era fighting over the love of one boy. Later they have many strange and colorful misadventures. This film may be to bizarre for some; with its grotesque images, a mild orgy, dwarfs and even a hermaphrodite goddess. The set pieces are out of this world. It's like being caught in a two hour dream. Many times I had no idea what was going on, but that didn't bother me. Satyricon is a visual decadent head trip of color. Fellini considered this film a sci-fi of the past. I consider Fellini a genius; he's designed a film that makes a great substitute for drugs. If you enjoy "Fellini Satyricon" you should also watch Vera Chytilova's "Daisies" (1966), Alejandro Jodorowsky's "The Holy Mountain" (1973), Guy Maddin's "Careful" (1992) and Tsui Hark's "Green Snake". All of these film contain bright colors and surreal images. Enjoy!
Fellini engages us through a tapestry of decadence during the Roman
Empire with such stunning juxtapositions of exceptional images from a
collapsing society that one cannot help but be reminded of our own
times and its disconcert morality
The film is freely adapted from Petronius' book, which is the exploits of two young Romans, Ascilto and Encolpio, as they venture throughout the empire, indulging in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships In the course of this proliferation of sensuality, Ascilto becomes impotent and madly goes for a cure which ends in tragedy for Encolpio
The movie's treatment of the sexual decadence is remarkably powerful without being explicit In fact, in light of the mental images it presents, it actually puts on view very little on screen But there is a great quantity of mysterious whores, hedonists, gluttons, and gross indulgence in carnal pleasure In the midst of this chaos, however, there is a beautifully light reprieve as the young Romans come across a forsaken villa... A very charming slave girl has remained behind, and she playfully troubles the two men into an erotic game
Apart from that, the sex is portrayed as bizarre, tempting, suggestive of hidden secrets, violating the rules of morality, and going beyond the limit
"Satyricon" is among the weirdest and most colorful, larger-than-life
I've ever seen, along with Erasurehead, Erendira, Santa sangre, Naked
lunch... If you don't like these, don't even try "Satyricon".
On one hand, its many flaws are rather upsetting. The out-of-sync lipping (bad post-sync), the fact that the movie neither really tells a story nor evocates sensible moral or philosophical concepts... so one may say it's actually a dull movie. The violence in this movie doesn't seem to make real sense, neither does the homosexuality, neither does the "romanian decadence" portrait.
On the other hand, the scenography, the sets, the costumes and makup are among the most dazzling ones you'll ever see in cinema, and the cinematography... well... maybe the BEST one you'll ever see. I can't think of any another movie able to compete with "Satyricon"'s mindblowing cinematography. Each scene is a terrific picture, with several visual layers, extraordinary lights and focuses, a lot of invention, of visual flair, and the overall technical mastery is stunning.
The result is something mesmerizing for some, totally disgusting for others. I have to say I'm more on the mesmerized side, because I was mainly focused on the visual/meditative aspects of the movie, not on the narrative ones.
If you're really into cinema, I mean as an artistic media more than as entertainment, you MUST see "Satyricon", as it's to my sense the most *visually* outstanding movie ever made. Be prepared for some disappointment about the movie as a whole, though...
Fellini called his "Satyricon" a science fiction film projected into
the past. His expressive portrait of ancient Rome is a richly
ornamented fresco of contrasts; variations within a select kaleidoscope
of opposites related to the sacred, the pure, the just, and the
Reportedly a free adaptation of the now fragmentary writings of Petronius, the film also makes fleeting references to various scattered works and myths of antiquity. Even the language is a blend of various dialects and accents, effectively brewed together into a type of "primordial soup."
The film features a young man named Encolpio and his sometime friend Ascilto; both of whom seem to prefer participatory experience as a means to finding meaning in life while primarily disregarding status, power and possessions. Contrasting some of the film's more serene scenes with those of unrest and discord, patterns supportive of a life lived from a similar experiential perspective begin to emerge. Some examples are as follows:
During the "Death to the Classics" scene, the poet Eumolpo says that the arts have declined because the desire for "virtue" has been lost. Dialectical discussion and philosophy have been replaced with drinking, vice and monetary greed, thus preventing further creation of works of art at the same pinnacle of excellence as the classics.
Later when Eumolpo and Encolpio recline in the open field encased in an early morning mist, the elderly poet bequeaths to Encolpio a series of "natural" phenomena; among them mountains, rivers, clouds, love, tears, joy, sound, song and the voices of man...
During the "Matron of Ephesus" scene, a young woman mourning her deceased husband by starving to death in a cave has her chalk white face returned to its natural radiance after accepting the embrace of a handsome soldier. The moral being "...better to hang a 'dead' husband than to lose a 'living' lover..."
A politically doomed and suicidal married couple free their slaves whereupon a reference is made to the "sacred" earth. Their children are sent away to a place free from tyranny which will be "beautiful." Later, Encolpio and Ascilto arrive at the couple's elegant home and enjoy a night of revelry during which Encolpio quotes the "poet" as having said "...as for me I have always lived to enjoy the present moment as if it were the last sunrise..."
The tale of the beautiful Enotea and her subsequent punishment after she tricked the wizard who had professed his love for her seems to be a warning to remain "true" to expressions of affection.
Following what appears to be his final corruption after having abandoned his idealistic philosophy, Eumolpo proposes an interesting last will and testament. Those wishing to inherit a part of his worldly fortune are asked to devour his remains. Reflecting the hippie generation's symbolic scorn of rampant materialism during the shooting of this film, Encolpio and his friends smile and turn away, heading onward toward a new adventure.
The scenes of discord in the film appear to reflect issues related to social and political methods of enforced control over others. For example, during the banquet of Trimalcione, his sycophants eat, laugh, chant, dance, perform and throw objects on cue. While a captive at sea, Encolpio is made an object of entertainment for the pirate Lica. Later he is forced to battle a huge "minotaur' for the entertainment of a proconsul and his puppet court during the "gladiator prank" sequence.
Fellini makes strong use of colour symbolism in "Satyricon." The film opens in what appears to be a large Roman steam bath. There is the occasional sound of water dripping, and in Encolpio's tenement a seemingly wealthy group of party goers arrive on a small boat in the water, perhaps ready to go "slumming" with the poor. There is also a bluish tint to many of these early scenes as if they were being viewed through water. Later, during Trimalcione's feast, a flame red lens filter appears to overshadow the initial candle lit display giving the impression of an envelopment of fire. During the outdoor scenes on Lica's boat, the sound of the wind is recurrent and a blitz of snow appears providing a possible reference to the air element. Near the end of the film, Encolpio enters a maze by sliding in the dirt down a hillside. Following his battle with the minotaur, a dust storm blows as he attempts to make love with Arianna. Later, when he visits the elderly Enotea, she lets dirt fall from her clenched fists as if giving a silent reference to the earth element.
There are also many references to the supernatural and paranormal. Eyes stare into the camera as if to give reference to phantoms from antiquity looking at those presently alive as if to question. While Encolpio and Eumolpo have their discussion in the art gallery, a two tiered galley of soundless faces inexplicably passes by like unknown entities observing the men's conversation through a hole in the wall. There is a curious space-like object on the deck of Lica's ship. In addition, a momentary glimpse of supernatural visionary lights appear during the abduction of the "mystical" hermaphrodite who subsequently dies after having been exposed to the "light" of day. The film also presents a recurring symbolism of carved and imprinted heads eventually given great emphasis with Lica's startling decapitation. Perhaps the question is, has society become too obsessed with the intellect at the expense of the heart and the inherent value of the individual person? Perhaps not so for Fellini, as the entire film is intensely alive with a glorious blend of color; each face, each person, in Fellini's words, serving as an integral part of his artwork on film.
Finally, like the eternal wheel and his initial greeting, Encolpio's farewell is presented in front of a stone background and he is interrupted in mid sentence giving ....
This is by far not the best film I've ever seen, but it is probably the most important film I've ever seen. I saw it for the first time when it came out in 69, when I was 16. Before then, I was only marginally interested in films. Something to while away the time. And then I saw Satyricon. And life has never been the same ever since. All of a sudden I realised that film was more than simply recording images, all of a sudden it dawned on me that cinema could be art. Now, maybe Satyricon isn't great art, but to me at that time it was overwhelming. I'm sure other films have had this same catalytic effect on other people. Satyricon got me hooked on film, and I never looked back. I saw the film again about 10 years ago. I was amazed how it was still capable of exiting me. In spite of its wooden acting, its cardboard backgrounds, the unsynchronized lip movements this is amazing movie magic.
The cinema of the silent and Fascist eras in Italy was characterised by
epic movies with mostly mythology-inspired themes. Mussolini, who came
into power in 1922, the founder of Cinecittà, did not underestimate the
importance of cinema as a means of communicating with the masses.
Fellini notoriously called Giulietta Masina's titular character in
Notti di Cabiria after the 1913 movie "Cabiria" by Giovanni Pastrone, a
grand production with a visual flair not so dissimilar to Satyricon.
Literally hundreds of characters parade in front of the camera in this
visual orgy of a movie, evoking the memory of lost "Kolossals", or
gargantuan budget productions.
Fellini's movie was only loosely inspired by its literary source, Petronius's Satyricon. The nominal "plot" follows two young Roman men, the blonde Encolpio and the brunette Ascilto, introduced as rivals in love for the coquettish, androgynous slave-boy Gitone. When the latter chooses to be with Ascilto, the spurned lover Encolpio becomes involved in a series of adventures, all narrated with a familiar (to Fellini lovers), non-linear narrative structure with temporal inconsistencies and dreamlike, sudden changes of setting and mood. Encolpio attends the decadent banquet of a former slave, Trimalcione, now filthy rich. Eumolpo, an impoverished poet whom Encolpio meets on the way there, despises the wealthy man, all the more so for being rich and for having the nerve to also call himself a poet. The faint-hearted may at this point find much to object to the lasciviousness with which the banquet guests eat, drink and act lustful with one another is anything but subtle. The Trimalcione sequences felt to me like a satirical commentary on the rise of the nouveau riche in 1960s Italy. A highlight of the banquet scene is the story that the host narrates. It tells of a young widow, an oasis of cinematic calm in among the strident cacophony of the rest of the movie.
In a narrative passage which is reminiscent of the rhythm of dreams (typical of late Fellini, betraying his Jungian tendencies), Encolpio ends up captured by the pirate Lica, who takes him on board his ship. This is where the young buck meets Ascilto and Gitone again, also captives of the tyrant. At this point I was especially impressed with the extraordinary talent of Donati as a set designer. The ship wasn't built to look like a recognisable ship at all, but was rather like a symbol of one. Needless to say that no matter how abstract it was, you knew it was a ship, as its "ship-like essence" was all there! When Encolpio is beaten in a duel with Lica, he is forced to marry the pirate in a ceremony celebrated on the deck. But Lica is decapitated by some political rivals when a new Emperor takes over. "Everything changes so that it can all stay the same" is a cynical saying you still often hear in Italy. It refers to the fact that one greedy ruler will succeed another in a ruthless battle for power and privilege. That's when you realise Satyricon is a brilliant satire of modern society as well.
Encolpio and Ascilto then wander into the aristocratic home of a husband and wife who've just freed their slaves and committed suicide through bleeding themselves to death (a symbol of the death of aristocracy while the nouveau riche are getting fat?). After a threesome with a slave-girl who was left behind in the dead couple's empty home, the two young men attend a sort of sanctuary where an old man exploits the alleged healing powers of a very sick-looking, ethereal hermaphrodite child. Worshippers, lepers, cripples and sick people of all descriptions flock to ask for favours off the allegedly divine hermaphrodite. If this isn't a dark, ruthless parody of the Catholic practice of worshipping saints' relics, I don't know what is!
Subsequently captured by some soldiers, Encolpio is defeated by the Minotaur in his mythological labyrinth. The young man's life is spared when he literally talks the Minotaur out of slaying him, in a scene which is both post-modern and subtly comical. But a new humiliation is in store for Encolpio, which has him set off looking for the sorceress Enotea. Her story is told in flashback. Yet again, the prudish and faint of heart will not find the scenes of a cursed woman literally "giving birth" to fire through her vagina as their cup of tea! Though admittedly unsavoury, I also find such elements to be archetypically symbolic, and ultimately fascinating.
After visiting Enotea, Encolpio witnesses the killing of his friend Ascilto. Desperately upset, Encolpio decides to set sail for Africa on a merchant ship owned by the once-poor and bitter old poet Eumolpo, now as filthy rich and decadent as Trimalcione, whom he had once criticised for his parvenu vulgarity. When the old poet dies, he leaves a testament stating that whoever will eat his corpse will have a share of his wealth - basically, inheritance by cannibalism! Encolpio refuses the deal, while a group of greedy Roman dignitaries are shown chewing on what must obviously be the dead poet's tough old flesh, looking like so many fat cows chewing on their cuds. If a satire of a stagnant and greedy society was ever more potent and cutting than this, I would really like to hear about it!
Fellini himself defined this movie as being "Science fiction of the past". The movie's complete and intentional artifice, its occasionally obscure symbolism and gallery of grotesque portraits and strident soundtrack may not be everyone's thing. What is especially unsettling about Satyricon is that the viewer is led into a realm in which you have no idea what boundaries might be crossed. That's exactly why this is a perfect portrayal of an epoch of complete moral decadence - it drags the viewer into the exact same realm of uncertainty that the characters experience.
There's not much of a story in SATYRICON: we follow the disjointed
"adventures" of two young men during decadent ancient Rome. What
follows though is pure visual brilliance. The film reminded me a lot of
psychedelic European comic books of the late 1960s and 1970s. I saw
this Fellini film on TV, in pan and scan, and even though SATYRICON has
to be seen on widescreen format, the cropped version was still mighty
impressive to look at. But to experience the complete visual splendor
of the film, widescreen is simply a must!
The film did drag here and there (certainly with Fellini letting some vignettes last longer than they should) but overall, the cumulative effect of all the stories creates a unique visceral experience that's seldom seen, back then or since. My only critique with SATYRICON is that in the end, it feels more like some avant-guard experimental theater experience than an actual film. The set-pieces are so stagy that SATYRICON often looks like a filmed stage play. This doesn't make the film bad but its staginess detracts a bit from achieving the perfect surreal effect that only a true cinematic experience can recreate. I could not immerse myself 100% in it because the staginess kept reminding me that I was watching a film. Even Pauline Kael said SATYRICON felt like 2 hours of people walking along walls. That's a bit of an exaggeration but I agree with her point. The staginess (which I'm aware is part of the surreal effect Fellini wanted to create) keeps SATYRICON from being a definitive masterpiece.
Even so, Fellini's SATYRICON is worth seeing for anyone who's into bawdy, surreal visual feasts. It's a one-of-a-kind experience.
Permeated with hedonism and sexuality, highly theatrical, very bizarre
and surrealist while still keeping it on the ground and making it more
potent and little coherence storywise; its fragments of Petronius
classic (which I haven't read) wrapped in Fellinis incredible
Scenography, casting and settings are here of the absolutely highest order. Each frame is composed with the utmost care it seems, perhaps inspired by the same artworks found in the movie. Like the old Greeks this movie is made as true art in a non decadent manner contrasted with the decadent Rome we meet in the movie.
There are so much depth to this movie its no use trying to cover them here, but one key theme is, I think, what was described as the flower of youth and the withering of it, that is Encolpio's youth.
Highly recommended if you like a movie out of the ordinary, the images you see here will never be forgotten.
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