I initially stumbled upon the film Fellini Satyricon at the behest of one of my favorite Norwegian Black Metal bands, aptly named, Satyricon. I’ve come to always push the boundaries when confronted with words and the meanings behind them and Satyricon was no different. Upon unsheathing its origin, Gaius Petronius Arbiter (or Titus Petronius…whoever you believe), his background of writing the “first” novel, and Fellini’s grandiose achievement at creating this epic film –all while participating in a Satyricon (the band) discography, I was instantly mesmerized by the sheer decadence and the aesthetically shrewd filmmaking Satyricon so proudly exhibits.
The film loosely follows Petronius’ fragmented novel (passages were lost prior to discovery or unable to be saved through preservation) about the misadventures of narrator and former gladiator Encolpius, his 16-year-old lover Giton, and his former lover and friend Ascyltus. The film deviates substantially from the original source material, injecting its own morbid fantasies while recreating and eliminating original scenes. One cannot be irate at Federico Fellini for his attempts at sculpting a polished and polarized view of Rome during the rule of the eccentric and dominant Emperor Nero.
The film begins with our protagonists, Encolpius (the enigmatic Martin Potter), berating his former lover and flat-mate, Ascyltus (Hiram Keller), for taking his love slave, Giton (the very feminine Max Born) and then selling him for a profit. The two tussle in an amusing and highly laugh-out-loud way as Ascyltus leads Encolpius to the buyer of Giton, famous actor and eccentric theater owner, Vernacchio (Luigi Visconti aka Fanfulla in a scene stealing role).
Encolpius retrieves Giton (with the help from some Roman guards) and sets off back to the massive tenement building that he lives. They eventually meet back with Ascyltus, with Encolpius deciding that it would be best if the two went separate ways, dividing their stuff amongst each other. Ascyltus demands that Giton choose who he would like to go with, inevitably choosing to leave with him. This leaves Encolpius heartbroken, a massive earthquake disrupting his despair to level the entire tenement building.
From there, the film branches off into an adventure of unusual proportions, complete with 2 branching storylines while encompassing many themes and ideas and introducing colorful characters and impressive production designs by Luigi Scaccianoce.
Amongst the many diverse characters introduced are eccentric poet Eumolpus (Salvo Randone), wealthy freeman Trimalchio (Ugo Tognazzi), and a behemoth Minotaur (Luigi Montefiori—known to the horror, cult, and exploitation cinema world as the Anthropophagus, George Eastman).
Fellini had already established himself as a primo film director with such titles as La Strada, La Dolce Vita and 8½ already under his belt. His version of Satyricon has stood the test of time and garnered many high praises from film enthusiast and lax theater goers alike. There is something for everyone in this film. The meaning of life, the choices sculpted by destiny, and the political and economical struggles prevalent within every society ever formed on Earth scream for acceptance and appreciation among the film dirt and cigarette burns of this celluloid masterpiece.
Fellini Satyricon is a permanent benchmark in mainstream art house/ cult cinema. No film will ever encompass the quintessence embedded within this film of decadence and morality. Long Live Fellini!