Burning Down the Art House, Part 3: Nostalgia, The Good Disease

This is Part Three of three part series on my exploration of the elusive Art Film. (Check out Part One and Part Two, or listen to the podcast on Soundcloud.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve typed “Fade In:” followed by INT. CAFE - NIGHT and hoped that some alchemical magic would arise from the mix of caffeine and community college film classes, and hubris –  and presto! – I’m Tarantino. Or Scorsese. Or Coppola. Or someone else with an Italian name. Like Fellini.  Oh, Fellini. We’ll get to you, Fellini. 

Right now, however, I’m surrounded by screenwriters at the Intelligensia coffee house in the Sunset Junction in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood. I came here breath. And vacation with Karen Hell. But also to breath –  to take a deep breath and hopefully catch some the stardust amongst the particulate matter in the LA air. 

But, after a coughing fit, I remember that the screenplay I’ve written is intentionally uncommercial. It’s not a Hollywood picture. It’s an art flick, so stardust, like so much sugar, would just be too damn sweet. Or – or more likely – bitter.

I have a think on this, on stardust, and the notion that Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories and Fellini’s 8 ½ are essentially the same film comes to mind again.

A director ruminates on life, women, and cinema. And in chunky-framed glasses. And in black in white. And, and, and... We’ll go into the similarities more deeply in another episode of my adult night school of the mind. 

What’s germane here is that both films are loaded with nostalgia. In fact, many of Fellini’s films — but seldom more vividly and ripe for parody than in 8 ½. It’s no wonder that Saturday Night Live satirist Tom Schiller chose it as his point of departure for a Fellini-sque sketch starring Gilda Radner. 

Like all parody, it concentrates the ticks of its inspiration. He called it La Dolce Gilda but don’t let the title fool you into thinking it riffs on Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. It may start that way with all the paparazzo bullshit but all the heart, warmth and snickering at sentimentality while being entirely sentimental is pure 8 ½. Dan Aykroyd even makes a convincing stand-in for Marcello Mastroianni. 

With lines like “Leave me my dreams. Dreams are like paper, they tear so easily” and a slow pan to a pantomime waiter who has a balloon by the string, which he let’s sail into the seaside breeze, I can’t help but feel nostalgia. 

The term comes from Swiss physician Johannes Hofer’s 17th century medical dissertation for which he coined the term to describe a disease that afflicts sufferers with a melancholic longing for a time and place. 

I’m not sure if I’m responding to the cues in Tom Schiller’s film or if I’m simply nostalgic for that time in my life when I first saw it as part of an SNL retrospective. Whatever the case, it kindled in me a desire to make grainy, black and white tone poems with accordion music soundtracks. And like the other parody films in this three part series, La Dolce Gilda served to turn me on to its inspiration. To wit, I’ve been a Fellini-fan since. 

I eventually did make a nostalgia-driven project — about 7 years ago. It’s not Fellini-esque – it was  a music video for one of my brother’s bands. What’s weird is that I began this project as an 8-year-old in 1980 using a Super 8 camera and a cast of neighborhood kids. I returned to the footage 30 years later and finished the film as The Sandfighter — Falcon’s best track. So, now, I’m 44 and starting another project, Pill Head. Given my previous timeline, maybe check back in when I’m 74 and we’ll see how it’s doing.