Monday, March 30, 2009

Fellini and the Spectacle of Rome

An interesting discussion on Satyam's blog in the context of Fellini's Obituary for Cinema, specifically in connection with the following lines:

I too think that the cinema has lost authority, prestige, mystery, magic. The giant screen that dominates an audience devotedly gathered in front of it no longer fascinates us. Once it dominated tiny little men staring enchanted at immense faces, lips, eyes, living and breathing in another unreachable dimension, fantastic and at the same time real, like a dream. Now we have learned to dominate it. We are bigger than it. See how we have reduced it: here it is the size of a cushion between the library and the flower pot. Sometimes it’s even in the kitchen, near the refrigerator. It has become an electronic domestic servant and we, seated in armchairs, armed with remote control, exercise a total power over those little images, rejecting whatever is unfamiliar or boring to us… We wipe out the images that don’t interest us. We are the masters. What a bore that Bergman! Who said Bunuel was a great director? Out of the house with them. I want to see a ball game or a variety show. Thus a tyrant spectator is born, an absolute despot who does what he wants and more convinced that he is the director or at least the producer of the images he sees. How could the cinema possibly try to attract that kind of audience?

My responses:

I have great sympathy for Fellini mourning the “death” of cinema, but I must also confess to some discomfort with these lines. To state it differently, the image of Mussolini chosen for this piece seems to be appropriate, and these lines seem to betray some nostalgia for an idealized authoritarianism...

and, in response to Satyam's comment:

I think the representations of Rome in Fellini’s films like Roma and Satyricon offer a useful corrective of sorts to the problem I pointed out in my initial comment. For in these films, Fellini subverts the spectacle by presenting it as a permanently decadent one (as in Satyricon) or as a non-linear dreamscape that cannot really be impressed into the service of a political “project” (as in Roma), because the dream doesn’t really “point” anywhere, it is unstable and in perpetual danger of unraveling. Stated differently, Fellini is perhaps wise to the fascistic potential of the “muscular”, authoritarian spectacle — hence his grand Roman spectacles stage decadence, decay, perversity (as in Satyricon) or apolitical/autobiographical memory, art, and the strangeness of the familiar (as in Roma). Whereas an imagined and idealized history typically serves as the bedrock of the fascist project, in Roma we have the wonderfully strange sequence of the archaeological dig revealing fresco treasures — all of which turn to dust the moment they are exposed to daylight...

[The photos are courtesy my friend Zeeshan Hyder.]

No comments: