CONTEXT AND PLOT SYNOPSIS
The Saraghina sequence is triggered by Guido's consultation (on the insistence of his producer) with a cardinal of the Catholic Church about the Catholic themes of his film. During the interview, the cardinal questions Guido not about his film but about his personal life, questions that make the director clearly uncomfortable. Is Guido married? (he answers yes); does he have children? (he answers yes and then no); what is his age? (forty-three). The cardinal then directs Guido to listen to the cry of a bird and Guido obediently complies, but not for long. His attention is captivated by the sight of a heavy-set peasant woman carrying a basket, her skirt raised above her knees. It is this sensual sight that triggers, even in the presence of a church dignitary, Guido's sexually charged memory of Saraghina.
The cry of the bird segues into the sound of a harsh whistle blown by a priest who is umpiring a soccer game in a schoolyard. Guido, aged about eight, escapes from the schoolyard to join his friends on an expedition to see Saraghina, a wild-looking prostitute who lives in an old blockhouse on the beach. In exchange for money, the woman begins a suggestive dance, a cross between a rumba and a striptease. Guido, shoved forward by his friends, begins to dance with her. But just as she lifts him up into the air, two stern priests from the school appear in search of the runaway. Guido is captured and dragged back to school to face his punishment. In the office of the Father Superior he is told that his transgression is a mortal sin. His mother, overwhelmed with shame for what her son has done, rejects him. Guido's schoolmates holler and jeer when he appears in class wearing a dunce cap and a sign on his back saying shame. While the others are having supper and listening to a priest read aloud from the life of the pious Luigi, a saint known for his abhorrence of women, Guido is made to kneel painfully on kernels of corn.
Next we see Guido in meditation over the mummified remains of a decaying female saint. In confession he is asked if he is aware that Sara-ghina is the devil. His ordeal over at last, he kneels before a statue of the Virgin Mary, perhaps asking forgiveness. But despite the strong measures the church has taken to curb Guido's sexuality, Guido is drawn back to the scene of the crime. He is greeted warmly by Saraghina, whom he discovers sitting by the sea, singing. The scene switches back to the present. Guido and Daumier, his collaborator, are at a restaurant discussing the episode which we have just seen, the Saraghina sequence, which Guido intends to include in his film. At a nearby table sit the cardinal and his retinue. Daumier complains that the Saraghina sequence we have just seen is merely a childhood memory, bathed in nostalgia, with no true critical awareness of the Catholic experience in Italy.7
But Fellini's powerful filmic evocation of this event in Guido's life belies the critic's harsh words. As Fellini has related in an interview, this sequence is partially based on the negative effects of his Catholic education. The Catholic boarding school is modeled on a school he attended in his youth. This school, he claims, had "a tremendous influence in determining the way my mind works " Fellini remembers that "the discipline . . . was medieval. . . . For such small boys (I was only eight or nine) the way they disciplined us was very harsh indeed. For example, one of the most frequent punishments was to make the culprit kneel down on grains of Indian corn for half an hour . . . and was often very painful." Detailing other cruel ways in which the boys were disciplined, Fellini speculates that the severe treatment of such young children is "the sort of thing that might cause serious mental problems, serious complexes." He adds: "the feeling of guilt I drag around with me, which I can't really place, probably derives from the fact that I spent four or five years in that school."8
In 8 1I2, Fellini condenses "four or five years in that school" into one traumatic episode. Although Saraghina is a genuine figure from Fellini's past, he was never really punished by the priests for his association with her. But the fictional linking of Saraghina with the school contains an important emotional truth: an overly strict Catholic upbringing, Fellini implies, can teach children to associate their natural impulses for freedom and sexual pleasure with guilt and punishment, and cause problems in their adult creative and sexual lives.
EXPRESSIVE (SUBJECTIVE) REALISM
To visually emphasize how Guido's Catholic upbringing has shackled his spirit, Fellini, in a stylized and exaggerated way, opposes the constricted realm of the church with the open, anarchic realm of Saraghina. When we first see Guido as a child, he is enclosed by the high walls of the schoolyard (figure 50) and encircled by the arm of a looming statue of a church dignitary (figure 51). Saraghina's home, in contrast, is the wide open space of the seaside. Everything about her is exposed to the elements—her hair blows wildly, her feet are bare, she bursts out of her dress, and her movements are fluid and uninhibited. (See figure 52.) In contrast, the priests who come after Guido are living symbols of confinement: their long black robes appear particularly incongruous against the natural landscape of the beach. (See figure 53.) Fellini presents their capture of Guido in the sped-up motion of silent slapstick comedies. The acceleration exaggerates, to the point of caricature, the stiff mechanical movements of the priests. But at the same time that he makes them silly, he invests the priests with surprising power. As Guido flees from the priest who chases him from the left, it appears at first that he may escape his pursuer, but unexpectedly he collides with the second priest, who quite impossibly materializes from frame right to block his passage. Even in the unbounded realm of the seashore, the church manages to block and confine.
Once Guido is back at school, the open space of the sea is replaced by a narrow, windowless corridor. Flanked by priests, Guido has literally become a prisoner. While Saraghina is associated with the lively art of dance, the church is associated with portraits and statues, static forms in which images of life are permanently frozen and fixed. As Guido is being led by the ear to his trial, he passes a row of portraits, stern men of the church who accusingly fix him with their eyes. At the end of the row, Guido's prosecutor is photographed to appear like one of the portraits uncannily come to life. At the same time, the juxtaposition makes the man seem hardly more alive than the pictures on the wall.
Even the camera seems to lose its freedom of movement once it is back at the school. As Saraghina dances on the beach, the camera swings around freely to follow her movements, pausing only occasionally on the most awesome parts of her anatomy in imitation of the eyes of the boys, who observe her with the slightly fearful fascination of precocious lust. Back at the school, the action is taken mostly from static camera positions. When the camera moves it does not swing around as it does on the beach, but moves solemnly forward in straight lines to reveal painful and unpleasant static objects—the accusing portraits on the wall, the self-conscious sorrow of Guido's mother, the decayed face of the female saint who is intended as an object lesson in disgust for the female flesh. The camera movements in this portion of the Saraghina sequence are also characterized by rapid pans from the face of one priest to another, and
quick zooms into the faces of Guido's accusers, movements which add stinging emphasis to their cruel words.
One of the most striking features of the Saraghina sequence is Fellini's deliberate stylization of the mise-en-scène. At Guido's trial, for example, his mother is seated near a large portrait of a little boy wearing a halo, the kind of child she would obviously prefer to Guido. (See figure 54.) While
the literal presence of such a portrait in the courtroom is highly unlikely, its symbolic implication is clear: such little boys can only be found hanging on walls, forever imprisoned in idealized painted images. There are several other features of this scene that are not realistically motivated but are there to make a symbolic point. According to Fellini, a number of the
priests at the trial are played by women with shaved heads, their male voices dubbed in. As Suzanne Budgen noted, this symbolic touch makes Guido's accusers "far less wholesome than the company they have snatched him from."9 Interestingly, Guido's mother is portrayed by an elderly woman with gray hair, even though the "flashback" supposedly refers to something that happened over thirty years ago, when his mother would have still been young. Fellini's projection into the past of Guido's mother as she is in the present conveys Guido's feeling that she is just as ashamed of him now as she was back then. The negative effect of this maternal condemnation (which Guido has internalized) is shown near the end of the film, in the scene in which Guido shoots himself because he is unable to answer questions about his film at a press conference. Immediately preceding this action is an image of his mother saying, "Where are you running to, you wretched boy?"
The Saraghina sequence is anything but, to paraphrase Daumier's words, a mere childhood memory bathed in nostalgia with no true critical awareness of the Catholic experience in Italy. The church's harsh punishment of Guido's erotic impulses and its valorization of a virgin as the ideal woman, Fellini implies, have had a devastatingly negative effect on Guido's adult life. The church has made him unable to combine his feelings of tenderness and love for a woman with his erotic desires. Guido's wife is a Madonna. His respect for her has made her a taboo object, not to be contaminated by his sexual desire (which the church designates as
sinful). Not surprisingly, when she visits him at the spa, he is "too tired" to make love to her. Sex is only permissible (and hence pleasurable) with "bad" or "degraded" women, women who have gone to the devil. Gui-do's mistress, the plump, voluptuous Carla, is a tamed and refined—but not too refined—version of Saraghina. In an earlier episode of 8 1I2 when Carla begins to sound too much like a wife, Guido makes her up to look like a whore and tells her to pretend that she has wandered into his room by mistake.
A subtle and moving bit of symbolism occurs when Guido kneels before the statue of the Virgin Mary after his confessor has told him that Saraghina is the devil. As the camera pauses on the face of the Virgin, there is a slow lap dissolve that momentarily merges the statue of the Virgin with an image of Saraghina's blockhouse. (See figure 55.) Next, Guido sees Saraghina sitting on a chair facing the ocean singing a sweet lullaby. She is wearing a diaphanous white scarf (an image associated with the purity of the young woman Guido sees in his visions) which blows in the breeze. She appears far more angelic than devilish, but perhaps a little bit of both. (See figure 56.) By superimposing the image of the virgin onto the blockhouse of the whore, and then presenting Saraghina as both a seductress and a maternal figure, singing a lullaby and smiling tenderly at Guido, Fellini contradicts the church's construction of the prostitute as purely evil, creating in Guido's filmed reminiscence a positive resolution
to his childhood trauma. In his film, it is implied, Guido has healed a lifelong church-induced split in his psyche, a split which Freud referred to as "the most prevalent form of degradation in erotic life," or as it is sometimes called, the Madonna-whore complex.10
FELLINI'S SUBVERSION OF CONVENTIONAL EDITING TECHNIQUES
As I discussed in chapters i and 4, certain rules of editing were established so that the spectators of the mainstream fiction film were not distracted by the editing and maintained their orientation in the screen space. By seamlessly conjoining shots through match cutting (also referred to as continuity cutting), film viewers were encouraged to become involved in the illusion that they were watching, not a film made up of multiple bits and pieces of celluloid, but an unmediated reality. In a modernist, self-reflexive art film, of course, this is no longer the goal. By partially adhering to the rules of continuity cutting, but at the same time slyly subverting them, Fellini deliberately calls attention to his own artifice in the editing of his film. The Saraghina sequence contains a number of striking examples of Fellini's playful subversion of conventional editing techniques.
At the beginning of the Saraghina sequence, to portray Guido's escape from the schoolyard, Fellini tweaks the convention of the move-ment-and-direction match. As I discussed in chapter i, when the move ment and direction of an actor are matched in conjoined shots, the usual effect is to create in the viewer's mind the illusion of temporal and spatial continuity between the shots. Fellini matches the movement and direction of Guido running in two shots, but not to create an illusion of temporal and spatial continuity. In the first shot we see Guido running out of the enclosing arm of the statue toward frame right, and in the next shot we see him continuing to run, also in the direction of frame right. But in the second shot he is suddenly on the other side of the wall running with his friends. The perfect match on the movement and direction of Guido running makes the action seem one continuous sprint, but because the location has radically changed in the second shot, Guido seems to have magically leapt over or run through the wall. As in a dream, an impulse for freedom is suddenly transformed into an instantaneous fait accompli. Here Fellini's editing mirrors not the logic of reality but the processes of the wishful, dreaming mind.
Fellini is just as adept at the use of unconventional editing to create the logic of nightmare. Guido's return to the school from the beach happens just as smoothly and quickly as his escape from it. After Saraghina lifts Guido into the air, suggesting the peak of his pleasure, Fellini cuts to two priests approaching, followed by a cut to Guido running away. Fellini does not dilute the impact of these actions by conveying this action realistically, showing us Guido's first sight of the priests, his disengagement from Saraghina, and the dispersion of his friends. Rather, the action is condensed to emphasize the psychological logic of guilty pleasures instantly followed by the specter of punishment, which is followed by flight. After Guido is captured in the comic collision with the priest, the camera moves up to show him being forcibly escorted by a priest on his right. In the next shot, a movement-and-position match, Guido is still being escorted by a priest on his right, but the location has changed—he is no longer on the beach but now back at school. Once again, Fellini's editing seamlessly merges disparate spaces and condenses time, here to emphasize the swiftness of the church's retribution in the memory of the young sinner.
Another example in which Fellini breaks the established rules of continuity cutting occurs when Guido is brought before his classmates as an object lesson in shame. As Guido's classmates jeer at him, Fellini abruptly cuts to a big close-up of a plate of corn kernels being emptied into the hands of a priest. Suddenly the camera pulls back to reveal that the scene has totally changed from the classroom to the school dining room where Guido is forced to kneel on the corn kernels. The conventional way of presenting this action would be to cut to a long shot of the dining room to establish the new location and then cut in the detail of the corn being poured. Instead, Fellini leaves out the shots which would help orient us in screen space for the purpose of giving greater emphasis to the cruelty of Guido's punishment. The unexpected, dislocating change in time and space and the confusion caused by the weirdness of the image of the corn evoke the feelings of the traumatized child, who experienced his punishment as a rapid, brutal chain of events.
Finally, Fellini subverts conventional practices in film editing by deliberately ignoring a fundamental rule for achieving smooth film continuity, the matching of the background and positions of the characters from shot to shot. In The Technique of Film Editing, Karel Reisz writes:
The most elementary requirement of a smooth continuity is that the actions of two consecutive shots of a single scene should match ... if a scene is shot from more than one angle, the background and positions of the players remain the same in each take. Clearly, if a long shot of a room showed a fire burning in a hearth, and the following mid-shot revealed the grate empty, then a cut from the one to the other would create a false impression.11
The fact that a film is constructed of pieces of celluloid spliced together becomes particularly noticeable when objects in the background of the shot are inconsistent from shot to shot, disrupting the viewer's illusion of the "reality" of the fiction. Fellini violates these elementary requirements in several scenes in the Saraghina sequence.
The scene in which Guido appears before a tribunal of priests begins with a subjective shot from Guido's point of view. The camera frames four priests seated in a row. (See figure 57.) In the same shot, the camera pans right to the Father Superior seated at a large desk. A cut then returns us to a medium-close shot of the first priest, who says, "It is a mortal sin." A pan to the right reveals the second priest who says, "I can't believe it." We naturally expect to see the third priest seated next to the second, but when the camera pans right again, the third and fourth priests are located in a far corner of the room. One is sitting and one is standing. (See figure 58.) In the last shot of this sequence, a long shot of the entire room, the four priests are once more positioned as they were originally, all in a row. (See figure 59.) A final example of mismatching of conjoined shots occurs in the scene of Guido's confession. The background of the point-of-view shot in which Guido approaches the confessional booth does not match the background when he leaves it. Although the confessional booth remains the same, the spatial configuration of the room and the furniture in it is totally changed.
Figure 58. When the camera pans back to the priests they are in a new location, the far corner of the room. (8 1/2, 1963, Corinth Films.)
Although most people may not notice that the backgrounds or players fail to match from one shot to the next unless it is explicitly pointed out to them, such shots, nevertheless, have a subliminally disorienting effect. Through them Fellini captures the distorting process of memory, which makes the placement of people and objects of the past shifting and
uncertain. The mismatching shots have one other important function: those who are aware of them are made very conscious that we are watching not life but a film. Since 8 1I2 is a film of a film, Fellini's foregrounding of the editing process through his mismatches is entirely appropriate.
Following the practice in Italy, Fellini post-synchronized the sound track of 8 1I2, adding sound effects, music, and dialogue only after the entire film was shot. Post-synchronization gives a director's creativity enormous play, freeing him from the constraint of recording sound realistically or naturalistically and allowing him to experiment with new combinations of sound and image for striking poetic or psychological effects. We discussed above the disturbing effect of Fellini's dubbing in of male voices over the priests who were played by women with shaved heads. Fellini also took advantage of post-synchronization to create an in-joke in the Saraghina sequence. The voice of the priest who reads aloud about the life of the pious Luigi, a man who abhorred women, while Guido is kneeling on the grains of corn, is clearly recognizable to his friends as the voice of Federico Fellini.12
The sound track in the Saraghina sequence makes a significant contribution to the mood, atmosphere, and meaning of the episode. Earlier I
discussed how Fellini's mise-en-scene and camera movements created a stark contrast between Saraghina's realm and that of Guido's boarding school. Fellini's manipulation of the sound track also contributes to the opposition between the two places. Saraghina's realm is accompanied by the sound of the rhythmic pounding of the sea along with Nino Rota's melodic and freewheeling musical compositions, which accompany Saraghina's dance. The combination of the sea sounds and music contributes to Saraghina's symbolic status as a positive elemental life force. The school scenes, in contrast, are accompanied by harsh or unpleasant sounds. The flashback to Guido's school, for example, is introduced by a shrill bird cry which segues into the harsh piercing blast of the schoolmaster's whistle. When Guido is being escorted to his trial, he is surrounded by a deadly silence broken only by the faint but persistent ringing of a bell, as if life at school were a perpetual summons. The clamorous roar of Guido's classmates when he appears before them wearing a dunce cap is unnaturally loud, amplified by Guido's shame and humiliation.
Just as Fellini creates unexpected and disorienting effects from his subversion of conventional editing techniques, he also subverts long-established conventions of combining sounds with images. In order to demonstrate precisely how he does this, it is necessary to make a distinction between different ways sounds (speech, sound effects, and music) are linked to images in the conventional fiction film. The sound in the conventional fiction film can be divided into diegetic or nondiegetic sound. Diegetic sound is either sound whose source is visible on the screen or sound arising from the fictional world the film creates. We never see the source of the bells that are ringing as Guido is being led to the room with the priests, for example, but since the setting is established as a church school, it is plausible that bells would be ringing. Hence the sound of the bells is diegetic, as are most of the sound effects discussed above— the sound of the sea, the harsh whistle blown by the priest, and, of course, all the dialogue. Nondiegetic sound, in contrast, does not have a source in the fictional world of the film. It is added by the director to create mood or otherwise to enhance the dramatic meaning of the action. Most nondiegetic sound takes the form of music. When a couple kisses, for example, and the music swells, we do not expect to see an orchestra playing in the background, just as we do not expect to see the musicians who play the music as Saraghina dances on the beach. We accept nondiegetic music as a convention.
In conventional films, the distinction between diegetic and nondiegetic sound is clear-cut. Nino Rota's music in 8 1I2 is unusual because it calls attention to itself in a way that blurs the boundaries between diegetic and nondiegetic sound. Thus, even though the music on the beach is supposedly nondiegetic, with no source in the fictional world, the movements of the boys as they clap and stomp in reaction to Saraghina's dance are syncopated to the musical beat in a manner common in film musicals (where the music is diegetic). Saraghina too seems to dance in rhythm to the nondiegetic music, as if an orchestra were playing just offscreen on the beach.
Fellini's editing rhythms are also self-consciously coordinated to the musical rhythms, the beat of the music often corresponding to the "beat" of a cut, as happens more often in cartoons than in live-action films. For example, as Fellini cuts from the shot of Saraghina lifting Guido up into the air to the shot of the priests in pursuit of the sinner, there is a corresponding change on the sound track from the main Saraghina theme to the musical bridge. Previously, this bridge has been associated with Saraghina's most provocative movements and seductive wiggles. When the same music accompanies the stiff, awkward movements of the priests, the counterpoint between sound and image makes the men of the church seem all the more repressed and ridiculous.
When Guido returns to visit Saraghina after he has been punished, he sees Saraghina sitting by the sea singing the very same melody as the song that earlier accompanied her dance. Echoing the previous nondiegetic music with the diegetic song has a strange and uncanny effect, the result of blurred boundaries between diegetic and nondiegetic sound. Another instance in which these categories are blurred occurs at the end of the sequence, when Daumier, Guido's collaborator on the script, mercilessly criticizes the Saraghina sequence (which we have just witnessed). As his voice drones on, we hear a piano playing a theme we have come to associate with Guido's childhood innocence and creativity, the "Ricordo d'infanzia" music, which is fully orchestrated during the grand finale of the film. The music here could be purely nondiegetic: its sweetness a gentle counter to Daumier's harsh intellectual words, informing the viewer that Guido does not completely accept Daumier's unkind and uncomprehending criticism of his re-created childhood memory. But since the music is played by a piano, and Guido and Daumier are in a restaurant in which a piano could conceivably be playing nearby, the music could also be diegetic or actual. Daumier does walk by a piano at the end of the sequence. By blurring the distinction between diegetic and nondiegetic music, not just in this sequence but throughout the film, Fellini draws our attention to the way musical conventions work in film. The film's unconventional sound track, like the editing, photography, stylized mise-en-scene, and blatant use of symbolism, is self-reflexive, reminding us that 8 1I2 is a film of a film.
The critics who claim that the film's happy ending is unlikely and implausible fail to appreciate that the subject of 8 1I2 is not the triumph of do-it-yourself analysis but the triumph of art. The subject of the film is not life as it is but the creative resourcefulness of the imagination which can forge a great success out of the conflicts and failures of life. The ending finale is pure movie magic, concocted out of sweet music and powerful images of innocence and reconciliation, celebrating in a frankly symbolic way the triumph of the imagination. When the director joins hands in loving acceptance with all the people in his life who have potentially driven him crazy because of the conflicting demands they have made on his psyche—his parents, his aunts, the priests from his school, his producer, the cardinal, his wife, and his mistress—Fellini affirms the relation between conflict and creativity. Although Guido's conflicts may well be impossible to resolve in life, they can be addressed, confronted, and even joyfully resolved in the charmed circle of film art. The happy ending of the film would seem implausible had it accorded with the conventions of Hollywood classical realism. It works superbly, however, as the conclusion of a self-reflexive modernist art-film fairy tale.
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