During our recent trip to Stockholm we went to a photographic exhibition centred around the relationship between people and their horses. One of the photos on display was of the horses involved in the making of the earthquake scene of Satyricon and so I finally got the reason that I needed to give this a go.
Now. Going from the picture in the 1001 book, I was expecting a film that would be a bit weird. Not possibly upsettingly weird like Salo; more like the final disturbing 10 minutes of The Shining. Honestly, with this as a yardstick, Fellini did not disappoint.
It would appear that, when making Satyricon, Fellini was seeking a way to stay true to the spirit of a Roman text about the various adventures of a man that usually ends up with him having sex to get out of a scrape. It’s the ultimate exercise in organised chaos that, because of the fragmented nature of the surviving text, ends up being a bit disjointed. Then again, that’s pretty much the point.
Everything from the out-of-sync dubbing to the filters on the camera serve to make this film feel otherworldly. I use otherworldly because it’s a kinder word than ‘barmy’, which Satyricon is also. Afterall, this is a tale where the protagonist ends up being chased by a man dressed as a Minotaur, kidnaps an oracular hermaphrodite, narrowly escapes an earthquake and has sex with a goddess to cure his impotence. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Since this veers so much between plot fragments Satyricon really is a film where it helps to have the Wikipedia page open. I don’t think you’re meant to quite be able to follow the thread of the story line as it plays like a game of exquisite corpse put on celluloid. We begin in a Roman bath watching two men arguing about their lovers and end on one of them being offered a pile of money in exchange for an act of cannibalism. I mean, I watched this film intently and I still puzzle as to how we ended up with this conclusion some 2 hours later.
There are still three more Fellini films left for me to watch: Amarcord, La Dolce Vita and Juliet of the Spirits. I think that whatever film I see of his will end up feeling positively grounded after Satyricon. Then again, that’s what makes for a legendary director: someone who puts their mark on different genres and someone whose films are still interesting to talk about, even if you wouldn’t particularly rate them highly.