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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres



"Saudi Arabia said Saturday that its navy had evacuated 86 Arab and Western diplomats from the port city of Aden in southern Yemen, as a Saudi-led coalition conducted a third day of airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Houthi movement. Separately, Saudi Arabia confirmed that an American helicopter had rescued two Saudi pilots who ejected from an F-15 fighter over waters south of Yemen. The official Saudi Press Agency said the pilots had ejected because of a 'technical fault' and were 'in good health.' The evacuation of the diplomats from Aden reflected the spreading chaos in Yemen as the Houthi-allied forces continued to advance, even under the pressure of the Saudi bombing. The breakdown of order has potentially grave consequences for the United States, because Yemen had been a central theater of the war with Al Qaeda, but the factional fighting has now forced the United States to withdraw its forces as well. Aden is Yemen’s second largest city and had been the provisional headquarters of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the Saudi-backed Yemeni leader, since the Houthi forces overran the capital, Sana, in January. Mr. Hadi fled last month to Aden to make a last stand among his supporters in the south, but he, too, has now left Yemen, attending a meeting of Arab leaders on Saturday in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.The Houthi movement, based in northwestern Yemen, follows a form of Shiite Islam and has received financial support from Iran, the region’s Shiite power and the chief rival to Saudi Arabia. The Houthi surge has alarmed the Saudis about the possibility of an Iranian-backed group digging in on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. But the Houthis have also struck an alliance with Yemen’s former strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who retained significant support among the Yemeni military and security forces even after he was forced from power in 2012. Those forces have now fractured, and major factions have sided with Mr. Saleh and the Houthis against Mr. Hadi and his Saudi backers." (NYT)


Merkel and Tsipras at a news conference in Berlin, March 2015. (Hannibal Hanschke / Courtesy Reuters)

"The Coalition of Radical Left, a Greek political party known by the acronym Syriza, took power in January 2015 with a simple, if ambitious idea: it would put an end to austerity in Greece. For years, Greece had cut back its spending in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in bailout loans from the so-called troika—the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund. Now it would play a high-stakes game of chicken by launching new negotiations, betting that its largest creditor, Germany, would grant generous concessions to avoid the risk of a Greek default and exit from the eurozone. The negotiations turned out rather differently than Syriza expected: Germany refused to budge. And when Athens doubled down, Berlin clung to its position even more tightly. In February, Greece backed down on most of its demands and accepted a four-month extension of the bailout, something Syriza had said it would never do, in exchange for some more discretion in deciding which austerity reforms to implement. Meanwhile, Greece is set to face a new crisis this summer, when it is scheduled to repay its creditors some $7 billion—and it may run out of money well before then. Next week, the country plans to present its eurozone lenders with a list of proposed reforms, with the hope of unlocking more bailout funds. How did Syriza end up here? By focusing narrowly on Germany, Greece forgot about the interests of the other players involved. Simply put, Athens behaved in ways those actors found deeply threatening, which effectively united Europe against it. To repair the damage, Syriza has little choice but to change course, altering its message and adjusting its demands." (ForeignAffairs)



"Were he alive today to witness the ongoing struggles within France’s major political parties over not just their natures but also their names, Roland Barthes might ask us to think about our laundry. In a 1955 essay from his celebrated collection Mythologies, the French semiotician dwelled on the advertising campaigns of the powdered detergent Persil and the liquid Omo. One was portrayed as soft and gentle, the other as sharp and brutal, but both promised the same result: whiteness. Not at all surprising, Barthes concluded, since they were ultimately the same product, even made by the same corporation. There is certainly a Barthesian dash of Persil or Omo—take your pick—to France’s local elections, taking place in the country’s 96 départements, or administrative units, this weekend. Amid a surge of xenophobic sentiment not just in France but the rest of Europe, the French far-right and center-right parties have tried to soften their images—and names. But whether France, and the rest of the world, should be reassured by these efforts is less certain. The extreme right-wing National Front (FN) has again claimed the media spotlight, and it may well be that as goes a department, so goes the entire store. After the first round of voting last Sunday, France appeared to face a transformed political landscape. The FN, led by Marine Le Pen, built on the startling advances it had made in last year’s municipal and European Parliament elections. Her party tallied more than 25 percent of the vote—double the percentage it won in the last local elections, in 2011, and nearly 5 percentage points ahead of French President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS), which was eliminated from the vast majority of contests taking place this coming Sunday in the second round of voting. While she could not claim, as she had hoped, that the FN was “le premier parti de France”—the polls had forecasted the party winning as high as 30 percent of the vote—Le Pen was no doubt sincere when she declared that she was “very, very happy” with the results." (Politico)





"Treasured memories. The Lauren Bacall Collection goes under the auction hammer next Tuesday, March 31st at Bonham’s, the auction gallery at 580 Madison Avenue between 56th and 57th Street. The exhibition opens today, March 27th for viewing, and runs through Monday March 30. I haven’t seen it although I have seen the catalogue which features photographs of the rooms of her famous apartment in the Dakota where she lived for the past half century. I never knew Ms. Bacall, who was known as Betty to her devoted friends and colleagues. I’d seen her quite a few times around and about including at Zabar's on Saturdays and at benefits and screenings. I had a very brief experience with her when I was a kid and had a part time job working at the door at Sardi’s with Jimmy the maître’d. She had a nettlesome side that was democratic (anyone in her presence at the right moment could see it – or experience it). But that’s not really what I remember about her. I remember probably what you and everyone else remembers: that voice, that attitude, that personal stature and at times when she was younger, that chic. She was sheer talent." (NYSD)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres






"While the al-Houthi movement struggles to manage multiple regional challenges to its north, its rise to power in Yemen is a setback for Saudi Arabia on its southern flank. After the fall of the Yemeni government, Riyadh will have to capitalize on the al-Houthis' need for political and financial support to re-establish its influence in the country. But because Iran is trying to fill that support gap, too, Yemen has become another battleground where the two sectarian rivals will struggle against one another ... While the Saudis would prefer not to have al-Houthi control of such a large piece of Yemen so close to their border, the situation seems to be the best outcome in a situation where all options are bad — as long as the al-Houthis do not start pushing northward ... The al-Houthis find themselves in a situation fairly similar to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Both groups are the biggest force in their respective countries, but they exist within political and demographic conditions that keep them from running their countries alone. " (STRATFOR)











Houthi rebels at the site of a Saudi air strike near Sanaa airport on Thursday. Credit Mohammed Huwais/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 


       


"Prices for crude oil rose about 4 percent on Thursday over concerns that the fighting in Yemen might affect the passage of tankers through the Bab el Mandeb strait, a narrow chokepoint between Yemen and Africa that is the entrance to the Red Sea. Along with Iraq, Libya and Syria, Yemen is the fourth Arab nation where an attempt to build a new democracy has been consumed by civil conflict, regional proxy wars and the expansion of extremist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
The Houthi leadership, which hails from northern Yemen, practices a variant of Shiite Islam, the religion of the Iranian theocracy. Saudi Arabia, the region’s Sunni Muslim power, is backing forces loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled the capital, Sana, and has taken refuge among his supporters in the south. The Saudi Arabian-led military intervention immediately raised the threat that Iran might retaliate by increasing its own support for the Houthis with money and weapons — as Tehran has in the past — or with a more active military role, escalating the violence. But the struggle for Yemen is more than merely a sectarian conflict or a regional proxy war, in part because of the singular role of Ali Abudullah Saleh, the country’s former strongman ... In Lausanne, Switzerland, where he is meeting with Iran’s foreign minister to wrap up a nuclear accord, Secretary of State John Kerry held a conference call on Thursday to discuss the situation in Yemen with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. Mr. Kerry 'commended the work of the coalition taking military action against the Houthis,' a State Department official said. The State Department later went out of its way to make public that the American support includes not only intelligence sharing and logistical help but also 'targeting assistance.' Four other Persian Gulf monarchies, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, joined the Saudi operation, as well as the allied Arab kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco.
Egyptian state news media reported that Cairo was also providing undefined political and military support. The Egyptian government was consulting with Saudi Arabia about the possibility of providing naval or air support or ground troops as well, the state news media reported." (NYT)









"When Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan, stepped up to speak at a formal dinner in his honor this week at the State Department, he looked out at a room of familiar faces, a fact he quickly made clear. He referred to Madeleine K. Albright, seated beside him, as his 'mentor.' He called Secretary of State John Kerry, the host, 'a remarkable friend of Afghanistan.' He joked that retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, who sat one table over, rarely slept while commanding American forces in Afghanistan. 'I need glasses to see everybody,' he said. The ties that bound Mr. Ghani to many of the dinner guests on Tuesday reflected a little-noticed story in America’s longest war: After more than 13 years of nation-building in Afghanistan, much of the American national security establishment is intimately familiar with many of the nation’s most senior officials, Mr. Ghani foremost among them, and loath to see a hasty withdrawal lead to a repeat of what has happened in Iraq. Mr. Ghani and many of his advisers also know the United States well, and they decided to thank soldiers for their sacrifices, and taxpayers for the billions spent to aid Afghanistan in every speech Mr. Ghani gave in Washington, officials from both countries said. But American officials helped the Afghans choreograph some of the more poignant touches, such as inviting the widow of an American general killed in Kabul last year by an Afghan soldier to a speech Mr. Ghani delivered on Monday at the Pentagon, allowing the Afghan leader to thank her publicly for her family’s sacrifice. There was also behind-the-scenes lobbying, and not all of it came for free. Shortly after taking office in September, Mr. Ghani’s government hired the Podesta Group for $50,000 a month to lobby on behalf of Afghanistan and help with public relations, according to filings with the Justice Department. One of the founders of the firm is John D. Podesta, who served as counselor to Mr. Obama and represented the administration at Mr. Ghani’s inauguration. Mr. Podesta is no longer involved with the firm.
Mr. Podesta, in fact, was one of the 14 dinner guests on Tuesday to whom Mr. Ghani referred by name in his remarks. " (NYT)



By Brian Snyder/AFP/Pool/Getty Images.


"The site of the talks, the Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel, is famous for being the location of one other historic agreement, namely the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 between the Ottoman Empire and its World War I adversaries, which lead to the breakup of that empire and the creation of modern Turkey. It is perhaps the most opulent hotel so far chosen by the delegations as a site for negotiations, and recalls an era when men in top hats and tails, and not those in robes in turbans, gathered in its banquet rooms to decide the fate of the world. It was also blessed with auspicious spring-like weather that lifted the mood of negotiators and media representatives and even encouraged Kerry to go biking—in full racing gear—and to have relaxing tête-à-têtes with the Russian delegation on a terrace overlooking the lake. The sense of déjà vu—a different and nicer location but the same cast of characters, both in the delegations and in the media covering the talks—was acute. It was also a sense most would rather not repeat, but the signals—from both the Iranian team and the U.S.—over the first days were that, contrary to some expectations, no political agreement was likely to be forthcoming on Friday, the last day of the talks and New Year’s Eve for the Persians. Word circulating the Rivage was also that (SecState John) Kerry would return to Washington before the weekend, or maybe on the weekend, to fulfill obligations there. Zarif et al would return to Tehran to toast—non-alcoholically, of course—the year 1394, and all the delegations party to the talks; their foreign ministers would reconvene sometime in the following days, past the congressional deadline but before the administration’s, to hammer out a deal before April Fool’s Day. With the Iran nuclear talks redux, by now in their 18th month (previous talks, in fits and starts, have been ongoing for a dozen years), it seems that hope always springs eternal ... In background briefings and in off-the-cuff remarks, and even in public statements by officials, a general sense of relative optimism might have allowed a conclusion that most of the political issues have been resolved,, with the glaring exceptions of Iran’s nuclear R&D future (or more specifically the “D” part of R&D), and sanctions relief (or more specifically, the U.N. Security Council sanctions, which Iran insists, and Zarif reiterated in an interview with Ann Curry of NBC News in Montreux, must be removed immediately in the event there is a deal). Iranian reporters took a different signal that something good was about to happen: one reporter shouted a question at Zarif as he walked out of a meeting with Kerry on the eve of the last day. 'Shir ya…' Lion or . . . ? The Persian expression is 'Lion or fox?'—the reporter didn’t want to insult by even uttering the word “fox,” but Zarif knew what she meant. 'We’re always the lion,' he said, 'and on Nowruz, all Iranians will be lions."" (VanityFair)





Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, in Congress after the Israeli premier’s address. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Reuters 
       


"Over an elegant dinner at his official residence Monday night, Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, tried to reassure a group of congressional Democrats that the dramatic public break between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was nothing more than a passing disagreement. Every American president since Harry S. Truman has had differences with Israel, Mr. Dermer told the group, and they always work themselves out. Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York, who initiated and organized the dinner, said,'What people need to do right now is read a little bit of history, take a deep breath and relax, because every administration has had moments of tension with Israel, and it’s always forgotten.' The gathering was part of a bid by Mr. Dermer, 43, the American-born former Republican operative who is so close to Mr. Netanyahu that he is often referred to as 'Bibi’s brain,' to smooth tensions that have flared up in recent weeks between the United States and Israel. But an apology tour it is not. If anything, Mr. Dermer is intensifying his efforts to thwart the nuclear deal with Iran that Mr. Obama is working hard to close within days ... The outreach comes as some administration officials and members of Congress have privately said Mr. Dermer’s standing has been so tarnished by recent events that he can no longer be effective in his post. Richard LeBaron, the former American ambassador to Kuwait and a former deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, said the speech episode was a mistake that had rendered Mr. Dermer 'damaged goods,' and 'practically persona non grata among senior policy makers' in the United States government. 'It was poor judgment, and it was poor judgment affecting the relationship with the most important country that has a partnership with Israel,' said Mr. LeBaron, adding that as a former ambassador, he would expect to have been sent home for a similar infraction. 'If he’s not gone within a month, it’s another indicator that Netanyahu is only out for political advantage and is not serious about repairing relations.' But Mr. Dermer has told friends that he has no intention of leaving, saying he is as determined as ever to do his job and that quitting would do nothing to bridge the divide between the two countries.Mr. Dermer did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this article." (NYT)





Hollywood power players attend Brian Grazer’s book party


"A host of Hollywood moguls turned out to celebrate Brian Grazer’s new book based on curiosity.
The Imagine Entertainment co-founder and producer of 'A Beautiful Mind,' 'Empire' and '24' is releasing 'A Curious Mind,' about his meetings with interesting people. At an event hosted by Bob Iger, Jimmy Iovine and Bobby Kotick, Grazer was fêted by guests including Ari Emanuel, Les Moonves, Brad Grey, Jim Burke, Ron Meyer, Jim Wiatt, Brett Ratner and Steve Bing." (Emily Smith)


Keith Fox, Paul Kelterborn, and Christopher Tepper.


"Last night Beth DeWoody gave a reception at her Gracie Square apartment for guests to learn more about the proposed (and almost a-building) New York City AIDS Memorial that will be ready for public viewing by December of this year. It will be located in the heart of Greenwich Village.  The memorial is the brainchild of Paul Kelterborn and Christopher Tepper. The reception was called for 6 to 8. I got there at 7. Bill Rudin and Eric Rudin were there. The Rudin Family has had a big hand in this project. Beth spoke of those days in the 1980s when AIDS was devastating the population of men who were gay. Many of them were in their 20s and 30s. To this day, there are many who lament the tremendous creative talent that was lost. Christopher Tepper, who with Mr. Kelterborn, created the project told the guests how he is of the generation that followed who knew nothing about the catastrophe and how it happened. When he learned about it from reading, he realized that there needed to be a memorial to remind people. The two men put together an organization that could make this happen. They prevailed upon Keith Fox, who runs Phaidon Press to head the board. Fox told the guests that at that point there was no board.  Nevertheless, they’ve raised five million. They’re ready to go. They need another $500,000." (NYSD)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres









The Social Climb. Guests scaled one of the garden's many magnificent staircases to reach the top of the Garden Mound where a reception preceded Vizcaya's 7th Annual Preservation Luncheon. Great fun! Planning is already underway for next year's Vizcaya Centennial, 1916-2016.


"On a beautiful summer day in March, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens welcomed its boldest fashion-forward supporters to the 7th Annual Preservation Luncheon, known informally as the Hat Luncheon. By noon, the event's heads had greeted 325 patrons for a champagne reception high atop the garden's shaded aerie before strolling through the Formal Gardens to a luncheon beneath a tent installed on the waterfront East Terrace overlooking the Barge and Biscayne Bay. Guests donned fascinators and fedoras, headbands and hatinators, panamas and pillboxes. Reflecting a refreshing multi-generational spectrum, the luncheon's supporters, whether Kiki, Cuca, Lili, Lulu, Lola, or Betty, represented Miami's stature as mega-hemispheric international destination. The popular gathering benefits the organization's notable ongoing preservation and conservation projects." (NYSD)




My Favorite Decade

"Flipping through some television garbage trying to induce sleep, I came upon an old western starring Kirk Douglas, Dorothy Malone and Rock Hudson. Once upon a time the above names would trigger common points of reference. A collective vocabulary signifying the Fifties, chrome tailfins, standard issue gray flannel suits, hats, and stifled alternative views. No longer. Common points of reference today are unrecognizable, at least for yours truly, still stuck on black and white movies, good manners, and correct dress. At one point, a young, beautiful girl tells a middle aged Kirk Douglas that she loves him. He dismisses it, telling her she’s just a girl who will one day find a young man who’s right for her. 'I’m not a girl,' she cries, 'I’m a woman who will wash your clothes and cook for you, and take care of you…' Just as well that only a kiss is exchanged because Kirk turns out to be her father, conveniently shot dead by Rock at the end of the movie. Phew, that was a close one. The beautiful youngster was Carol Linley, whom I once lunched with at Mark’s Club back in 1979. But that’s not the point of my story. It’s what she told Kirk in order to get him to change his mind about her: I’ll wash your clothes and so on. Oh for those good old days. Which brings me to how very different things were for all of us, but mainly for women, back in the Fifties. Mind you, I’m not Virginia Nicholson, the lady who wrote a book about the lost world of womanhood during the Fifties. Her excerpts in a daily newspaper hinted that the last thing a man wanted was a clever woman. In my long life I’ve read and heard a hell of a lot of rubbish, but this takes the cake." (Taki)


Bruce Willis Celebrates His 60th Birthday
Bruce Willis, Keith Richards and Patti Hansen at Willis’ 60th birthday bash.


"Bruce Willis celebrated his 60th birthday in style in New York with his family and music legends Keith Richards and Tony Bennett. The “Die Hard” actor was toasted at elegant midtown restaurant Harlow at a private party thrown by his wife Emma Heming on Saturday. Stars celebrating Bruce’s birthday included the Rolling Stones rocker and wife Patti Hansen — who own a house next door to Willis on the Caribbean island resort of Parrot Cay — crooner Bennett, “Sopranos” star Steve Schirripa, Mary Louise Parker — who starred with Bruce in his 2010 movie “Red” — Bon Jovi keyboard player Dave Bryan and actress Carol Kane. Also there was Bruce’s family, including his mother Marlene Willis, his daughters Tallulah and Scout — his other daughter with Demi Moore, Rumer, is in LA practicing for “Dancing With the Stars” — Russian supermodel Irina Shayk, art collector Inga Rubenstein, film and TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer, screenwriter and director Barry Levinson, and “Real HousewifeKristen Taekman. Bruce was seen chatting with 88-year-old Bennett and 71-year-old rocker Richards before blowing out the candles on his cake and mugging up in a photo booth with fellow guests." (P6)


Michael Thomas and Linda Yellen at Le Veau d'Or Friday afternoon.


"Friday I went down to Le Veau d’Or on 60th between Lexington and Park to lunch with Michael Thomas and Linda Yellen, the screenwriter-producer-director. She’s now in the process of raising funds ($90,000) to finish a film she was making with Dennis Hopper when he died in 2010. Liz Smith wrote about it in her column two weeks ago. Conversation with Michael is always interesting because it covers a lot of territory  -- from politics and Wall Street to the worlds of art and music, of history, and even Hollywood. Back in the days when he was an investment banker he sat on the board of 20th Century-Fox and therefore is well-informed on the last days of Darryl  Zanuck the last real film mogul from the days when the Studios (which is now remembered as the Golden Days of Hollywood). Dennis Stanfill, an investment banker who had previously been an executive at the Los Angeles Times Company, became studio president. After that came Marvin Davis the Denver oilman who bought the studio and installed Sherry Lansing as the first woman studio president ever. And after that came the man who continues to own it today, Rupert Murdoch." (NYSD)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

In Defense Of Fellini's Satyricon






That there is still controversy nearly fifty years later as to the genius or preposterousness of Fellini's Satyricon is testament to il maestro's enduring relevance. It is fashionable is some intellectual circles to dismiss Fellini's late works as victims of his artistic excesses. On that notion I would like to now call bullshit.

This blogger never thought he would have to defend Fredrico Fellini's magnum opus Satyricon from the slings and arrows of an outrageous Onion AV review, but there it is and here we are. Gore Vidal used to call the United States the United States of Amnesia because we often forget. Fellini was once considered a genius -- on the other end of the visual genius continuum of the introverted, painstaking craftsmanship of  Ingmar Bergman -- but no more. The Onion AV Club -- a respected institution -- said, in February, of Satyricon, "the movie that most aggressively embodies this aesthetic, for better and (much more often) worse, is 1969’s Fellini Satyricon, a nonstop parade of garish decadence that’s being released this week as part of the Criterion collection." What the fuck?

I could not disagree more. "Frequently marvelous to look at, the film is nevertheless something of a trial to endure, " the writer continues, absurdly. "It feels dispiritingly like the work of a director who was reading way too much of his own press."


Visually, every critic agrees that Fellini's Satyricon is an astonishing piece of film ass. Satyricon is like a sort of Victoria's Secret model of films -- delicious, ripe, sumptuous and more than a little intimidating. The Corsair would argue, beyond that established fact, that the film is one of the great masterpieces of Western civilization. "A free adaptation of the Petronius Classic" is how the film is billed at the outset. It is; but it also preserves the Menippian satire that is at the core of the fragments. I would argue that Petronius' Satyricon is actually the world's first bildungsroman, on the misadventures of a former Roman gladiator.

I mention "fragments" because the work -- Petronius' Satyricon -- has not been found complete. It is a fragment, survived from ancient times in incomplete longform. Fellini was so intrigued by the fact that this most interesting ancient text -- a protonovel -- had survived the millennia in pieces that he inserted his own genius into the missing elements, hence the science fiction/fantasy aspect of the film. Fellini's Satyricon is a conversation, across the millennia, between Petronius -- one of the most decadent, stylish bastards in the history of the world -- and Fredrico Fellini, the mad genius of wold cinema. That is how one should begin to approach the work, not, like the Onion AV critic, on the shallow basis of whether or not Fellini is being "overindulgent," or "visually excessive."

Two questions should impose themselves on the film critic ion reviewing this film. One: Why did Fellini approach the Satyricon? John Simon once famously asked: Why did Kubrick chose Barry Lyndon to direct and not, say, Vanity Fair or another more popular Thackeray novel. The answer lay in the personality of Stanley Kubrick; and the answer to that question lies in Fellini. Fellini's other subjects -- Casanova, the fantasy life of a movie star (8 1/2) -- involve ultimates, themes which allow for maximum visual pageantry, the Fellini hallmark. My guess would be that a fragmentary classical novel allows Fellini to assert his artistry into a conversation with an established ancient work. That was his challenge. The second question: Was Fellini ultimately successful? Obviously my answer to that is a resounding yes.

A few more words about Fellini's Satyricon. It is one of the most visually astonishing films ever.  That much is not under debate. Even Fellini's harshest critics agree on that. A sort of sci-fi fantasy adaptation of an ancient Roman classic written by Petronius Arbiter, the arbiter elegantiae of Emperor Nero of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, one of the most decadent vocations in the history of the West. Petronius eventually opened his veins after a falling out with Nero, but then, in those pagan days, a stunning career usually ended in bloody, pagan death. Such was the cruelty of pre-Christian fate.





This film really has no disenable beginning or end. "The earth has not managed to swallow me into the abyss, nor has the sea engulfed me with its raging storms," rages Enclopius, the protagonist and the narrator, as much against the God of the West and the audience as against Ascyltus, his lover and best friend in the beginning. "I have fled from the law and escaped the arena. I've even stained my hands with blood, only to end up here, destitute, exiled from my country, abandoned! And who condemned me to be alone?"

Abandonado is the Italian word that rings out from beyond the subtitles. And it does so because the theme of this masterpiece is friendship and abandonment -- the sudden absence of friendship. It is also about the vast brutality of the cosmos. Star Wars -- a comparable science fiction movie with similar themes -- pales in comparison story-wise because it is childishly Manichian, of Good and Evil. Fellini's Satyricon is for grown ups in that it deals colorfully in the world of grays. Cruelty, embodied in the percussive pagan laughter that is heard in all quadrants throughout this film, is the pervasive mood. Fortuna, the Roman God often invoked by Niccolo Machiavelli, is also quite present in this film, invisible, propelling the action forward. Machiavellian smiles, gazes disturbingly turned against the viewer in a form of diabolic sneer, are also hallmarks of this film. The filmmaker appears to be calling attention to this visual spectacle, to his representation of the pagan pageant of human existence, not asking us to suspend our disbelief. Quite the contrary.

A word about Fellini's sonic pallete here. Fellini's Satyricon explores the outer limits of sound. Everything from bodily sounds -- farts, belches -- to mysterious flutes, to the bark of abandoned hounds in the distance as well as the roars of prehistoric reptiles and the endless rhythmic crashing of the sea all play a part. I have never, ever, experienced a film with more diverse sonic alchemy than Fellini's Satyricon. I suspect there isn't any film out there who can remotely compete in that arena with this film.

And what are we to make of Trimalchio's Feast? The Great Gatsby was almost called Trimalchio in East Egg. That was the original title that Fitzgerald had in mind, but begged off because it would have sounded to snobby. The meal -- roughly one third into the film -- is the greatest depiction of the vast gap between the tremendous wealth of Rome at the height of its Empire, and the poor plebians who made it possible for the rich to do what the fuck they wanted whenever they wanted. In fact, the entire film is about the cruelty of fate against the poor. Another Italian -- Machiavelli, and I'm greatly oversimplifying here -- argued that the art of statecraft is human action building a fortress against the whimsy of Fortune. One could argue, further, that the accumulation of wealth is a fortress against existential insecurity. Within the framework of that argument, it is the poor that are the most vulnerable to he cruelties of life. Enter: a visual bildungsroman by Fellini of the life of the born low in the bowels of the most decadent stages of the Roman empire.

The hero of the Satyricon, Encolpius, is a former gladiator -- of the underclass -- navigating the world at the mercy of the whimsy of Fortuna. Fellini's sumptuous, visual representation of the difference between the rich and the poor in an imperial society at the height of imperial burlesque has incredible resonance in this day and age. Alas: who reads Petronius nowadays? Who watches Fellini?

Certainly not the author of that stupid ass Onion AV review. Basta!