old school

October 5, 2003

I just spent seven hours with Federico Fellini and Mr. Mackey from South Park.

I was invited to crash my friend’s college class at the local arthouse-theatre. She promised Italian neo-realism and a professor whom rumour says controls his Tourette’s with an interesting set of verbal tics. I said I was totally in.

I stayed up all night reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which I mostly liked, but when I finished it at three a.m., I decided there was too little time for any decent sleep before I had to be up to go to the theatre. So when E. arrived to pick me up, I was wild-haired and bleary-eyed and only barely concealing my lust for caffeine.

She offered to stop by McDonald’s, but the theatre is right by one of KC’s best cafés, so I opted to wait until our mid-morning break. It is important that you know about the caffeine I consumed, because I want my stoic kidneys to be validated for their fortitude today. You did well guys. Sorry about that Orangina and double espresso I sprung on you at lunch.

We entered the theatre at nine and settled in the frayed seats for an hour of video clips and commentary by the very passionate and learned film critic who teaches the class. He has, however, an odd habit of filling every pause in speech with a nuanced and meaningful “Oh” and sounds uncannily like the Mr. Mackey character from South Park, accent included. Something like –

“I really love the ending of…Oh…8 1/2. Oh. I bawl at the end every time – Oh – I see it. Oh. It led me to seek – Oh – psychoanalysis for six and a half – Oh – years because I was so – Oh – profoundly touched -Oh – by Guido’s epiphany at the – Oh – end. Oh. ”

You get used to it, and his enthusiasm was so infectious I wanted to take him home to J. for a private screening of La Dolce Vita just so we could both hear him talk. He is an obviously excellent teacher, and I feel a mild twinge of regret that I wrote college off so easily and have been missing out interacting with people like him. Oh.

The first movie we saw was Le Notti di Cabiria, with the darling Giulietta Masina (Fellini’s wife) as Cabiria. We watched the entire magnificent film, and then re-watched the ending and compared it to the 1969 Hollywood re-make with Shirley Maclaine “Sweet Charity”. Boy, American cinema sure bludgeons you to death with its messages – at least, it’s obvious when compared to the artful subtlety of Fellini’s uplifted ending to Cabiria. Made me want to watch nothing but French new wave and Italian neo-realist art flicks while wearing my black velvet cloche hat and drinking Orangina, which I did.

The next movie we saw was “8 1/2” and now I see why everyone was comparing Adaptation to it when it came out – they are very much similar, in that they are both reflective and recursive tales of the artist’s struggle to create the very piece of art you are enjoying. Marcello Mastroianni was just amazing, guileless and vulnerable and struggling and perfect-faced for it. I cried at the end, because Guido’s epiphany IS profound even if it’s somewhat obvious and simplistic, and the visual and cinematic touches to illustrate it are so evocative that so what if I got a little teary Mr. Nineteen-Yr Old Backwards-Cap Goatee-Face? Go back to your John Mayer Albums and comic books and let me have my own epiphanies, damn it.

A somewhat garbled impression of my day, but it meant so much to me, artistically speaking. Not to mention the therapy of sitting in a theatre relaxing all day (I’m not the one who has to go home and write a ten page paper on the effectiveness of lighting in Fellini’s films and how he was influenced by the French surrealist filmmakers, after all) then eating lunch at my second favourite cafe (vegan, no less) and antique shopping for ten minutes then more movies, hooray! It was loads of fun and I needed it badly.

And I needed a very abrupt reminder about TRUTH – namely, that it is ingredient #1 in any artform, and that if I enjoyed some personal ease or success earlier in my career as an artist, it was because of the raw honesty and guilelessness with which I approached every damned thing I did, and that keeping myself seperate from the musical, tumbling handholding chain of humanity was the worst thing I ever, ever could have done to my creative spirit.

Lesson learned. Now, I need a nap.

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