Archive for May 14th, 2014


 © 2014 by James Clark

      As the metropolis of a high-impact socioeconomic power, Roma—like New York, London, Tokyo and Paris—has been cinematically scrutinized for the better part of a century. Invariably the City would have come into play in the course of a clearly defined protagonist (or two) bidding for plenitude in a world making plenitude a long shot. On the subject of Rome, we have, for instance, Roberto Rossellini’s, Rome, Open City (1945), wherein a woman, played by Anna Magnani, is destroyed by a home turf poisoned by fascist distemper. Seventeen years later, Pier Paolo Pasolini, in his film, Mamma Roma, starring, Magnani, seeks to rain all over the post-War Italian (economic) miracle—depicting Rome as a vicious arena of self-serving money-madness and cruelty. But the star has other ideas and injects into Pasolini’s pedantic slam-dunk some tough de-fence of the elusive improvisational treasure she lives for. Joining this play of contentious cityscape, we have an installment with Magnani once again present, namely, Federico Fellini’s aggressively branded, Fellini’s Roma (1972). Scant months before her succumbing to a cancer she would have known to be terminal, she speaks to Fellini (who is off-camera) for only a few seconds; but that is enough to have her (this time with the full encouragement of the auteur) once again part of a game-changing force.

Magnani’s at death’s door and Fellini is far from the attention-getter he was in 8 ½. So who’s minding the store? Definitely it’s no one captured on camera. Fellini’s Roma is a cinematic singularity insofar as it dares to be almost absolutely awash in dismissive perversity—the better to capture a real state of affairs of arguably terminal oblivion. Unlike more conventionally-structured film narratives, there is no persona to marvel or even care about; but rather a seemingly endless stream of largely farcical dissolution. Before engaging specific events, therefore, with a view toward what is at stake here, we have to pick the lock maintaining a hegemony of seemingly Eternal nihilism. This we can begin to effect by noticing that a child and then a young adult, both passively floundering within the action’s early scenes (in the 1930s) of virtually clownish waywardness, go unnamed but are clearly the same person. (We see the little boy wide-eyed as a train departs a little station; then, on the heels of that, we see a train arriving and a wide-eyed young man tastes his first moments as an adult in Roma.) We can travel from there by noticing that the stacked deck of Mussolini’s 1930s as depicted by that transfer (that would be XVI, in view of the godsend that occurred in 1922) is overtaken (though putting in a few other spicy recurrences) by various stages of a film shoot in the early 1970s, wherein, over and above the brief interview with Magnani, there are a couple of Hitchcock-quick comings on the scene on the part of Federico (Fellini) himself, leaving us to understand that he is the outnumbered and invisible protagonist and that the entire film in its multifaceted interplay with the Eternal City is the action of struggling for the necessary new, in the spirit, if not the intentional register, of Mamma Roma. (more…)

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