Notti di Caberia - Fellini - 1957 - Giullietta Massina
Side Cinema - 28 11 04 - ticket £3-00
I don’t see a film that uses clown motif for ages then two come along at once. After Themroc the Side programmed Notti di Caberia a film I’d not viewed. Fellini’s film(co-scripted by Passolini) is like a precursor to Lou Reid’s song Walk on the Wild Side, dark at times but more innocent, an echo of other street carnivals from another era. Instead of the deterritorialised male transexual at the centre of the song/picture we have whore transposed into a clown(the extraordinary Giullieta Massina) Notti di Caberia is a lyrical film that reaches us like a piece of music with its central poetic and filmic motif of life as flow.
In Notti, Guillietta as the eponymous Caberia, plucks her eyebrows and draws two proscenium arched black lines in their place so that her face turns into a mobile mask signing innocent astonishment with the world, an innocence underscored by her legs and feet which support her through the world. encased in white socks and flat heeled shoes. Caberia does not look like a prostitute, Caberia is clown; clown in Fellini and Passolini’s eternal carnival of life and death. Carnival (place of flesh consumed) is life experienced as a continuous flow of events into which individual personality is subsumed but in which there is still place for architype. The carnival dance moves through the vistas of Roman life - street, theatre, nightclub church. Here Caberia as clown lives in the immediate the flow of events responding directly to spectacle before her. As clown she has charmed life and moves effortlessly through the multiple scripted meanderings of the character.
What is remarkable is the strange role within role that constitutes the character of Caberia. Caberia is a clown whore; a whore who keys her performance in the role of the clown - a clown who plays at and with the part of being a whore. As clown Caberia pulls off the doubled-up role-act of being a whore/clown by entering each of the different carnival worlds as clown and allowing the situations to define her a whore but never defining herself as whore.
Caberia is prostitute completely desexualised. Clown and prostitute cannot mix as categories on equal terms. Clown can only play at being prostitute in the same way as clown can only play at being doctor or being interior decorator: obviously nothing will go right. Caberia is perhaps the only prostitute in the history of the cinema without the usual paraphernalia of erotic signage that label her as sex pot. So what’s going on? The men the dark men do not want her sex or her pussy: they want her money. The men of darkness are ready that she should die in order to get her money(were Fellini or Pasolini ever tempted to end the film by having her murdered by the last suitor for her money; and did they refrain because this would have made of the film a banal narrative; whereas they knew that they wanted film of associative flow): but money ultimately does not seem to comprise Caberia’s power as it does with most prostitutes. The money seems external to her essence her core power which is clown being. And the audience understand this right from the first sequence of the film in which a long tracking shot covering what appears to be a playful game with a man, turns nasty as she is pushed in to the river. Saved from drowning her reactions are those of the circus clown run over buy the circus taxi. Anger followed by an immediate appetite to rejoin the carnival. Audience understand that she is only clown playing at whore - dressed in white socks, low heel shoes fluffy jacket and eyebrows. So audience does not seriously ask what happens when Caberia climbs into the cab of the trucker’s lorry. That we should concern ourselves with the sexual nature of the encounter is out of sorts with the script. The complete incongruity of the situation( also captured during her night with the rich and famous film star) makes us easily glide over what is according to the logic of the film, inherently meaningless. Lack of concern works because it is not Hollywood hypocrisy about the distasteful and sometimes dirty business of paid sex. It works because it is a necessary consequence of the clown logic set in motion by Fellini. Desexualised sex is at one with flow, as it is in song and ballad.
Adrin Neatrour 30 11 04