Looking back at my post ‘I’m So Excited’ and realizing how much the prospect of a Pointer Sisters choreographed dance sequence tempted me, I can now safely acknowledge the fact that I find dancing on screen a pleasure to watch. In this case I particularly enjoyed facial expressions and weird movements. There is a huge magnetism in wild decadence.
In ‘The Great Beauty’, Jep the main protagonist guides us through a Roman underworld of decadence. In the club scenes social boundaries between old and young were temporarily washed away and we were left with a visual representation of human carnality and instinct taking hold. A podium dancer was told by an older man ‘I’m going to screw you’ ‘GET LOST’ was her reply. The same Mediterranean style of open sexuality and passion as ‘I’m So Excited’, played out in a different setting.
There is another side to ‘The Great Beauty’. The technical human achievements on display throughout are quite astounding. Take for example the choir singers at the beginning and end, the discipline and practice it takes to achieve such harmony and grace is admirable and resulted in a sense of awe. I could watch sweeping pans of Roman architecture, especially with this accompaniment, all day – returning to grey London streets disillusioned with life.
One of the most poignant scenes in the film happens quite late on when Jep turns up at an exhibition by an artist who has on display a photograph of himself taken every day of his life. Here a man has put genuine work into creating something with inherent value. It is interesting to note none of Jep’s decadent friends make an appearance at the exhibition. Those same friends who purport to be interested in art and culture.
Sister Maria also seems to be genuinely interesting and holds a mysterious power. Her life is like an artwork, meticulously abiding by a set of principles which are never broken, perfecting discipline. Another example of genuine work and achievement. The exact opposite of the indulgence that Jep has become a part of.
So there is a distinct contrast between two types of beauty. One of them being the cinematic decadence which is enjoyable to watch, the other being a kind of tragic beauty in the process of creation. The process of creating such touching music, such grandiose architecture, such a poignant exhibition, and such a disciplined life. In each of these works time itself is on display, in architecture which outlives the builders for example. They all seem to be bigger than the human that created them.
Why can’t Jep join the great artists in their achievements? After writing ‘The Human Apparatus’ it seemed he had the potential. However, he falls too quickly into the underworld of Rome. What does he learn? That all he and his friends can do is tell jokes and console each other.