Amarcord

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #4: Fed­eri­co Fellini’s Amar­cord.

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You can get excel­lent broad-spec­trum treat­ments of this film by read­ing the review and essay I’ve linked to at the bot­tom of this page. I’m not going to give you a broad-spec­trum treat­ment at all, because to me Amar­cord is all about mas­culin­i­ty from begin­ning to end. The film is def­i­nite­ly a satire and full of polit­i­cal com­men­tary, but all of it is seen through a testos­terone lens that it becomes one of the most com­pre­hen­sive lists of man­ly pos­tur­ing that I’ve come across. This is not a bad thing. Film semi­oti­cists like Chris­t­ian Metz prob­a­bly love this film because it can come apart and be reassem­bled in so many dif­fer­ent ways.

There is plen­ty of male lust, the film opens with a spring rit­u­al, where they burn a witch in effi­gy and men prove their viril­i­ty [or per­haps hope to keep it] by jump­ing over the hot ash­es of the bon­fire. The women know that they are the objects of the scopophilic gaze, but instead of reduc­ing them to objects it puts them in a posi­tion of pow­er, main­ly because the men are so horny that they can’t help but be enthralled. Every man stops and stares, [and even most of the women as well] when the new whores are brought to the broth­el in town. There’s also Volpina [that means fox] who pret­ty much acts like a fox and looks like a fox and is a nympho­ma­ni­ac. Most inter­est­ing is Gradis­ca [a nick­name, which means “What­ev­er you want” or some­thing sim­i­lar], who has a “rep­u­ta­tion” that no one real­ly believes in, and who is still the object of the most slack-jawed pant­i­ng behav­ior on the part of the male pop­u­lace of Rim­i­ni. There is also mas­tur­ba­tion, mas­tur­ba­to­ry fan­tasies [dur­ing Con­fes­sion no less [!], and at oth­er times], and a rather dis­turb­ing scene where the ado­les­cent Tit­ta [a stand in for Felli­ni, cf. The 400 Blows for sim­i­lar­i­ties] is almost suf­fo­cat­ed by enor­mous Ger­man boobs. Lust is prob­a­bly the most com­mon theme because the film harks back to Fellini’s own ado­les­cence, but there is more to a man than that.

What else do you ask? Pow­er and vio­lence of course! The “sto­ry” of the town takes place while Italy was under Fas­cist con­trol. When the Fas­cists pay a vis­it we get hero-wor­ship of Mus­soli­ni [includ­ing a male fan­ta­sy where Il Duce lets the fat kid mar­ry his crush], march­ing about and intim­i­da­tion on the part of the black­boots [not boot­blacks] and even­tu­al­ly a lit­tle bit of polit­i­cal stron­garm­ing when the Fas­cists pour cas­tor oil down Titta’s father’s throat because he isn’t a card-car­ry­ing Fas­cist. Since Italy was con­sid­ered a Father­land at this point, the fact that the entire city goes out to sea to watch the pass­ing of Il Rex [a huge pas­sen­ger lin­er, the Pride of the State!] adds anoth­er lit­tle cor­ner to the mas­cu­line edi­fice of the film.

The most beau­ti­ful and rich syn­tag­mat­ic blah­blah is a scene dur­ing the first snow­fall in win­ter, when a loose pea­cock flies about town crow­ing, lands in the square, and spreads its arro­gant plumage to a large group of men who are watch­ing. I don’t want to talk much about this part, because it is so per­fect­ly done in the film that any oth­er dis­cus­sion of it makes it less than it is. I’ve already said to much about it.

There are glimpses of man­hood behind the mas­culin­i­ty, but only glimpses, which is prob­a­bly appro­pri­ate. Titta’s crazy uncle Teo ends up in a tree, anguished and vio­lent, yelling that he wants a woman. When Titta’s moth­er is ill [pos­si­bly from being out on the sea wait­ing for Il Rex all night], we can see the help­less­ness that his father feels but tries to hide. When she dies, Felli­ni pulls off anoth­er mas­ter­ful piece of film­mak­ing by allow­ing one sob from Tit­ta and a shot of an emp­ty bed before cut­ting imme­di­ate­ly to the funer­al. Some things are too griev­ous to be observed, and the lack of obser­va­tion makes the emo­tion all the stronger. Of course, Titta’s mom isn’t even in the ground yet before he is check­ing out one of his dis­tant rel­a­tives.

There is also the gen­tle father­ly fig­ure of the Lawyer, who gives us a bit of nar­ra­tion through­out the film, the patho­log­i­cal tale-teller Bis­celin [who once porked in one night 28 out of the 30 con­cu­bines that a vis­it­ing Emir brought with him] and some dude who we nev­er see doing any­thing but rid­ing around on his motor­cy­cle and almost run­ning peo­ple over. There is also a motor-car race [where the fat kid final­ly gets over his crush, in a total­ly dif­fer­ent type of mas­tur­ba­to­ry fan­ta­sy]. I’m prob­a­bly for­get­ting a few things, but I’m all out of machis­mo and don’t want to write any­more.

Roger Ebert Review
Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Peter Bon­danel­la
The Cri­te­ri­on Contraption’s review.