There are certain works of fiction, be they in the form of novels or movies, that are much acclaimed by critics and connoisseurs of the avant garde, but which leave most of us completely bewildered as to what those people see in them. We don’t enjoy them, and we don’t learn anything from them. We force ourselves to get through them just to see what the big deal is all about, and we end up feeling we have endured an unpleasant experience that has wasted our time. Whenever you come across a novel or a movie like that, ask yourself this question, “Does the work of fiction involve a lot of sex, especially the kind that is vulgar and obscene?” If the answer is “Yes,” then the mystery is solved, especially if the work of fiction was censored or banned somewhere. In this lies the reason for all the undeserved praise for novels such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, Marcel Proust’s In Search Lost Time, and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and for movies such as Man of Flowers (1983), Belle de Jour (1967), Last Tango in Paris (1972), and, of course, Fellini Satyricon.
Why do some people praise novels or movies like these? One reason may be that they actually enjoyed them or learned something from them. That’s a horrible thought! The other may be that expressing their appreciation for these novels or movies gives them a feeling of superiority over those of us who condemn them: they come across as enlightened, cosmopolitan aesthetes, while we look like prudish, parochial philistines.
Fellini Satyricon is mostly about a couple of pederasts fighting over a catamite, who silently sits there with a big, shit-eating grin like Harpo Marx. The catamite is Gitone (Max Born), who prefers Ascilto (Hiram Keller) over Encolpio (Martin Potter) for his lover. And this is only the beginning of Encolpio’s woes in this picaresque tale in which Encolpio always ends up as the butt of whatever deviance is at hand, while Ascilto is there to gloat and have a laugh at Encolpio’s expense. Interspersed with that story is a lot of other stuff that will make you want to take a bath when the movie is over. Even the way these people eat is perverted and will leave you feeling queasy.
So, you know who you are. If you are the type who loved reading Ulysses or watching The Last Tango in Paris, then Fellini Satyricon is the movie for you. If not, then you have been duly warned.