Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

8 1/2 (1963) d. Federico Fellini

Anouk Aimee as Louisa, the Fellini character's wife/tormentor.

Book Review
8 1/2 (1963)
d. Federico Fellini
Criterion Collection #140

 One of the peculiarities of watching the Criterion Collection is that you are more likely to see the minor and/or early works of  particular canonical director.    Minor and early works are more often available and less often have a prior DVD edition, allowing Criterion to essentially introduce the film to their audience.   Minor and early works are also more likely to show up on the Criterion Collection Hulu Plus channel, which is why the sudden appearance of 8 1/2 in mid May of this year was such a surprise.

  Getting a handle on Fellini without 8 1/2 under your belt is nearly impossible.  It's also one of the quintessential "movies about making movies" that seem to substantially define the mindset behind the "art film" as a genre.   In it, Marcello Mastroanni plays Guido Anselmi AKA Federico Fellini. The plot concerns Anselmi/Mastroanni/Fellini's trials and tribulations immediately prior to the principle photography portion of a movie he is supposedly making.  The movie remains un named and undescribed, but it appears to be a grand, complicated affair.

  Anselmi's musings are nearly universal and concern the struggle about whether the creation of art is worth the effort.  The role of naysayer is tellingly played by Anouk Aimee as Luisa Anselmi, the wife of the director.  She inserts herself into a cozy weekend getaway for the director and his mistress, and it isn't long before she is talking about the lies he creates with his films, and how his art is ultimately self-serving, masturbatory and useless.  Ultimately, Anselmi abandons the film, though a cryptic/surreal ending hints that maybe his decision is subject to a later reversal.

  Through and through a masterpiece, 8 1/2 is a must if you have Hulu Plus- it was just uploaded, so don't delay in watching it lest they take it down before you get a chance to watch.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Titus Groan (1946) by Mervyn Peake

Artist illustration of Gormenghast, the castle at the heart of Titus Groan, copyright Malcolm Brown

Book Review
Titus Groan (1946)
 by Mervyn Peake

   Titus Groan is the first in a trilogy of Gormenghast Novels by  English artist/writer Mervyn Peake. 
"Gormenghast" is the name of the Castle-complex where the Groan family lives and rules.  The Groans are an almost impossibly gothic bunch, with an Earl who ends up thinking he has become a death-owl and a cast of characters that most resembles the Addams family (minus the wit) or a Roald Dahl novel.  The Gormenghast novels are closest to occupying a slot somewhere in the "fantasy" genre alongside The Hobbit, but there are no wizards or dragons at Gormenghast.  Peake is resolutely terrestrial in his characters and plot devices. 

  Titus Groan is above all else gothic, in the 18th century sense of the word.  Like, literally gothic.  I would argue that Peake was the equivalent of a revivalist, someone concerned with aesthetics and seeking to make a point about the banality of contemporary existence by creating a stilted parody about the banality of existence in a quasi-fantastical milieu.  The write up in the 2006 edition of 1001 Books goes so far as to call it a "parody...of English aristocracy," which only makes sense if you are talking about the English aristocracy of the 14th century.

  Reading Titus Groan, what most struck me is how this entire trilogy should be required reading for any contemporary goths, be they the mall goths of hot topic and emo bands in the us or the cyber goths of the UK and Europe.  The Gormenghast Novels are gothic culture, and a relatively recent, accessible addition to the goth canon.

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