Friday, January 28, 2011

When Film Goes Reel-to-Real

Sometimes, you know, your life just feels like a movie.

And other times, what you're watching feels
so much like real life.
The other night
was one of those times:

I went downtown
to the Film Forum
to watch Pasolino's 1962 classic Mamma Roma.

And here's where life and film seemed to intersect:

When I got out of the subway, it was snowing so hard, I could only see maybe ten or fifteen feet in front of me. Everyone around me looked disoriented and cold. When I 'finally' arrived (after really just a six-minute walk/run), my hat and coat were coated in white.

My friends and I settled in for the feature film.

Now I’ve never been to Rome,
But I’ve seen it before on film,
Both in friends’ photos and in movies,
  Which has some similarities to Mamma Roma --
     Anna Magnani appears in both, for one.
     And both try to depict how Rome is changing,
                  Within the context of some young man
Moving to the Great City.

In the case of Mamma Roma,
A streetwalker-turned-street-vendor        
Tries to make something of her hick-raised do-nothing son,
And takes him off to Rome.

The film opens with Mamma Roma herding a few swine at a wedding
And then mocking the bride and groom in an operatic sling-fest
Before catching up with her teenage son
And taking him to her apartment.

There she tries teaching him the tango;
She tries getting him a job with the parish priest
(But her boy Ettore hasn’t yet learned a trade).
She buys Ettore a real nice motorbike;
She scares a restaurant owner into employing her son as a waiter.

But all to no avail, because Ettore prefers
Wandering the city, stealing, and pursuing the local whore
(who is actually very pretty and sweet).
The sadness and seriousness of the film
Helped give it its sense of real.
I later learned few of the actors
Had any formal training,
Which you could sorta tell
Because of their unaffected behavior.

But it was weird, because
My flatmate and I had just read a BBC article
Asking whether or not
(Upward) Social Mobility is a good thing,
And here in Mamma Roma similar questions were asked:
Does moving to the city really make life better?
Can the son of a whore ‘rise above’?
Would he want to? And what would it look like?

So, the film is ‘real’ and asks real questions.
But then just when I thought I had all that figured out,
Pasolini portrays Ettore in prison
on his death bed,
like Mantegna’s Christ
[focused on the feet,
And foreshortened.]

And in the opening scene,
the wedding table’s been arranged like the Last Supper ...

Very strange, life is.
Very strange, and Very beautiful.

The next morning,
I tromped through the snow,
And let go a mouse
We’d caught in our flat
To roam free in the park beside the Hudson.

Isn’t that just like a movie, though?
To mix the artful and the profane?

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