Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Fellini's Roma and Carmen Jones Carmen

Around1954/1955 I saw the film Carmen Jones for the first time with Dorothy Dandridge in the lead role. I was still at school and the aspect of the film which affected me was Pearl Bailey singing "beat out dat rhythm on a drum". It uncorked an attraction to wild music at least that is how I regarded jazz in the days before rock and roll, until I understood that considerable organised musicianship was required to create the spontaneity. I bought the LP as soon as I stated work and played and played until I knew all the contents.

I cannot remember when I first saw Carmen, the Opera, but I believe it was with the aunties locally in Croydon. I now have a number of versions on video, including three 90min recordings of the same production but with different lead singers. I also have the Regina Resnik, Joan Sutherland performance on CD;

I resurrected my interest in the past fortnight because a new production called CarMan is coming to the Newcastle Playhouse. I thought I had such a familiarity with the film because of the LP and seeing it on TV several times, and with the opera recordings and theatrical experiences that I decided to put myself to the test and write a film review before seeing the film, once more on mail order DVD. Of course I failed the test and had to resort to my reliable memory jogger, Wikipedia. I had known that Harry Belfonte had been dubbed, I had just forgotten the fact and the singer was Le Vern Hutchinson.

Fortunately my DVD player had not needed repair after all. I had gone to sleep in the afternoon while watching Fellini's Roma, and went to visit my mother leaving the disk in the machine and forgot about it and when I attempted to view again it would not load and I was too busy to arrange a repair as a I tried another DVD of my own without success. I decided to try the Carmen Jones Mail order library DVD and was able to watch the film, so it was not the machine. I soft wiped both the problem disks and they worked too, so belatedly for my piece about
Rome the city, I can now write about Roma, the film.

I like the film because it is a coherent and authentic work although set in the USA about Carmen who works in a parachute factory and where the bullfighter has become a prize fighting boxer.
Of course the music and singing in the opera is great but I have two reservations about most of the performance I have viewed. The first is the singing in French of a work about Spanish passion. This has always struck me an incongruous. Secondly, many of the female leads did not strike me as having that raw sex appeal which will make a man turn his back on a sweetheart, wife, family, and career, and then murder rather than accept he has been nut one more conquest for someone who like the bullfighter or boxer, likes the sport, and which has become a self destructive addiction.
I suspect more women, and men for that matter have the power within, irrespective of personal frame, but only dome project and then make use of what in the instance of Carmen was a lethal force. I only knew one Opera singer, who I was asked to drive to a Top of the Pops show because she knew he producer and he had promised that the camera would show her in the audience and for which she was wearing an amazingly short skirt even for the sixties, although the cameraman/ cameraman in those days had a titillating interest in young women in short skirts, or perhaps it was some visual editor or producer or director guiding to maintain and develop audiences. I digress, a little but this is an overall work about recreating past experience, and the image is appropriate for a Fellini film!
I have a greater recollection of when I watched Carmen Jones in a cinema theatre, than Roma which was issued in 1972 when I lived in Cheshire, and visits to the cinema were infrequent. Maybe I never have experienced at the cinema and it was a subsequent TV showing. I watched the film through this time without sleeping or a note book to subsequently work out the significance of images, having read some internet beforehand, I knew what to expect and look out for.
The main thrust of this documentary style montage without any story line, apart from inserting himself and his experiences, is to compare Rome of fascist wartime Mussolini with the sixties of hippies, bikers and when the buzz concept was alienation, and with references to Roman history and his own childhood.

It was one childhood experience which reminded of one of my own. Schoolteacher priests show pupils slides of ancient monuments and in the days before TV magic lantern shows were the thing, and I still have the one I acquired to show family event slides. In Roma, a slide of the bare back of a young woman, in bath costume, but this provoked a frenzied reaction from the boys who were told to avert their eyes. Around the same age the boys I went on school trip to a cinema at the park end of Oxford Street to watch a film about the life the previous Pope. It was a special morning show, we arrived late, and were accommodated in the managers viewing lounge at the back of the cinema. The film was a "Father Brown" story, I think, because I remember going to the Library for the books, except that the film was in French with subtitles and there was stunned silence at the time, although much commenting on the way back at a scene when a fly stopped briefly on a naked female breast. The contrast between the reaction of the Fellini schoolboys and the mixed audience of school children at the cinema sums up he difference between the English approach to sex and self expression and the Mediterranean people, and which includes the French.

Fellini has this attraction to bizarre looking women and brothels and in the film first draws an unkind picture of rampant men of all ages clamouring for their time with hard extrovert business women of the day and night, with two exceptions, the shyish, observing, rather bemused young man of himself, and the classy bright and sensitive "working girl" who agrees to going walk with him out, one morning, thus identifying himself as being different from everyone else. However his venom is focused on the hierarchy of the Catholic Church as an aging Italian Noble woman bemoans the loss of the previous relationship with the church, in a bizarre fashion of clerical habits thus indicating the belief that the church had become all fur coat and no knickers.

The film also confirms the belief which I expressed in the piece on Rome that Italians have nostalgia not for Mussolini the man or the brutality and acquiescence of the regime to Nazi doctrines, but for the sense of community and unit, and of getting things done which is government engendered. The film is rich in community activities and togetherness of war time activities and although there are interjected flashes of congregating hippies he appears to be sympathetic to police beating protestors and to an affluent diner who describes them as scum. The final sequence is a multitude of bikers roaring about the deserted streets of Rome making normal conversation impossible. It is evident that Fellini was not just reporting the alienation which many felt from society in the early seventies, he was expressing his own.

I have not researched or made any kind of special study, but it does seem to me that the Italians are more open and honest about what led and what happened in their country in the year of the reign of Mussolini than perhaps has been the situation in Germany, the UK and elsewhere in Europe, and we all have about the plight if other oppressed or starving, or sick people in other parts of the world since. I can never accept the indiscriminate bombing of non combatants by anyone in any circumstance. Did we really need to obliterate and maiming of German civilian populations, and when as now, we rightly condemn the former leader of Iraq for his use of weapons of mass destruction, does that put him in the same league as the US President who authorised the use of two atomic bombs, and would more have been used, if Japan had not surrendered? For those who argue that it is right to hold weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent and we would never use them in reality one has to accuse of being dishonest. If we have them we will use them in certain circumstances, and to argue that we have a God and one of his churches on our side. It is in the nature of Government, regardless of the form of government. I know it is irrational but I have a greater sympathy for a crazed for the behaviour of impulsively crazed soldier of Carmen, Carmen Jones and or in Iraq, Vietnam or where ever than I do for the Generals and Politicians who order them to unleash the devil

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