Expectations are key; they give the context for how you will appreciate what is to come. Sometimes these days the secret to a satisfying experience is to turn the dial on the expectation-ometer WAY low…
Among my group of friends there has been a tradition going back 15 years or more called GOMER NIGHT where we assemble to watch, and make fun of, ridiculous movies from around the world. We’ll watch 2 or 3 per night, usually around a brilliant theme…. such as “Ape Night” or “Charlton Heston Night” (which were both Gomer-Night high points if I remember rightly). There is judicious use of the fast-forward button to get us over the bumpy bits and allow us to clock up more lousy-film mileage per night. It’s a quantity over quality thing, you understand. The stupider the movie the better, and heckling the silly script is encouraged, or in some cases even required if you want any entertainment. Anyway, It is a hell of a lot of fun. If you like that sort of thing.
But more recently a radical splinter group of the gomer-nighters has been getting together to actually, wait for it, watch GOOD MOVIES. What a concept!
My pal LON suggested that we watch all of FEDERICO FELLINI’s movies in order. Lon was already familiar with these films and wanted to see Fellini’s progression from film to film. I had probably only seen “La Dolce Vita” before, so I was happy to get more aquainted with a director that I’ve aways heard referenced by other film-makers. If a director’s name is invoked as a kind of adjective, as in ” It was Fellini-esque, dude.” , then it stands to reason that they may worthy of your attention.
But I wasn’t sure how I would handle watching a movie with my expectation-ometer set to 10 on the dial… The last time I had done that I was injurred badly… this might be dangerous! But I reasoned that I had two pals present (Lon and Vince) to pull me out of the wreckage if anything went wrong. And so, the 3 of us started with Fellini’s first directorial effort, VARIETY LIGHTS (where he is credited as a co-director) and right from the get-go a lot of the “Fellini-esque” elements are already there: travelling theatrical troupes, clowns, eccentric characters with even more eccentric faces, and sequences of people wandering around cities at 3am and bumping into even more whacky characters. All relayed to us in a voice that is conscious of, yet compassionate towards, the foibles of human-kind.
At this point we have just seen his 4th film LA STRADA, which continued some of the motifs that were in the first 3 but also got deeper, darker and more emotionally resonant. It features a great, mostly non-verbal, performance by Anthony Quinn who plays a surly theatrical strong-man who travels from town to town with his naive theatrical side kick played by Giullietta Massina (Fellini’s real-life wife). Anthony Quinn does a great job of humanizing a brute, monosyllabic character. There is one scene in particular, right at the very end of the film where the whole tragic story is replayed on Quinn’s face, that we had to replay ourselves just to catch it all.
I have been enjoying these films immensely and no heckling the screen is required; they entertain on their own merits. There is no need for me to go into how great this director is, as reams and reams of reviews and critical analysis have been written already by people much more thoughtful and eloquent than myself. However, if you are one of those people who has walked out of the movie multiplex recently wondering “what the hell did I just pay $10 for?” I encourage you to either:
A) adopt the policy of Gomer Night: lower your expectations and embrace the stupidity OR..
B) go to the video store and rent some of the great movies that have already been made, there are plenty out there.