Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Roma Redux

My previous post leads me to paste here a comment on Roma I had sent Satyam some years ago; I had just returned from nine days in the city, and thereafter watched Fellini's masterpiece for the first time:

"It's interesting to speculate how (if at all) the bildungsroman strand ties into the rest of the film. One way to read it is as gently mocking notions of "decline and fall": one narcissistically reads one's own fate into that of the city. Thus it is not that Rome was better "then," but merely that one has grown old. I don't mean to be dismissive: perhaps the personal is the only way to come to grips with the enormous weight-- in this film, one could even say detritus-- of history. That weight is conjured up beautifully in more than one spooky and yet unbearably lovely dream-like vignette, none more so than the bike ride at the end, with a kind of fascist phalanx zooming past the statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Square (the space a Renaissance creation, of Michelangelo), past (should one say, a la Finnegans Wake, back?) the Arch of Constantine, to the Colosseum (need I even say it, older than, and hence more "past," the Arch of Constantine), and then suddenly onto a highway zooming into the beyond...Freud's dreambook comes to mind, wherein he likens the unconscious precisely to the view of Rome from the Palatine, various historical epochs in view...

...Yet the nightmarish is also present: the sudden shift from Rome on the eve of war to contemporary gridlock and street protests earlier in the film is apocalyptic filmmaking at its best. Fellini mocks those who confuse "the end" with the twilight of their lives, yet also, it seems to me, mocks the complacency that sees eternal Rome surviving, continuing, no matter what-- a stance that legitimates political passivity. It is not surprising, then, that the film begins with Mussolini's long shadow. As stray moments in the film demonstrate, the attitude has outlived Mussolini.

PS-- the bike riders at the end are an ambiguous gesture, exhilarating yet all too mechanized (and hence other than human in a way), keeping all Roman history in view, only to zoom past to who knows where? The new mode is not one conducive to lingering..."

[The photos are courtesy my friend Zeeshan, from a trip to Rome in January 2005.]

1 comment:

Satyam said...

Some wonderful pictures coupled with rather incisive commentary make this a remarkable 'excavation'..