So Nine bombed. But I don’t want to talk about that movie, which I haven’t seen.
I’d rather talk about Fellini, but only to get someplace else…
…And let’s first take a look at the trailer for Nine. As you can see, it makes no mention of the original stage production (which won a Tony). Or the play before that. Or Fellini, whose film it’s all based on. Me, I assume that’s because the producers worried that young audiences don’t know these things, and therefore said, “Make it clever and sexy and look like Chicago.” (Young audiences must have been part of the target demographic, because the film’s budget was $80 million, and you don’t make that much back without winning over teens and twenty- and thirty-somethings.)
Fellini’s star dimmed considerably starting in the mid-1970s (even though he directed at least one great film in the 80s, the neglected E la nave va (And the Ship Sails On, 1983). He was famously booed at Cannes in the early 1990s, right before his death.
I see some signs that his popularity is returning, at least among film critics. There’s a new print of Juliet of the Spirits out there, as well as one of Amarcord. And according to the IMDb, “In the 5th edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die […], 7 of Fellini’s films are listed.” And 8½ is in the top 250 at the IMDb, so… (it’s #165).
Still not enough, though, I guess, to hang Nine‘s hat on. (Personally, I think they should have tried relating the film to Austin Powers: “Before Swinging London, there was…Swinging Cinecittà!”)
…But I don’t want to talk about any of this, not really. What I really want to talk about is: The Zeitgeist.
It’s 2010. Obama was elected president over one year ago, has been serving as president for almost one year. And last year around this time, many people were talking about Hope. And the audacity of it. And the end of cynicism. As well as racism! Maybe it was even the start of a brand-new Era of Good Feelings!
I tend to think of the current culture—contemporary mainstream US culture, inasmuch as such a thing exists—as being very:
Fellini is none of these things. Rather, he’s a very giving, very exuberant filmmaker. He’s melancholy, but loving and sincere. His movies require patience, and personal investment. They’re often metatextual, but it’s a “deep” kind of metatextuality—they aren’t fragmented. (They cohere, unlike in Last Year at Marienbad.) And I think it’s easy to see Fellini as being sappy, or silly, or naive—which presumably played a big part in why his later movies tanked: his work became more nakedly sentimental, putting Fellini out of step with increasingly cynical audiences. Whereas 1963 was a great time to make something like 8½.
Well, I’m treading in Siegfried Kracauer territory here. I can’t really speak with any authority about the zeitgeist, then or now, so…I’m eager to hear what others think!
Consider this entire post, then, a very roundabout question: am I wrong to say that our culture is insincere, fragmented, juvenile, shallow, ironic, sexist, violent, spectacular? Can we characterize the culture? Is there a zeitgeist?
I saw Sherlock Holmes last night, and I’d claim it’s all of those things. It’s also #3 at the box office right now, having grossed 11.5 times more than Nine has. …But are movies, a la Kracauer, a good gauge of mass consciousness?
Personally, I think there is something to it. People are influenced by what’s around them (duh). And art in particular is often “of a kind”—certain things become common, and in vogue. And the national character changes. Right now, for instance, people seem really into superhero movies. So there are a lot of superhero movies. Which I think reflects and contributes to certain ideologies:
Question: Why did you write a book about men becoming “boys” at this time?
Gary Cross: I am an historian who asks questions of the past by observing the present. So when I saw evidence everywhere of how growing up male has changed and how increasingly maturity is mocked and denied in the popular and commercial culture, I was compelled to explain it historically. All this not only profoundly shapes the many (especially women) who have “boy-men” in their lives, but it has led to much confusion among men of all ages about who they should be and what they should want. As important, the boy-man has shaped contemporary culture in many, often undesirable, ways.
(Maybe 8½‘s Guido should find resonance, then, with young men today? Ah, but Fellini was being critical of Guido—and of himself…)
…But what do you think?