Friday, June 12, 2009

The Fierce Awesomeness of Now

On Wednesday evening, Claire and I went to a showing of Juliet of the Spirits at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. I've always enjoyed Fellini, although I prefer his early, grittier, rambling films like The Nights ofCabiria to his sprawling, carnivalesque epics like 8 1/2. When I saw Juliet of the Spirits at age 15, I remember being charmed by the costumes and colorful, Baroque look of the thing, but not really understanding or being too concerned about the plot. This time, I realized that Giulietta Masina's "spirits" were ones she had conjured up from her childhood and was now leaving behind as she separated from her husband. I definitely enjoyed the movie now on a different level, but I'm not sure you have to understand Fellini's movies to enjoy them.

Reactions to the movie were mixed, probably owing somewhat to the uncomfortable chairs in the AGH. The woman sitting next to us was particularly disappointed; she'd seen the movie when it was released in 1965 and now found it to be horribly "dated". A man in the audience asked the Italian scholar speaking after the showing if it wasn't too dated as well, citing some sort of recent critical dismissal of Fellini. It would be impolite to point out that both this man and the woman sitting next to us could be described as a bit dated themselves.

And isn't it a weak criticism of art to call it dated? Okay, nobody talks anymore like they do in Shakespeare, but so what? Isn't all art created at a certain time and place, and thus able to be dated? The alternative would be to only celebrate art that is "cutting edge", or "contemporary", or of this time. In other words, only art that flatters us about our current historical status quo without confronting us with any sort of difference. The fierce awesomeness of now!

I will admit that some art doesn't age well. I really can't sit through much of Brecht anymore. Of course, that's due to their politics and Fellini's work was apolitical. But, certainly there are styles that fail to move us. Nobody could possibly cry as much as a character in an 18th century sentimental novel, and there are some didactic neo-classical paintings that leave one could. Perhaps the 1960s pop surrealism of Fellini's films seems a bit corny to modern audiences.

And yet his theme: the inner life of a wife- can that possibly be dated? Have women ceased to have inner lives, psychological histories, or imaginations? Or is it the subconscious that's questioned? Fellini read his Jung and right thinking people have rejected psychoanalysis. It's
not that they've read any Freud- most have not- it's that they'd rather not hear about this subconscious when they could just as easily takemeds. This is progress: rejecting out of hand one of the most penetrating and influential thinkers of the 20th century and replacing his insights with the "method" of fucking around with psychoactive drugs until one works.

Of course, the woman was probably thinking none of this. Maybe she just found the movie to be slow and stagy in the 1960s style. Everyone's entitled to their opinion. My point is only that whatever critical consensus has rejected Fellini as outdated is wrong. Fellini is a guide to the dreamworld, which certainly still exists. That will not date. When it comes to art, the opinions of critics matter not a whit. What matters is the opinion of other artists. I came to Fellini through Woody Allen. And I suspect that there are artists now who will discover Fellini's films in the future and find that his dreamworld resonates with them.

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