Favorite Theme Theatre: Juliet Of The Spirits (1965)

Ah, the sad circus of life, she make you laugh then cry — but the show she must go on, yes? That’s my glib impersonation of a Fellini film, who I have to admit I came to late in life. I had grown up with fuzzy black and white snippets of 8 1/2 and LA DOLCE VITA on PBS broadcasts, and certainly assumed I “got” Fellini’s ouevre, especially after watching ANNIE HALL (“Key word here is ‘indulgent'”) and STARDUST MEMORIES, but it wasn’t until I watched SATYRICON (1969) in beautiful wide-screen Technicolor that I understood his true hallucinatory power. His early neo-realism blossomed into full-bore surreality by 1965 with his first color film, GIULIETTA DEGLI SPIRITI aka JULIET OF THE SPIRITS, a pre-feminist heroine’s journey (portrayed by star and wife Giulietta Masina) through her fragmenting psyche as she approaches middle-age and a semi-attentive, philandering husband. Not surprisingly, Fellini made this film after his one and only LSD experience, which he did acknowledge showed him that “reality is objective” yet said the drug had little effect on his vision, and no doubt: Fellini is already psychedelic. But there’s no doubt that the vivid colors of JULIET OF THE SPIRITS are those of a hallucinogenic trip and this was a popular film for arthouse “heads” of the era. Gianni di Venanzo’s incredible camera floats and settles on eye-popping rainbows of garish and poetic images, filtered through a supernatural lens. As Fellini proved in his amazing TOBY DAMMIT segment from SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (1967), he would have made an epic horror film. Roger Ebert wrote a perceptive essay about the story’s conflicted nature and while I agree with his points, I love JULIET OF THE SPIRITS for its pure cinema and of course, Nino Rota’s jaunty, mesmerizing score (that Gus Van Zant later used to good effect in PARANOID PARK (2008)). Rota’s melodic keyboard theme elevates the stunning images and gives an emotional basis for Juliet’s psychic tribulations. Ah true, the sad circus of life she rolls on but she plays the pretty music, yes?

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2 Responses to “Favorite Theme Theatre: Juliet Of The Spirits (1965)”

  1. I have a theory concerning one’s exposure to Fellini/Allen and the order of said exposure as it pertains to one’s opinion of the latter. Short version: if you saw Woody’s stuff first, you’re far more likely to see him as a Great American Artist instead of a talented and often funny coattail-rider with a fixation of European high culture — and an inferiority complex that’s caused him to play to his weaknesses and waste time on lifeless pastiches. I much prefer him when he’s content to be Woody.

    As for JULIET, I completely agree. “Pure cinema” indeed. A mess, perhaps, but what an experience! (As an odd aside, I suspect certain sequences — along with the medium scene in RASHOMON — were an influence on THE EXORCIST.

    • christian Says:

      I would say that Woody is one of our few genuine satirists whose works is staggering in its breadth if not width, which makes him still the greatest living American director IMHO. He does have Euro-aspirations which he sublimates on and off, at its worst you get SHADOWS AND FOG and its best you get CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. Or even STARDUST MEMORIES, which stands with the best of his films despite the overt Fellini-esque vibe.

      JULIET OF THE SPIRITS is genuinely spooky.

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