Fellini Satyricon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Fellini Satyricon
Fellini Satyricon poster italian.jpg
Italian theatrical release poster
Directed by Federico Fellini
Produced by Alberto Grimaldi
Screenplay by Federico Fellini
Bernardino Zapponi
Brunello Rondi
Based on Satyricon 
by Petronius
Starring Martin Potter
Hiram Keller
Max Born
Salvo Randone
Music by Nino Rota
İlhan Mimaroğlu
Tod Dockstader
Andrew Rudin
Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno
Edited by Ruggero Mastroianni
Produzioni Europee Associati
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • 3 September 1969 (1969-09-03) (Rome)
  • 18 September 1969 (1969-09-18) (Italy)
  • 11 March 1970 (1970-03-11) (United States)
Running time
129 minutes[1]
Country Italy
Language Italian
Budget US$3 million[2]
Box office $1.4 million (US/ Canada rentals)[3]
$8 million (outside Italy)[2]

Fellini Satyricon, or simply Satyricon, is a 1969 Italian fantasy drama film written and directed by Federico Fellini. It is loosely based on Petronius's work, Satyricon, a series of bawdy and satirical episodes written during the reign of the emperor Nero and set in imperial Rome.


The film opens on a graffiti-covered wall with Encolpio lamenting the loss of his lover Gitone to Ascilto. Vowing to win him back, he learns at the Thermae that Ascilto sold Gitone to the actor Vernacchio. At the theatre, he discovers Vernacchio and Gitone performing in a lewd play based on the "emperor's miracle": a slave's hand is axed off and replaced with a gold one. Encolpio storms the stage and reclaims Gitone. On their return to Encolpio's home in the Insula Felicles, a Roman tenement building, they walk through the vast Roman brothel known as the Lupanare, observing numerous sensual scenes. They fall asleep after making love at Encolpio's place. Ascilto sneaks into the room, waking Encolpio with a whiplash. Since both share the tenement room, Encolpio proposes they divide up their property and separate. Ascilto mockingly suggests they split Gitone in half. Encolpio is driven to suicidal despair, however, when Gitone decides to leave with Ascilto. At that moment, an earthquake destroys the tenement.

Encolpio meets the poet Eumolpo at the art museum. The elderly poet blames current corruption on the mania for money and invites his young friend to a banquet held at the villa of Trimalchio, a wealthy freeman, and his wife Fortunata. Eumolpo's declamation of poetry is met with catcalls and thrown food. While Fortunata performs a frantic dance, the bored Trimalchio turns his attention to two very young boys. Scandalized, Fortunata berates her husband who attacks her then has her covered in gizzards and gravy. Fancying himself a poet, Trimalchio recites one of his finer poems whereupon Eumolpo accuses him of stealing verses from Lucretius. Enraged, Trimalchio orders the poet to be tortured by his slaves in the villa's huge kitchen furnace. The guests are then invited to visit Trimalchio's tomb where he enacts his own death in an ostentatious ceremony. The story of the Matron of Ephesus is recounted, the first story-within-a-story in the film.[4] Encolpio finally leaves the villa, helping the limping, beaten Eumolpo to drink water from a pool in a tilled field. In return for his kindness, Eumolpo bequeaths the spirit of poetry to his young friend.

The next morning Encolpio, Gitone, and Ascilto are imprisoned on the pirate ship of Lichas, a middle-aged merchant; they are part of a consignment of attractive young men being delivered for the titillation of the reclusive Roman emperor. Lichas selects Encolpio for a Greco-Roman wrestling match and quickly subdues him. Smitten by his beauty, Lichas takes Encolpio as his spouse in a wedding ceremony blessed by his wife, Trifena. After a long voyage the ship arrives at the emperor's private island, only to find it overrun by soldiers in the service of a usurper. The teenage emperor kills himself, and the soldiers board the ship and behead Lichas under Trifena's satisfied gaze. While "new Caesar" holds a fearsome victory parade back in Rome, Encolpio and Ascilto escape the soldiers and make their way inland. They discover an abandoned villa, whose owners have freed their slaves and committed suicide to escape the new emperor. Encolpio and Ascilto spend the night on the property and make love with an African slave girl who has stayed behind. Fleeing the villa when soldiers on horseback arrive in the courtyard to burn the owners' corpses, the two friends reach a desert. Ascilto placates a nymphomaniac's demands in a covered wagon while Encolpio waits outside, listening to the woman's servant discuss a hermaphrodite demi-god reputed to possess healing powers at the Temple of Ceres. With the aid of a mercenary, they kill two men and kidnap the hermaphrodite in the hope of obtaining a ransom. Once exposed to the desert sun, however, the hermaphrodite sickens and dies of thirst. Enraged, the mercenary tries to murder his two companions but is overpowered and killed.

Captured by soldiers, Encolpio is released in a labyrinth and forced to play Theseus to a gladiator's Minotaur for the amusement of spectators at the festival of Momus, the God of Laughter. When the gladiator spares Encolpio's life because of his well-spoken words of mercy, the festival rewards the young man with Ariadne, a sensual woman with whom he must copulate as the crowd looks on. Impotent, Encolpio is publicly humiliated by Ariadne. Eumolpo offers to take him to the Garden of Delights where prostitutes are said to effect a cure for his impotence but the treatment - gentle whipping of the buttocks - fails miserably. In the second of the stories within a story in the film, the owner of the Garden of Delights narrates the tale of Enotea to Encolpio. For having rejected his advances, a sorcerer curses a beautiful young woman: she must spend her days kindling fires for the village's hearths from her genitalia. Inspired, Encolpio and Ascilto hire a boatman to take them to Enotea's home. Greeted by an old woman who has him drink a potion, Encolpio falls under a spell where his sexual prowess is restored to him by Enotea in the form of an Earth Mother figure and sorceress. When Ascilto is murdered in a field by the boatman, Encolpio decides to join Eumolpo's ship bound for North Africa. But Eumolpo has died in the meantime, leaving as his heirs all those willing to eat his corpse. Encolpio hasn't the stomach for this last and bitter mockery but is nonetheless invited by the captain to board the ship. In a voice-over, Encolpio explains that he set sail with the captain and his crew. His words end in mid-sentence, as does Petronius's book, when a distant island appears on the horizon and the film cuts abruptly to frescoes of the film's characters on a crumbling wall.



Fellini's project saw competition from another film titled Satyricon, released the same year. Producer Alfredo Bini had registered the Satyricon title in 1962. When Fellini and his producer Alberto Grimaldi started work on their film, Bini contracted Gian Luigi Polidoro to direct his own version. Grimaldi sued Bini to halt the competing film, but lost; as a result, Fellini's picture was titled Fellini Satyricon to distinguish it.[5]

Co-screenwriter Bernardino Zapponi noted that Fellini used a deliberately jerky form of dubbing that caused the dialogue to appear out of sync with the actors' lips. This was in keeping with his original intention of creating a profound sense of estrangement throughout the film.[6]


Petronius's original text survives only in fragments. While recuperating from a debilitating illness in 1967, Fellini reread Petronius and was fascinated by the missing parts, the large gaps between one episode and the next.[7] The text's fragmentary nature encouraged him to go beyond the traditional approach of recreating the past in film: the key to a visionary cinematic adaptation lay in narrative techniques of the dream state that exploited the dream's imminent qualities of mystery, enigma, immorality, outlandishness, and contradiction.[7] In Comments on Film, Fellini explained that his goal in adapting Petronius's classic was "to eliminate the borderline between dream and imagination: to invent everything and then to objectify the fantasy; to get some distance from it in order to explore it as something all of a piece and unknowable."[8] Critic Christopher Sharrett observes that Fellini's "adaptation also reveals the paucity of the source, the kitschiness of the 'big ideas' from literary history. Genre film is a comfortable vehicle for the critical agenda undertaken, as Fellini piles up genre tropes as a way of showing the inherent generic contrivance, the 'trashiness,' that is basic to all such representation."[9]

The most important of the narrative changes[10] Fellini makes to Petronius's text is the addition of a battle between Encolpio and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth thereby linking Encolpio to Theseus and the journey into the unconscious. Other original sequences include a nymphomaniac in a desert caravan whose despondent husband pays Ascilto and Encolpio to couple with her, and an hermaphrodite worshipped as a demigod at the Temple of Ceres. Abducted by the two protagonists and a mercenary, the hermaphrodite later dies a miserable death in a desert landscape that, in Fellini's adaptation, is posed as an ill-omened event, none of which is to be found in the Petronian version.

Though the two protagonists, Encolpius and Ascilto, appear throughout, the characters and locations surrounding them change unexpectedly. This intentional technique of fragmentation conveys Fellini's view of both the original text and the nature of history itself, and is echoed visually in the film's final shot of a ruined villa whose walls, painted with frescoes of the scenes we have just seen, are crumbling, fading and incomplete.[11] Fellini's interest in Carl Jung's theory of the collective unconscious is also on display with an abundance of archetypes in highly dreamlike settings.[12]



First screened at the 30th Venice Film Festival on 4 September 1969, the film received generally positive reviews by critics writing in "stunned bewilderment".[13] Time Magazine reported that the "normally reserved press corps gave the film a five-minute ovation ... the Venice showing was so wildly popular that festival tickets, normally 2,000 lire ($3.20), were being sold on the black market at 60,000 lire (about $100) apiece".[14] Fellini biographer Tullio Kezich noted that there were "no outright negative reactions. The rampant moralizing of ten years ago seems to have passed out of fashion".[15] In his favorable Corriere della Sera review, Giovanni Grazzini argued that "Fellini's Rome bears absolutely no relationship to the Rome we learned about in school books. It is a place outside historical time, an area of the unconscious in which the episodes related by Petronius are relived among the ghosts of Fellini... His Satyricon is a journey through a fairytale for adults. It is evident that Fellini, finding in these ancient personages the projection of his own human and artistic doubts, is led to wonder if the universal and eternal condition of man is actually summed up in the frenzied realization of the transience of life which passes like a shadow. These ancient Romans who spend their days in revelry, ravaged by debauchery, are really an unhappy race searching desperately to exorcise their fear of death".[16]

Kezich saw the film as a study in self-analysis: "Everything seems to be aimed at making the viewer feel ill at ease, at giving him the impression that he is watching for the first time scenes from a life he never dreamed could have existed. Fellini has described his film as 'science fiction of the past,' as though the Romans of that decadent age were being observed by the astounded inhabitants of a flying saucer. Curiously enough, in this effort of objectivity, the director has created a film that is so subjective as to warrant psychoanalysis. It is pointless to debate whether the film proposes a plausible interpretation of ancient Rome, or whether in some way it illustrates Petronius: the least surprising parts are those that come closest to Petronius's text or that have some vague historical significance."[17]

The film performed well at the box office in Italy, France, and Japan.[18]

The film was selected as the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 42nd Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[19] The following year, Fellini was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.[20]


As co-producers keen to recoup their investment, executives at United Artists made certain that Fellini received "a maximum of exposure" during his American promotional tour of the film by organizing press and television interviews in New York and Los Angeles.[21] For Vincent Canby of the New York Times, Satyricon was "the quintessential Fellini film, a travelogue through an unknown galaxy, a magnificently realized movie of his and our wildest dreams". Roger Ebert, who called the film a "masterpiece," wrote, "It is so much more ambitious and audacious than most of what we see today that simply as a reckless gesture, it shames these timid times." For Archer Winston of the New York Post, the film's classical background in Petronius was fused into "a powerful contemporary parallel. It is so beautifully composed and imagined that you would do yourself a disservice if, for any reason, you allowed yourself to miss it".[22] Author Parker Tyler declared it "the most profoundly homosexual movie in all history".[23]

Other critics disparaged the film. Unimpressed Richard Corliss saw it as a reflection of an artist in decline. John Simon unfavorably compared Fellini to Petronius. Pauline Kael's "Mondo Trasho" New Yorker review complained of "a really bad, a terrible movie".

The film currently holds a 77% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FELLINI-SATYRICON (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 1970-04-14. Retrieved 2012-11-11. 
  2. ^ a b Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, p. 287
  3. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971, p. 11
  4. ^ Bondanella, 260
  5. ^ Kezich, 292
  6. ^ Bondanella, 244
  7. ^ a b Bondanella, 239
  8. ^ Fellini, Comments on Film, 173
  9. ^ Sharrett, "Intertext and the End of Humanism" in Federico Fellini: Contemporary Perspectives (ed. Burke and Waller), Toronto: Toronto University Press (2002), 125.
  10. ^ According to Bondanella, 246
  11. ^ Bondanella, 240.
  12. ^ Bondanella, 240
  13. ^ Kezich, 286
  14. ^ Time, 10 September 1969
  15. ^ Kezich, 287
  16. ^ Grazzini's review first published in Corriere della Sera, 5 September 1969. Fava and Vigano, 135
  17. ^ Kezich's review first published in Panorama, 18 September 1969. Fava and Vigano, 136.
  18. ^ Alpert, 219
  19. ^ Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  20. ^ "The 43rd Academy Awards (1971) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-11-26. 
  21. ^ Alpert, 220
  22. ^ Fava and Vigano, 138
  23. ^ Alpert, 221
  24. ^ Fellini - Satyricon at Rotten Tomatoes


  • Alpert, Hollis (1988). Fellini: A Life. New York: Paragon House. ISBN 1-55778-000-5
  • Bondanella, Peter (1992). The Films of Federico Fellini, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Fava, Claudio, and Aldo Vigano (1990). The Films of Federico Fellini. New York: Citadel. ISBN 0-8065-0928-7
  • Kezich, Tullio (2006). Fellini: His Life and Work. New York: Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-21168-5
  • Snyder, Stephen (1976). "Color, Growth, and Evolution in Fellini Satyricon" in Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism (ed. Peter Bondanella), 168 ISBN 0-19-502274-2

Further reading[edit]

  • Fellini, Federico (1988). Comments on Film. Ed. G. Grazzini (trans. Joseph Henry). California State University at Fresno.
  • — (1970). Fellini Satyricon, ed. Dario Zanelli, New York: Ballantine.
  • Frantz, Gilda (1970). "'Fellini Satyricon'". in: Psychological Perspectives, Volume 1, n° 2, Autumn 1970, p. 157-161.
  • Hughes, Eileen Lanouette (1971). On the Set of 'Fellini Satyricon': A Behind-the-Scenes Diary, New York: Morrow.
  • Prats, Arnando José (1979). "The Individual, the World and the Life of Myth in 'Fellini Satyricon'". in: South Atlantic Bulletin, Band 44, n° 2, May 1979, p. 45-58.
  • (Italian) Betti, Liliana (1970). Federico A.C.: disegni per il 'Satyricon' di Federico Fellini, Milan: Libri Edizioni.
  • Sütterlin, Axel (1996). Petronius Arbiter und Federico Fellini. Ein strukturanalytischer Vergleich, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag
  • Bachmann, Gideon. Ciao Federico: Fellini directs Satyricon. A "making-of" filmed during the 1968 production.

External links[edit]