Reviews

La Strada (Essential Art House)

As part of its "Essential Art House" series, the Criterion Collection reissues Fellini's 1954 masterpiece, featuring a nonpareil performance by Giulietta Masina.


La Strada

Subtitle: Essential Art House
Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart
Length: 108
Studio: Criterion
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 1954
US DVD Release Date: 2009-02-10
UK DVD Release Date: Available as import
Amazon

Federico Fellini's La Strada is full of indelible images -- it is a road movie, after all, flush with the passings-by, pitstops, and transience of a world in motion: the beach, the city, the countryside; circus tents and street corners; big family weddings and secluded convents -- but my favorite image of all is when Zampanò roars into a trash-strewn, near-deserted town square on his motorcycle/wagon combo to reclaim his abandoned charge, Gelsomina. As Zampanò, Anthony Quinn is like the anti-Brando: burly and leather jacketed, but rotten somehow, a vessel for mannish insecurity without any of the redemptive navel-gazing.

I think a lot of the film's themes are tied up in this moment: fantasy vs. reality, stewardship and dominance, the whole nut of freewill and what it means to be alone in general. Gelsomina, played by Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina, is sold for 10,000 lira by her mother to Zampanò, a traveling strongman who performs his supposed superhuman feats in circuses and impromptu street shows alike. Gelsomina serves as his assistant -- a role that fits her clownishness, a role that fits Masina's clownishness -- and also the victim of Zampanò's verbal and physical abuse.

The two join up with a circus, where Gelsomina finds something of a kindred spirit in the Fool (Richard Basehart), a fellow clown and tightrope artist. The Fool shares an antagonistic history with Zampanò, whom the Fool likes to josh to the point of meltdown: "The circus needs animals," the Fool tells him when they join up. The Fool will ultimately play a major part in the course of Gelsomina's and Zampanò's lives, as well as in the film's divide between escapism and harsh reality.

It's a heavy film, one of Fellini's true tragedies, but it reaffirms life via Masina's nonpareil performance. Like a female Chaplin, she's a force of comedic physicality, at times childlike and distracted, and other times a mimic of subversive conceit. It's one of her three great performances in Fellini's films (which include Nights of Cabiria and Juliet of the Spirits), and perhaps her purest of all time. Fellini made La Strada in 1954, and though it's not exactly the film that signaled his shift from Italian neo-realism to the "Fellini-esque" style of his later work, it does contain a number of the obsessions he'd return to again and again: the circus, the beach, surrealism (a small band of musicians marches through the open countryside), grotesqueries of character.

I saw a new print of the film last year, and while good, it did not compare with this latest restoration by the Criterion Collection. (This single-disc version, part of the "Essential Art House" series that began with that box set behemoth a few years back, contains the film only, with zero extras.) The contrast is sharp and ringingly clear; Masina's face is something of a holy vision here, while Quinn's, in contrast, is stubbly and earth-bound. You're there, under the big top, riding shotgun, tripping the countryside fantastic, and then alone, suddenly and shockingly so, as Quinn collapses in the film's iconic ending -- a man on the beach with nothing but the realization that he lives in a world that he just destroyed.

9


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.