Fellini Satyricon

Year 1969

Martin Potter   as  Encolpius  
Hiram Keller as Ascyltus
Max Born as   Giton  
Capucine as Tryphaena
Director - Federico Fellini
Screenwriters   - Federico Fellini
  - Brunello Rondi
  - Bernardino Zapponi  
Original Author   - Gaius Petronius Arbiter  
(c. 27 – 66 AD)

The great Frederico Fellini directed this and contributed to the screenplay. In some circles of self-flagellators, this alone is enough to cause a spastic climax.

If you just say, "Fellini," everyone knows who he is. Like Prince or Madonna or Hitler, all you need is the single name. Even in the title, it's not Frederico Fellini's Satyricon, it's Fellini Satyricon. Good old Fellini. Good old, dead Fellini.

This is important. I've seen interviews with the man and he was humble. Despite the accolades that he received, he always seemed to be blasé regarding effluviant praise. He always kept true to himself. What (nightmarish?) visions this man must've had!

Satyricon is over forty years old and its imagery still blows the doors off of any Crappy Gratuitous Insertion (CGI) film that comes out of Harpywood these days. Fellini eschewed expensive special effects in favor of paper maché. The effect is unnerving.

Of course, this is an Italian movie. I've used this reference before, but not explained it. Here's the place to do so.

An Italian movie is shot without sound. Later, after it's been edited, the actors come in and recite their lines. This gives rise to all sorts of weird effects like intonations not matching facial expressions or lip movements. In Satyricon, sometimes even when characters speak, no words are heard. Lips move and nearby actors respond, but since the dialogue wasn't recorded, it's a dead spot on the audio track.

You won't pick up any stray noises, either. If there's water dripping, the sound of water dripping needs to be inserted later. Usually, it's not the sound of water dripping. Usually it's spare audio that they had lying around, say like someone playing the harmonica. The disjointed selections make for some unusual scene transitions.

This surreal effect forces the viewer to watch from a nearly disembodied perspective. It's a treat, unlike the effect produced using similar techniques in The Creeping Terror.

So, what's Satyricon? Well, it's not "Satiricon" as in a satire. It's about satyrism, which means hedonism and fornicating with anything that moves. Men, boys, animals, gods, goddesses, the wind...it's all the same to a satyr.

And what better time for a satyr than during the heyday of ancient Rome? Any society that has "vomitoria" is definitely not too concerned about moderation.

If the idea of same-sex sex appalls you, give this one a miss. If you can understand that it was once predominant or you practice it, then this movie might hold some nice surprises for you.

You've all heard of Herodotus and his line about the youth of today. Oh, you haven't? You thought it was Plato or Socrates? They're late comers to the party. Around 800 B.C. (Yes, Before Christ and not anything else!), Herodotus lamented the state of teenage morality where the youth pursued pleasure, were rude to their elders, and failed to worship the gods properly.

Flash forward to the time of Petronius and you'll find that this whole attitude is worthy of a play. Flash forward to the time of Fellini, put his spin on it, and watch it turn into an arresting movie.

To do this, you've got to start with deliquent males. In this movie, the male leads are pretty, prettier even than the women. They like each other, usually a lot. But, being guys, they want it all. Also being guys, when the grass is always greener in another pasture, the current pasture doesn't stay inhabited for long.

This would be "Candide" if there was a philosophy being made fun of. But there's not, so it's mostly just the exploits of two young men as they make their way through the fleshpot that was the Roman Empire.

The one thing you'll notice, and not be able to avoid noticing, is the imagery. Fellini likes unusual looking people. Fat? Fellini would use you. Scarred? Even better. Hunchbacked midget? Better still! (Yes, midget. "Little people" hawk magically delicious cereal.)

Fellini uses them all. There's even hunchback midget wrestling in one scene.

That's this movie. There's no plot, it's a journey. The points are made by way of predicaments and sojourns. What if the hero sees an old friend? The two are off to a party where debauchery rules. Ego takes on new scope as the host demands everyone attend his mock funeral so that he can hear what they will say about him when he's gone.

Not good enough? How about the hero then being sold into slavery and forced to row in a galley? To get out of it, the hero marries an old warrior. The later becomes the bride at the ceremony.

Then the young man escapes and wanders and comes across an abandoned palace. Later on, he meets a husband with a nymphomaniac wife who pays the hero and his friend to attempt to satisfy her. Never mind how it turns out, because they're on the way to see a Hermaphrodite who'll cure her. (Yes, Hermaphrodite. It's a movie about Rome and the name "Hermaphrodite" comes from the names of two Roman gods. Don't dilute the meaning with Puritanical Correctness.)

The hero and his friend become part of a plot to kidnap the Hermaphrodite, who is actually a demi-god. During their escape, they let the albino demi-god die in the sun. Guess what the consequences are? Go ahead and guess! What's the worst fate that can befall a young man who thinks with his groin? Of, course! Impotence!

The adventures don't stop there, and I won't go into them. I will say that the last scene is so over the top you would not believe it until you realize that Fellini was setting you up by demonstrating how shallow everyone was throughout the previous part of the movie. Then, not only can you imagining it happening, it becomes the only logical conclusion.

As the credits roll, you are asked if you believe if the hero is redeemed? It's not answered by the movie. You need to determine it for yourself.

If you're going to watch this, and it nearly is a masterpiece and you'll never see anything else like it treated as art, be prepared to be shocked. Also, as much as I disdain dubbing, the subtitles are lame and frequently make no sense so watch with the voice dubbing turned on.

The following is an example supporting why you should. Years ago, when I first saw this movie, I remember that when the hero discovered his impotence, the woman he's failing to please yelled something like, "What's this? You've given me a dead fish!" It stuck with me. Instead of this startling announcement, the subtitles go on and on about snails or something with no piscine mention.

Is there blasphemy in the movie? If you worship Mirth or somebody like that you'll be offended. Nudity? For the most part, these are some really ugly people. Homosexual acts? Nothing explicit although there's same sex kissing and fondling and such. Chick flick potential? If the girl irons her hair and hugs trees and has a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas she might feel the need to act like she thinks it's a great film. She won't get it, but she'll act like she does. As much as I hate admitting it, it's a guy flick (shudder!).

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