Index: Fellini

Fellini & the Allure of Comics





[RERUN: Originally Aired Sept. 2009 / An old favorite lost in the great SQL database corruption of 2012. I never tire of thinking about the electric confection that is Fellini & Manara’s Trip to Tulum, so here it be. Admittedly dated by my still fresh allergic rejection of the very idea of Zac Snyder’s appalling adaptation of Watchmen}

Comics, and the ghostly fascination of those paper people, paralyzed in time, marionettes without strings, unmoving, cannot be transposed to film, whose allure is motion, rhythm, dynamic. It is a radically different means of addressing the eye, a separate mode of expression. The world of comics may, in its generosity, lend scripts, characters and stories to the movies, but not its inexpressible secret power that resides in that fixity, that immobility of a butterfly on a pin. –Federico Fellini

The graphic novel Trip to Tulum has its roots in an aborted film of Fellini’s called the Journey of G Mastorna. Fellini’s entry in the “whoa… he was dead the whole time” mini genre, the movie was plagued by strange mishaps throughout its production. Already haunted by nightmares, Fellini threw in the towel after a huge Gothic church set collapsed minutes after it had been erected. The script and its attendant themes and vignettes sunk back into Fellini’s imagination. Over time bits and pieces floated to the surface in other films.

Fellini’s affection for comics and graphic storing telling is well known. In the mid 80’s, he allowed an Italian newspaper to serialise a version of the story, now called Trip to Tulum, with accompanying illustrations by Milo Manara. Manara, mostly known for his tony, Euro sci-fi erotica, is an illustrator and artist of the highest caliber. When Manara wanted to expand the story into a graphic novel, Fellini agreed, and took to the collaboration with gusto.

The result is simply one of the lost classics of the form. It begins with a stunning Anita Ekberg ringer finding Fellini asleep on the edge of pond in a a lush grove swept through by gusts of wind. Fellini’s hat flies off and as she reaches to grab it she falls in. Swimming after the sinking hat she descends to a vast, surreal field of sunken planes and ships. It emerges that they are all physical manifestations of Fellini’s films and unrealized notions. On one plane she finds a nattily dressed, kelp encircled Marcello Mastroianni, and…. oh never mind, from there the story just unfurls from one scene to the next like wax balls in a lava lamp… it’s a frisky fantasy adventure, a hallucinatory dream, a self referential commentary, an allegory of film-making, and finally a meditation on the creative act itself. Out of print now, copies can be found here.

(Incidentally, the Fellini quote is one of the definitive statements on the relationship between movies and comics. The notion of characters on “loan” lies at the heart of Chris Nolan’s respectful yet inspired cinematic interpretations of Batman. Its warning against literalism is precisely what an earnest vulgarian like Zach Snyder does not understand – which is why there is nothing whatsoever to be gained, and everything to be lost, in seeing Watchmen)


Thoroughly fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine by Tony Perrottet on the overlooked biographical details of that legendary Casanova, Giacomo Casanova. The piece opens with a gob-smacking accounting of the serpentine path his celebrated memoir took, ending in its exalted cubby in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. Suffice it to say it includes a stop during the 19th century in a special cupboard for illicit books in the French National Library, called L’Enfer, or “the Hell.”

The story then turns to a vividly sketched outline of Casanova’s life – establishing a far, far more interesting character than, as Perrottet puts it, “a frivolous sexual adventurer, a cad and a wastrel.” In fact,

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova lived from 1725 to 1798, and was a far more intellectual figure than the gadabout playboy portrayed on film. He was a true Enlightenment polymath, whose many achievements would put the likes of Hugh Hefner to shame. He hobnobbed with Voltaire, Catherine the Great, Benjamin Franklin and probably Mozart; survived as a gambler, an astrologer and spy; translated The Iliad into his Venetian buy vicodin by phone dialect; and wrote a science fiction novel, a proto-feminist pamphlet and a range of mathematical treatises. He was also one of history’s great travelers, crisscrossing Europe from Madrid to Moscow. And yet he wrote his legendary memoir, the innocuously named Story of My Life, in his penniless old age, while working as a librarian (of all things!) at the obscure Castle Dux, in the mountains of Bohemia in the modern-day Czech Republic.

In British terms, let’s say, this is all much more Richard Francis Burton than Flashman. Fascinating, and as Blackadder would say, “as French as a pair of self-removing trousers.”

As far as the art goes, above are some frisky watercolors by Auguste Leroux from the 1932 French edition of Casanova’s Histoire de ma Vie. Leroux was a celebrated illustrator who worked with Huysmans, Balzac, Stendhal and Flaubert… below are some fetching prints by Milo Manara inspired the the 1976 Fellini film. (My appreciation of their finest collaboration, A Trip to Tullum, here.)

Also, for your pleasure, a live cut of Roxy Music’s strutting tribute.

Roxy Music: Casanova:


Women in Trouble

Stills from the fantastic opening credits from the flick Women in Trouble, directed by Sebastien Guterrez, just out on DVD. Very reminiscent of the work of Los Angeles based collagist Alexis Smith. Smith is among my absolute favorite artists – inexplicably examples of her work are really scarce online. (That will be addressed, soon, in a future post. For now, a smattering here.) Basically she’s the Hannah Hoch of Hollywood, using the deadpan Dada grammar of collage to reconfigure and re frame shards of entertainment culture in poignant and profound ways…. which is what I love about the Women in Trouble credits. Gorgeous!

Anyway, the movie follows the intertwining bottle rocket trails of 8 or so LA women in the course of a single madcap day. One reviewer compared it to George Cuckor’s the Women if it were directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Right on, broadly speaking. The debt to Almodóvar is deep, explicit and acknowledged – strong sexy female leads, bracing vulgarity, and genuine pathos, all swirling in a melodramatic bisque. It’s really good – not one for the ages, but a fab, saucy entertainment with heart.

It’s charm, however, is burnished by unexpectedly satisfying details in and surrounding the flick… The design in support of the film is excellent – besides the credit sequence, the title type and the  sixties pop inspired poster are particularly good. Oh, and the the soundtrack is by pop-psych legend Robin Hitchcock.

The biggest surprise, however, is this whole Carla Gugino/Elektra Luxx thing. Let me explain. Gugino has had a solid string of TV and movie roles, playing an agent on Entourage, and the lead role in the detective drama Karen Sisco. She’s also known for the small but geek-fave role as the original Sally Jupiter in the Watchmen adaptation… In Women in Trouble Gugino plays blue movie star Elektra Luxx.

So, ostensibly to promote Women in Trouble, she launches a blog behind the persona of Luxx. So far, standard viral promo fare, right? Well, during the past year she’s saluted cats as disparate as Modesty Blaise actress Monica Viiti, Bedazzled director Stanley Donnen, Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb, and synth maestro Geogrio Moroder. She penned a mash note to beloved Rochester garage legends the Chesterfield Kings, and is breathlessly awaiting the release of the new New Pornographers album. She clued readers into the obscure lo-fi psych of the Capstan Shafts. She posted the single best pictures of Linda Carter as Wonder Women ever. And she celebrates every weekend by posting glamour shots of, at first, Anita Ekberg, and now Sophia Loren. And, in an uncanny overlap with this here blog, posted not only about God Help the Girl, the distaff spin off of Belle & Sebastian, but a wrote an appreciation of the obscure Fellini/Manara comic Trip To Tullum.

All in all, a staggering level of hep-ness… As a result, my enthusiasm for her enthusiasms certainly gooses my enthusiasm for the movie. In any case, Women in Trouble is well worth seeing, the credits deserve a huzzah for thier artfulness, and Carla Gugino/Elektra Luxx’s blog is well, well, worth visiting regularly. Good show all around!