Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From Fellini to Fergie: 11 notes on Rob Marshall's Nine

1) When Nine works, it's due to the collective talents of its stars who won't stand for a scene to fail. When it succeeds, it does so out of sheer competitive celebrity wattage.

2) From Pauline Kael's review of 8 1/2:

"8 1/2 is an incredibly externalized version of the artist's `inner' life--a gorgeous multi-ringed circus that has very little connection with what, even for a movie director, is most likely to be solitary, concentrated hard work.
It's more like the fantasy life of someone who wishes he were a movie director." Rob Marshall's remake takes the fantasy to an even further remove. Nine views like 8 1/2's Las Vegas-act postmodern remix. One has to accept its essential cheesiness to enjoy it.

3) I imagine that Daniel Day-Lewis chose the part of Guido Contini because it was the opposite of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Lewis brings his intensity to this character who anguishes about his writer's block, and he sings surprisingly well, but I still got the impression that the 1982 musical by Arthur Kopit and Mario Fratti supplies a rickety framework for his acting talents, even with Anthony Minghella's help with the screenplay. Guido stands in for Fellini, and as Nathaniel R. points out, Lewis is not "good at being a blank slate for the man behind the curtain."

4) How does one watch the film? By making comparisons to 8 1/2 (even though I understand I was supposed to just compare it to the stage musical). I was irked by the fact that so few of the actors are actually Italian, as if Rob Marshall decided at the outset that 1960s Italian cinema is universal enough to allow him to co-opt roles with stars of any nationality he likes. "Be Italian!" indeed.

5) Sophia Loren appears as if she'd rather compete with Penelope Cruz than play anyone's mother.

6) I don't see why Judi Dench is in the film at all, since there's no equivalent to her costume-designing character Lilli in 8 1/2. I guess she's Guido's confidante, but I all I could think of was Bond's M.

7) Penelope Cruz sings and dances to "A Call from the Vatican" with stunning erotic panache before demeaning herself with the ditsy frumpy role of Guido's mistress Carla that was dated back in 1963. At one point, when Guido's leaving, Carla pouts and says "I will be here waiting for you with my legs open." Her character emphasizes how Nine awkwardly straddles the line between Fellini's old-fashioned view of women and anything more contemporary (a problem exacerbated by the fact that actresses keep throwing themselves at Guido).

8) Of all of the women in Nine, Marion Cotillard is most impressive as Guido's wife Luisa. I like the way Marshall expanded on Fellini's original. Anouk Aimee was mostly just scornful and cold, but Cotillard gets to express more emotional range that moves from bemusement over her philandering genius director husband to jealous resentment, and then outright rage. Her songs, especially her vengefully erotic rendition of "Take It All," steal the movie.

9) Also, oddly in the context of her work in such vacant romantic comedies as Bride Wars, Kate Hudson shines as a journalist for Vogue who tries to seduce Guido, in part because her enthusiasm for Italian fashion (men with thin ties and Alfa-Romeos) makes her character more plausible than most. Why wouldn't she love it? Her excitement in performing "Cinema Italiano" encapsulates the film's appropriation of Fellini's visual style.

10) With Nicole Kidman playing Claudia, a mash-up between the much younger Claudia Cardinal muse in 8 1/2 and Anita Ekberg's superstar Italian Marilyn Monroe character in La Dolce Vita, she has to live up an awful lot even as her character complains about not having a script. More than anyone else, Kidman has to rely on her star wattage. When Claudia and Guido escape the paparazzi and start to wander in the night-lit streets of Rome, I found myself thinking where's the kitten? Then a kitten meows, and Claudia looks down at it (without placing it on her head). That light, casual meta-cinematic gesture works better than anything else in the movie.

11) Marshall's casting of Fergie as Saraghina was a mistake. One could do a shot by shot comparison between the Saraghina scene in 8 1/2 and the new one and see how the latter moves from parody to too many close-ups to straight travesty very quickly. Marshall takes one of the great free-associating lyrical moments of cinema and reduces it to a mediocre music video reminiscent of Madonna's "Cherish."
Perhaps Marshall chose Fergie in an attempt to make Nine more appealing to a younger audience, but she is not fat enough, grotesque enough, or sensual enough. Instead, Marshall blands out the freakish impact of the original. That's the risk he continually runs in fashioning Nine. Even with the stars of this magnitude, it is still hard to compete with a master.


John said...


I have to agree with you, "Nine" works betters in spots than as a whole. Cotillard steals the show. Her number is superb. The Hudson abd Cruz numbers were also good, though I say you were right on that beside for her musical number Cruz was just acting like a whiney mistress.
And yes, beside Ms. Loren where are the Italians?

FilmDr said...

Thanks, John. I still found the movie to be thought-provoking. Fellini's seems intrinsically difficult to imitate. I would hate to see a remake of La Dolce Vita.