Fellini, Scorsese and Me

Film snobs are down on Fellini, so I was glad to see him being defended by Martin Scorsese in Harper’s this month.

I first became aware of Fellini-haters in this passage about the predilections of radio show host Madame Psychosis in Infinite Jest, which names the names of her favored filmmakers. Look who she hates!

“… Odd affection for the hoary dramaturgy of one Sir Herbert Tree. Bizarre Kaelesque admiration for goremeisters Peckinpah, De Palma, Tarantino. Positively poisonous on the subject of Fellini’s 8 1/2. Exceptionally conversant w/r/t avant-garde celluloid and avant- and apres-garde digital cartridges, anti-confluential cinema…”

Scorsese is a film lover, and film snobs allow for a wide swath of film-hating to enter the mix. You can see the love Scorsese has in this image of the movie paradise that was Greenwich Village in 1959, which resembles my San Francisco full of bookstores in 1994:

EXT. 8TH STREET—LATE AFTERNOON (C. 1959).

CAMERA IN NONSTOP MOTION is on the shoulder of a young man, late teens, intently walking west on a busy Greenwich Village thoroughfare.

Under one arm, he’s carrying books. In his other hand, a copy of The Village Voice.

He walks quickly, past men in coats and hats, women with scarves over their heads pushing collapsible shopping carts, couples holding hands, and poets and hustlers and musicians and winos, past drugstores, liquor stores, delis, apartment buildings.

But the young man is zeroed in on one thing: the marquee of the Art Theatre, which is playing John Cassavetes’s Shadows and Claude Chabrol’s Les Cousins.

I love Fellini. I had the same experience as Scorsese in that–having been raised on a diet of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg movies–when I saw 8 1/2 for the first time, it was a revelation. 

I know what people don’t like about Fellini. There’s the gratuitous zaniness, eccentric people running around pointlessly, accelerating (maddening!) marching band music–all of which I also find distasteful. I find it nearly impossible to watch his work from the 70s and 8os, when they started calling the movies “Fellini’s this” and “Fellini’s that” Casanova, Satyricon, etc. –his later stuff hasn’t aged well, but I’m not sure they suited their own age either. There are probably more dogs in Fellini’s oeuvre than most major genius filmmakers. But nevertheless Scorsese’s adulation rang true for me and I will be forever grateful to him for having shown me what cinema was. 

Leave No Trace by Debra Granik

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From the director of Winter’s Bone, and a favorite from Sundance 2018, I finally saw Leave No Trace–and it is a stunner. With almost no dialogue, it tells the story of a war veteran suffering ongoing trauma from his military career, who lives with his daughter in the forest away from all other people, until they are caught and forced back into society, with dire consequences. It’s a deeply moving portrait of people living on the edges of society, and a view into a world rarely seen