"How Do You Solve a Problem Like Fellini?"
"There Ought To Be Clowns (Don't Bother, They're Here)"
There is a great movie, I'm sure, to be made of the Tony Award winning musical "Nine." But this isn't "it." Nor, I think, was "it" an intention for the production company to do so.
In fact, it is hard to determine what "it" is, and what "it" intends to do. Is it a musical adaptation of Fellini's "8 1/2," or of Fellini's life? Is it even an adaptation of the original musical, as there are far more songs left out of it than are in it?* Locations are changed, circumstances and motivations are sliced and diced. One wonders what was so wrong about a hailed musical confection that the late Anthony Minghella and Michael Tolkin (who wrote the script), current director Rob Marshall, and the producers seem to be running away from it.
They aren't the only ones, merely they slowest of the pack. Daniel Day-Lewis was a last minute first tier replacement for the more suitable Javier Bardem when Bardem walked off the project pleading "exhaustion"—but not exhausted enough to flee, evidently. Bardem makes very wise career choices. Nicole Kidman replaced Catherine Zeta-Jones after the producers wouldn't accomodate her demands to expand her part. One wonders why they'd balk about making any more changes for their "Chicago" Oscar-winner after making so many of their own.
But, truth be told, the thing is a sorry, sorry mess. Not true to its source, its inspiration, or even to itself, one reads the description of the original musical and wonders why it is not the movie. But one gets an inkling. Fellini's film, made about a creator's inability to create a harmonious chorus of the voices in his head, his muses, his collaborators and backers all clamoring for attention had a structure, a purpose and an approach. But it did not have a lift, a creative inspiration until Fellini made it about a director rather than a writer. Fellini had no trouble making it, letting his conscience and unconscious be his guide (or Guido, if you will). On the contrary, he was energized by it. His "film that got away" would not occur until a bit later in his career.
The creators of "Nine" saw it as about themselves, and the difficulty of achieving a vision. One sees the disconnect with the Fellini inspiration as soon as the musical Guido's obsession with the Folies Bergiere is brought to song. Folies Bergiere? Mama Mia! Where's the Circus? Fellini equals circus! Comprende? But, "Nine" the musical—not the film, that gets even worse—is glitz and spangles and presentation with a smattering of psychological insight embroidered in a mash-up (one can't call it a mixture) of half-inspired and un-inspired songs.
"Nine," the movie, is a whoring down of that concept. Big stars. Small ideas. A polyglot of a tribute to a movie it doesn't understand, and the broadway production that the money-men didn't feel had enough pizzazz** to put keisters in the seats (Because nothing makes you want to "Fosse, Fosse, Fosse" and booty-shake like ennui and creative stagnation!***). So, we've got Day-Lewis (he's fine—not too believable, but at least he's not doing a John Huston imitation this time).**** We've got Nicole Kidman and Penélope Cruz (wonder what they had to talk about on-set?), Kate...Kate Hudson (??), and....Fergie?(!!). Then, to give it some ethnic legitimacy they throw in Sophia Loren***** and Miramax staples Judi Dench and Marion Cotillard. Cotillard is heart-breaking as the Giulietta Massina look-alike wife—played by Anouk Aimée in Fellini's film (she's even got Massina's brave smile down). Dench does fine by her number, silly and irrelevent as it is, but as if to gin up any excitement, they work over-time trying to make it entertaining. Cruz gets a sizzling number as director Guido Contini's mistress-played by Sandra Milo in the original film. Kidman plays Contini's past star Claudia (based on the Claudia Cardinale character in "81/2"—which would have tied in with Zeta-Jones' participation, but goes back to the original inspiration, "ice queen" Anita Ekberg for Kidman's participation). Loren plays Contini's domineering Mamma, usually a grotesque in Fellini's films.
Director Rob Marshall undercuts the material by over-cutting, editing all the momentum out of the music, which veers from worthwhile ("Be Italian" given a rip-roaring rendition by...give her credit, she's the best thing here...Fergie of "The Black Eyed Peas") to the filler ("Cinema Italiano" given sass by Kate Hudson, but shot and edited like an MTV version of the old '60's "Shindig!" program).
I was looking forward to this one, but very high expectations leave the biggest craters when they fall. Not a fan of musicals, "Nine" only confirmed why I've rarely enjoyed them, as they can be false and irrelevent to anything resembling life or the inpulse to song that it might evoke.
This adaptation of an adaptation of a somewhat autobiographical work by the artist, even though titularly and musically adjusted for inflation, just isn't worth as much as the original. Artistically, it is bankrupt.
"Nine" is a Cable-Watcher.
* Three new songs were written for it, all of them unmemorable—in a bid to score more Oscar nominations for The Weinstein Company which oversaw this sorry mess.
** Imagined conversation: "Y'know? Everybody's singing about their feelin's an' everything! There's not enough dancing with women with big bazooms, and Alfa Romeo's and Fiat's!! Know what I'm sayin'?"
*** Although Fosse did make a musical based around a heart attack!
****...which reminds me, the last movie I've seen that ended (like "Nine") with the director-figure saying "Action" was Clint Eastwood's "White Hunter, Black Heart"—where Eastwood was playing (and imitating) John Huston!
***** Did it occur to the makers that the only Italian in their film celebrating Italian cinema is Loren? And that she didn't work with Fellini?
Thursday, December 31, 2009
"How Do You Solve a Problem Like Fellini?"