Fellini Satyricon: Greco-Roman Boys Gone WildBy John Calendo / Friday, April 29th, 2005
Though over 30 years have passed, certain movies from the free-for-all Sixties remain fresh and full of surprises. Fellini Satyricon is one of them, a truly homo-drenched version of Nero’s Rome.
Two students, one an Apollo-beautiful blond (Martin Potter, right), the other a dark, wolfish rake (Hiram Keller, above), fall out over an effeminate rent-boy that the blonde loves but the brunette is simply toying with — just another fuckhole for his indiscriminate, bisexual energy. The students (who are occasional lovers) break up their home and the boy is given a choice to go with the one he favors. He picks — naturally – hot, sexy Mr. Wrong over fair, earnest Encolpio. The blonde is so crushed he goes through the rest of the movie trying to get back his erection.
This, in short, is a movie heavily about dick. It’s based on scroll fragments written by Nero’s court fashion critic, Petronius, a full-time dick-hound who was always gossiping about who was putting what into whom. But Fellini Satyricon is also about the carnal dreamworld that was director Federico Fellini’s special trademark. (He died in 1993 on, appropriately, Halloween night.) In a Fellini film, actors were cast for their faces. Ugly or beautiful, but all physically strange, a circus of faces paraded across the screen. In fact, the right face was so important to the director that his films were notorious for entire casts needing to be dubbed in post-production by professional actors.
In Satyricon, freaks and beauties look candidly into the camera during a wild, gluttonous banquet that is part orgy. Some wiggle their tongues in vulgar invitation, others are as sodden as bullfrogs, dulled by gorging on gigantic beasts whose split-open bellies spill over with roasted peacocks. This is a world that is not so much homosexual, as freely and fully pansexual. Boys with boys, blacks with whites, old age with May-fresh children that have roses twined in their hair — it all tumbles across the screen with the heedless lawlessness of an erotic dream.
Fellini thought of Satyricon as "my science-fiction movie" and created spacious, lunar sets that are reminiscent of the backdrops for post-modern operas, with long expanses of single colors. The decor is purposely not antique, but has a stylized neo-primitive flavor. "It was like speculating about life on Mars, but with the help of a Martian," Fellini remarked, referring to Petronius. And so without batting an eye, the director leads us through a ribald landscape of whores and miraculous hermaphrodites, where theater sometimes involves real hands getting really lopped off, where galley slaves strangle each other for sport, and where a spectral white stallion races through a many-storied sex mart during an earthquake while the buildings crumble down upon our blond hero. It is a self-important, superficial world as half-mad as the self-deluded Nero who ruled over it.
"Because of the picture’s open, non-judgemental portrayal of homosexuality," Fellini told his biographer, "some journalists seized upon the tempting notion that I myself must be a homosexual or at least bisexual." Fellini wasn’t, by all accounts. Merely a Roman with a delight in over-stimulating the senses — not too different from the gluttonous, orgiastic phantasms that haunt his apparently not-so-ancient Rome.
Our favorite homo moment occurs when Encolpio tries to fight the seven-foot Minotaur and gets laid out flat for his efforts. Thinking quickly, he embraces the Minotaur’s knees and promises to give himself in love if the monster will only spare his life. "I am only a student," the doubly unmanned Encolpio cries out. "I’m not a Theseus, worthy of you, dear Minotaur."
At which point, the monster takes off his bull headdress (below) to reveal a lusty Italian face and though the crowd eggs him on to the kill, he turns toward the sun and, as must often happen, explains to the mob the awesome power of sexual attraction. "Today," he says with simple eloquence, "marks the beginning of a new friendship."
As for the pansexual reality that this film recreates, the ad campaign said it all: In bed with a lovely Ethiopian slave girl, her dainty breasts uncovered and pert, the students are shown embracing each other instead. Above them, the title of the film, below, the never-to-be-forgotten tag line: "Rome. Before Christ. And after Fellini."
(In the course of our research we stumbled upon a fascinating Satyricon tribute site that features not only Fellini’s screenplay and Petronius’ original text, but over 1,600, consecutive screencaps. In effect, you can watch the complete movie in stills!)
©2013 Nightcharm, Inc.; All Rights Reserved.