Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Marshall’s Oscar-nominated ‘Nine’ fails to meet basic requirements of film

credit: O. Johnson

Rob Marshall’s  “Nine” is the reason why Hollywood should never again wander into the territory of attempting to remake brilliant 60s Italian films. Veiled as an homage to Federico Fellini’s8 ½,”  Marshall’s woeful musical appropriation of the original’s theme feels like an unwarranted blow to the heart of an established masterpiece. Why in the world did he even try to make this film?

Don’t be fooled: The ensemble cast, which includes Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman (I’m running out of breath), Fergie, Kate Hudson and, last but not least, the bellissima Sophia Loren, is perhaps the only ingredient in this film that saves it from becoming one of those idiotic Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer cheap-thrills purported as funny parodies ([please don’t] see “Epic Movie,” “Meet the Spartans,” “Disaster Movie,” you get the idea).

I know, it’s terrible; How could such wonderful actors make such a terrible movie? My conspiracy theory is that Marshall somehow duped them like his protagonist Guido Contini (Lewis) duped the Italian media into thinking that he would have written a script for, found actors for and directed a movie called “Italia.” Marshall didn’t have a script, actors or a movie. He had rubbish. Indeed, as the late Jean Baudrillard would say, the film “Nine” did not take place.

Sorry to get all academic on you folks, but Baudrillard’s premise about the Gulf War could not be more pertinent to my take on “Nine.” The reason the filmNine” never took place, is because no film took place. I hate to put it bluntly, but “Nine” is not a film. This isn’t some stupid argument about the degree to which I detest musicals (a very high one, I might add), but this is an argument about how what I saw on the big screen was by no means a film. For an audiovisual clip to become a film, it must meet several basic requirements that “Nine” presents itself as having, but in fact sorely lacks.

A film should have actors. It does, but the script does not allow them to ‘act.’ Thus, the name-branded actors completely overpower their own acting. The story of Contini, a big-name director who is having writer’s block and must produce a script in 10 days, is laced with a series of incongruous musical performances whose lyrics are as straightforward and self-evident as they are pointless and deplorable. The musical interludes are not musical interludes; rather, they are a slew of these big-name actors babbling clichéd phrases to borderline unrehearsed (not to mention boring) dance numbers. The worst, I must admit, comes during the last third of the so-called film. It is a faux song called “Cinema Italiano” performed by Stephanie (Hudson), a zero-dimensional American fashion journalist who simply comes on to Contini. The so-called song blasphemed: dare I say, all of Italian cinema: taking a precise jab at my favorite style, neorealism (a style Fellini embraced before his psychoanalytic turn).

A film should also have some sort of story, even if it’s seemingly a non-story. It does, but not really. Instead of translating Fellini’s brilliant autobiographical script for an audience not readily engulfed in the world of cinema, Marshall torches it with his needlessly hypersexualized dance moves and the transparently horny motives he imbues in each character from the start.

Moreover, Marshall’s film has no rhyme or reason. Why on earth should we believe that Mr. Contini is a masterful auteur? Just because Rob Marshall tells us? Apparently so. Apparently we’re supposed to just go along with the story, which picks up in the final stages of pre-production of “Italia,” and assume that Contini is brilliant, and assume that Contini can’t develop any brilliant ideas, and assume that his licentious personal life is to blame for his current writer’s block. As “Grey’s Anatomy” aficionados would say: “Seriously?!”

The film, save the open-air picturesque shots of Rome and a random Italian beach-front Xanadu, neither looks nor feels Italian. It feels purely and pathetically American, sprinkled with terrible attempts at Italian accents (Lewis fortunately has the one that’s easiest on the ears). Whereas true cinematic masterminds like, say, Quentin Tarantino, allow their stories to decide the language for them, others like Marshall decide to impose whatever language they prefer onto a story that doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, allow for it. If this so-called movie really wanted me to “Be Italian”: as one of the faux songs goes: then maybe it should’ve taken its own advice first.

Yeah, this movie will win Oscars, probably out of pity, but that doesn’t necessarily certify its quality. All I can do is hope that someday someone will make a musical film that infuses its characters and plot with unrelenting dramatic force. And doesn’t feel the need to attempt to destroy a classic piece of cinema in the process. Let’s just hope for now that Fellini isn’t turning over in his grave.

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