Man-about-town Encolpio (Martin Potter) roams high and low through every strata of Roman society in pursuit of a slave boy stolen by his rival (Hiram Keller), experiencing all manner of erotic, sadomasochistic and depraved escapades.
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Fellini called it a science fiction film, but one set in the distant past. Certainly it's a work that transports its audience to a world beyond imagination; casting us in the role of alien anthropologist; here to excavate the ruins of human experience to find the stories within. It's Fellini at the peak of his abilities; filling every inch of the frame with dazzling sequences, grotesque images, humor, horror, poetry.
While I was watching it, I wasn't often sure of what was going on with the plot, but Fellini's Satyricon is not focused on boring things like plot or coherence. Fellini is instead after a mood, a feeling - the decadence and depravity of Ancient Rome filtered through the fabric of the late 60's and its summers of love. The film is outrageous, lascivious, and not for the feint of heart. In a word: brllliant.
Not an easy film—to watch or rate. It comes from Fellini's "indulgent" phase, when he had the funding/fame to do whatever the hell he wanted, and here, he goes without the sense of humor that was his secret weapon. But the form is stunning, and in the monologs and sea of faces, you get an anguished nightmare of pleasure and wealth gone sour: a theme for both the man and his time. A mess, but a damn compelling one.
Altamont among the ancients? Arguably. "We blew it," could conclude this film as aptly as Easy Rider, but instead it chooses fidelity to Petronius and doesn't conclude at all, but simply ends, Encolpius' final sentence dangling as he shifts from flesh to fresco. Not one of Fellini's best, but notable, among other reasons, for presenting some astonishingly beautiful humans amongst all the technicolor squalor.
Of course it is one of Fellini's most visually extravagant and strangest films, but it lacks the magic that I normally expect from my Fellini. Satyricon just sort of plods along trying to be hypnotic, but it just never works out that way. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that there's no Nino Rota score, because usually the music sets the pace in Fellini. Or maybe it was just mismatched expectations.
Spectacularly louche and episodic adventures in a sexually heightened Rome, with various assemblies of grotesquery and freakery, as our well-oiled heroes cavort through monumentally scaled sets towards... what? Nothing in particular, apart from Fellini’s bawdy imagination writ large. No great meaning to it and certainly not a conclusive whole, but Encolpio has plenty of fun with his along the way.
I would not be very fond of Satyricon if I decided for myself that it was a riposte to the excesses of the time (the late-60s). I am, rather, forced to see it as a sort of queasy celebration of the pan-sexual, pagan cast of our species activity when we back up and study it from a distance. This is what any era-cluster looks like from outer space. Glad I waited and wasn't introduced to Satyricon on pan-and-scan VHS.