PG, but it isn't exactly for all audiences. While mostly pretty innocent, there are some references to sexuality. It all tends to come out of nowhere, so it makes it really hard to fast-forward past. I also don't think that the movie would appeal to younger audiences. Heck, I know few adult audiences who would really invest in this movie. It's the definition of art house film. PG.
DIRECTOR: Federico Fellini
God knew I was frustrated with this blog and decided to have Weebly erase everything because I hit the backspace key. Control+Z did nothing to save what had happened and now I must write an extremely frustrating blog entry with an extra element of spicy frustration. I must confess that I don't necessarily get all of this movie. Part of that comes from the idea that I, in fact, do get quite a bit of it and that I'm left lacking with fulfillment with what seems to be a lackluster interpretation of this movie. Part of that comes from reading other people's takes on the movie and it aligning with what I thought the movie was saying as well. But it was almost like Federico Fellini, in 1983, decided that there would be a forum for future writers to cry about having to write too many words about a movie that is just meant to be felt, not interpreted. Then he would go back further in time and make 8 1/2 for the same reason, only making it so good that it is blasphemous to critique something so sacrosanct incorrectly.
Part of all of this comes down to is the idea that I do get more than I think I do, but I have a hard time verbalizing those feelings. And the Ship Sails On is about feelings. There's a message, but that message is something that is mean to be absorbed. But the idea is also incredibly inside baseball, which means that I can't show And the Ship Sails On to the masses with the hopes that there's going to be this glorious takeaway from John and Jane Q. Public. I'm in this middle ground, both a lover of the humanities and with a history of the humanities, but also grounded amongst the hoi polloi. (And I've become a new level of low, using the word "hoi polloi" without irony. What kind of monster have I become, simply because I'm forced to rewrite a film blog that probably no one will read.) I say that this is "inside baseball" because it is aimed at a very specific audience. This is a criticism --a satire --of the artist. There is a metacontextual element that Fellini himself is the ur-Artist making a film talking about the vapid personalities of artists.
Everyone on the boat is an artist and everyone on the boat is an archetype and a caricature of what a real person is like. While we have our fourth-wall breaking journalist, he is not the main character of the film. The movie lacks a protagonist. If anything, everyone on this ship is an element of setting. They are living, breathing mise-en-scene. And everything that I just said is what Fellini wants me to take away from the film. Like a less tongue-in-cheek Blazing Saddles, Fellini breaks the fourth wall and reminds us that everything in this movie is part of a movie. The fact that this large world is actually quite contained in the closed-off Cinecitta Studios in Italy is a statement on the role of artifice, which is what the artist presents. From the movie starting with the silent picture formula of yesteryear to the opera singers aboard, everything forces you to fight for the idea that this is art and it isn't real. It is Bertolt Brecht and "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" as a film. The second that anything happens, we are instantly reminded of the nature of illusion. What is odd, though, is that there is both a paradoxical love and disdain for art itself.
Every artist in this film, when framed in the lens of "art" and "the artist", comes across as flawed. There's a scene that I really liked. It's probably one of the more memorable scenes in the movie, if I had to guess. The opera singers are brought on a tour of the inner workings of the ship. (And an entire weekend passed between rewriting the first part of this blog and the rest. If I have lost my train of thought, I wholeheartedly apologize...) This is the scene I read up on and I was thrilled to find out that I wasn't the only one affected. The men of the ship are as working class as can be. If the artists represent artifice, the workers on the ship are the real world. Their real world is about problems that actually kind of matter. Listen, I'm all about art. I literally teach humanities. I write a film blog. I have a theatre degree. I can keep going, but know that I spelled "theatre" with an "-re", which may say enough. These men below are wanting their artists to provide a salve to their weary souls. To de-fancify the previous sentence, they work hard and they just need a distraction. By today's standards, they want to crash and watch The Big Bang Theory. They know that they have these very talented opera singers and they want to hear the high note. Naturally, from the perspective of a diva, this boiler room, devoid of any hope of staging or accompaniment, is not ideal.
We're left at a crux. The men deserve to have some entertainment. Their life is terrible. The boiler room mirrors a level of Hell and all they need is a distraction. But there's a certain "dancing monkey" element to the whole thing. This soprano (?) is an opera singer because of the love of art and is not here for tricks. But that's what makes this scene so much better because there is an opera singer is loves the bag of tricks that accompanies an opera singer. He can't wait to show off how well he can sing. That leads to this cascade of one-uppmanship and the bowels of the ship becomes a slam-dunk contest. If the film itself is about the artifice that comes with artists, this one scene sell it so well. What we once thought was a moment about the sacredness about art quickly reveals that, in her heart-of-hearts, the diva wants to be the best singer in the room. Seeing that someone else is willing to debase himself, she doesn't want to lose the value that her clout has given her. It's so deliciously human that this was the moment I jumped on board (no pun intended) the film.
It's really weird how the second half of the movie is the part of the movie that starts offering a plot. It's a little scant, I don't deny. But it is something that I adore. Again, playing up the themes of the artist versus the audience, there is a physical divide between the performers and the Serbians rescued at sea. Like with the diva, the veil of difference is dropped when one person comes in with a lack of ego. I think it is Violet who demands that the windows of the dining hall be opened and she brings the starving people food. I love this part because the Serbians makes the characters approachable. What start off as caricatures (elements of which stay around for the whole film) make these people human. Even though the Serbians exist almost as an element of setting, with the rare exceptions having names or lines, they are the most emotionally gratifying. Between having an actual storyline, they make the performers more human and vulnerability. Maybe that's my frustration with a lot of the movie is that the movie fears vulnerability for the majority of the film. There's a political message, but one that's muddy and may be more of a cultural theme than a universal theme.
I wish I liked this subcategory of Fellini more. It's the stuff that people rush to. I like absurdism, but I also like my absurdism as an extension of character. I've watched a lot of Fellini lately and there's stuff I like. This is the first one that brought me back to that 8 1/2 discomfort that I have a hard time getting into. Like I said, in the same way that I have a hard time with Bertolt Brecht, the same holds true for this kind of Fellini movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.