When I first saw the film as a Classics undergraduate, I hated it. The opulent visuals and foreignness of the movie suggested that something “deep” was going on, but I did not take the time to engage with what Fellini was trying to do. This frustrated me. I also did not yet possess much of the cultural and historical knowledge that would allow me to understand Fellini’s agenda.
Many, many years later, I began working with films set in the ancient world in an academic context. I gave the Satyricon another chance and read what other scholars had written about it. Eventually, I was blown away by what I missed the first time around- that the film is one, extended, multi-faceted metaphor for how we engage with (and should engage with) the past. As someone who works with the past for a living, this was revelatory. I watched the movie again with fresh eyes, and feasted like Trimalchio on a rich, beguiling buffet.
I have used the Satyricon often in my classes and have introduced it to many students and friends. However, I felt I always needed to fully explain and contextualize the film in order to bring them to my later state in experiencing it rather than my earlier undergraduate phase. It is such a profuse creation, and intentionally confusing at first glance, that my introductions often rivaled the movie’s run time for length. Thus I have decided to offer them here online as my own textual “DVD commentary”, to give anyone wanting to engage with and understand the Satyricon some helpful tools, perspective, analysis and historical information.
Being very episodic, the film breaks down easily into sections. I will organize the commentary in this way. What analysis is not mine I will cite via an updated bibliography. I will also include some video and images to help illustrate my points. Comments are also very welcome and I’ll endeavor to engage with anyone who would like to discuss any of the issues further or provide additional data. This is intended to be a dynamic document so I will also provide information at the bottom of each entry as to when it was last updated.
I would suggest watching a section of the film, pausing, reading the commentary, and then re-watching that section.
(Up Next- Satyricon 1 – The Historical Satyricon)
(You can also find all Satyricon entries by clicking the “satyricon” tag to the left of this post or use this archive link (which unfortunately lists everything in reverse order- start at the bottom).)