Encouraged by my sister-in-law Rozie, I went with my friend Marie to my first movie house movie in a long time: Rob Marshall's 'Nine,' a film about a musical about Fellini's '8 1/2.' I had a few amorphous thoughts, which I'll try to contain within nine comments:
1. Anthony Lane wrote a review in The New Yorker on December 21st: he makes some very good points, but he's a lackluster audience member, as he gives away in his comments about Marshall's 'Chicago.' Some people just don't like musicals. I'm on the fence; I love their potential. 'Chicago' was quite wonderful, I thought (to my surprise). I did come away from both 'Chicago' and 'Nine' with some vivid impressions and respect for the effort of these films. And I kept singing "Be Italian, be Italian" last night, until my family asked me to stop. That song has a nice Threepenny Opera-like edge.
2. As I told Marie, I liked the movie better than the title. It's a tricky one. I can see why they chose it, but it's not ideal for bringing in an audience. It signals the fact that the pleasures (or perhaps the disappointments) of viewing this movie are intensified the more you read it in relation to '81/2.' 'Nine' is linked to and dependent on 81/2 (with its vita-pointing title); it's a supplement, homage, interpretation. The next number down the line is 'Nine.' So at it's best, like Bruce Springsteen's 'Seeger Sessions,' it also points audiences in the direction of great art of the past.
3. It's been years since I watched Fellini movies, but they are going straight up to the top of my Netflix queue, beginning with '81/2,' which received an Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film in 1963.
4. Lane complains that the film is a "hymn to regret," as if it could be something else. Despite the number of women in the cast, all showering forms of attention on film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day Lewis), the story concerns amorous and artistic anxiety. Guido loses the love of his wife (the remarkable Marion Cotillard), and withdraws from celebrity in order to try to regain it. He needs to regain artistic integrity, too, away from the pressures of the producer and the public. Lane makes a good point: Love is in the service of art, and we tend to see that as monstrous (as does Guido's wife).
5. This is a film for Tiger Woods to have watched over his lonely Christmas holidays. 'Nine' is a visual reversal of 'Ocean's Eleven,' all about variety among these many powerful females: the muse (Nicole Kidman), the mistress (Penelope Cruz), the wife (Cotillard), the confidante (Judi Dench), the tease (Kate Hudson), the Mama (Sophia Loren), and the elemental sex goddess (okay, the whore – Fergie). It is least convincing when it showcases them on a black backdrop (as in Cruz's steamy dance scene). There are awkward breaks between staged moments and storied ones – always a challenge in a musical film. Yet it makes sense that some of the larger numbers take place on a stage, calling attention to the genre of burlesque entertainment, the only place where some of the emotions in the film can be emphatically broadcast and universalized. Cotillard's black-and-white rage and revenge performance in a night club is extraordinary.
6. The movie reminds me of 'Mad Men,' my favorite television show. I like the fact that both efforts involve paying attention to the ingenuity and eroticism of a bygone era. They also concern a hero who is both attractive and conflicted, whose biggest problems are clearing some path to his own solitude, managing the advances of appealing women, and trying to rekindle his creative drive. (He's suffering from 'directile dysfunction,' quips Variety).
7. The paparazzi were born in Italy, right? In fact, according to Wikipedia, the word 'paparazzi' is an eponym originating in the 1960 film La dolce vita directed by Federico Fellini. The film contains a lot of visual Fellini-esque pleasures, not least being the the evocative black and white sequences, little vintage sports cars, the white sun-drenched seaside spa, and the narrow streets near the squalid pensione where Contini parks his desperate mistress. The costumes are glorious. Judi Dench plays Contini's costume mistress and I completely suspended my disbelief to think that SHE had created these outfits, including the gorgeous wool coat she wears in a scene near the end of the movie, walking with Guido along a river in (I think it was) Milano.
8. Movies on this theme don't play so well today. We are tired of hearing about the haunted genius who must keep all of his women in their limited roles, who loves them each so long as they meet the needs of some compartmentalized part of himself, who cannot be satisfied no matter what he is given. There is a nice scene with Nicole Kidman which looks directly at our impatience with this old story. (She takes Guido's hat and says "I'd rather be the man.") Kidman is wearing a fabulous golden white dress, and looks very Bridget Bardot; Marie and I thought we'd never seen her more radiant.
Our heroes today are vampires and werewolves who fight each other to prove how loyal they can be to one specific female, even if they have to love her from a distance; they can't be intimate without transforming or killing the object of their desire. They are monster men who have the self control to not seize and destroy their women. (This has its downside, too.)
9. Marie said as we left the theater: "I don't care, if it comes to choosing between watching Daniel Day Lewis and watching George Clooney, I would choose Daniel every time. Yes, George is cute, too. In fact they could just make a movie called 'Two' starring the two of them, and I would be happy." So despite the fact that the film focuses on many expressive and desiring dancing females (in a range of emphatic amorous and anguished poses), it is Guido the camera loves most. "Presumably this is a movie for women, right?" asks Marie. The men we know are all going to 'Avatar' instead (and most of the women, too). Not that there's anything wrong with that – but this is trying to be adult entertainment (in all senses of the phrase) about men at mid-life and the women they need to fuel their energies, enact their fantasies. (Here's a review from the UK Telegraph, as well as one from Moviefone.)
Here's a trailer. There's another at You Tube with Kate Hudson's dance to 'Cinema Italiano': an homage to her mother Goldie Hawn, in her go-go girl days.