Repertory Picks

Phantasmagoric Fellini in Ann Arbor

Next Monday, the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor will raise the curtain on the 1969 historical fantasy Fellini Satyricon. Following the underwhelming response to his first color feature, 1965’s gaudily surreal Juliet of the Spirits, and his reluctant abandonment of a project about a musician’s journey through the afterlife, the great Federico Fellini decided to return to his recurrent theme of Roman decadence and take it in a new direction altogether: back to ancient times. The resulting film, a free-form adaptation of a classical satire that survives only in fragments, turned out to be one of the director’s most controversial works. Featuring only a loose episodic plot, Satyricon spends much of its run time simply indulging in the hedonistic demimonde of its imperial Roman setting, the film’s chaotic vision of ritualized violence and pansexual abandon underscoring the ephemerality of corporeal life in this pagan dominion. In the essay included in our release of the film, Michael Wood addresses the film’s emergence from the free-love upheavals of the sixties, as well as its distinctive alchemy of stylistic vigor and thematic darkness, writing that there is “too much life in the film for [its] morbid sense to prevail, too much energy in the rapid, busy gestures and the lurid makeup.”

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