Persona non grata

return_to_the_womb-1127140012m“Going to the cinema is like returning to the womb; you sit there still and meditative in the darkness, waiting for life to appear on the screen.” – Federico Fellini

When I first read this quote, I read it as “Going to the cinema is like returning to the womb; you sit there still and meditative in the darkness, waiting for YOUR life to appear on the screen.” Cynical. The last part of the quote is “One should go to the cinema with the innocence of a fetus”. He was obviously saying that a person should keep an open mind when viewing a new movie, without preconceived ideas. Or going even further, without your own mind even being involved.

Fellini, a five time Oscar winner, best known for his 1960 film La Dolce Vita, was deeply spiritual. Raised Catholic, in 1963 he was introduced to LSD which deepened his spirituality and alleviated his religulous-ness. Subsequent to this experience, his films reflected a new found wisdom as the psychological and mystic aspects of humanity became more pronounced. For Fellini:

“…objects and their functions no longer had any significance. All I perceived was perception itself, the hell of forms and figures devoid of human emotion and detached from the reality of my unreal environment. I was an instrument in a virtual world that constantly renewed its own meaningless image in a living world that was itself perceived outside of nature. And since the appearance of things was no longer definitive but limitless, this paradisiacal awareness freed me from the reality external to my self. The fire and the rose, as it were, became one…”

Many times I have looked to the silver screen for answers – and I still do. My heroes live up there. I’m taught what it means to be a man up there. What’s “cool”. What’s dangerous, thought provoking, scary, honorable. It’s art. They are the in-your-face and subliminal cues we all take for granted in the name of fulfillment through theater. And I will argue that you only take from movies and media those things which somehow align with who you already are. The reason I like the movie Point Break is because there is some-thing in inside of me desperate for that adventure.

Still, too often, my cynicism entreats itself. A love affair with the dark side. A figure I continue to chase which is why in incorrectly read Fellini’s quote.

“This great evil, where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might’ve known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?” – The Thin Red Line

Exit stage left.

Persona. The Latin meaning of this word is literally “sounding through”. It’s widely known as the mask a classical actor would wear to project the sound of their voices and to portray the character they were playing.


Similarly, it is a metaphor for the masks we wear called the ego, or “I”. It is the role we are playing, the one we show to the world, structured by our parents, society, politics and environment. Of course the mask isn’t real, and the thing we identify with as “I”… isn’t either. It’s an institution. A conglomerate. An idea. As Alan Watts puts it, “you cannot, for example, use the equator to tie up a package, because it’s an abstract, imaginary line”. In the exact same way, the “I” is imaginary. There is no “you”.

This presents us with a wonderful conundrum and an excellent opportunity! To separate that “thing”, that dark figure or feeling of inadequacy from the person patiently waiting underneath.

I am in the middle of reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and the other day I was struck dead between the eyes by one of the passages. Steven was discussing the differences between a professional and an amateur, by describing the character traits that each one performs: “an amateur plays for fun, a professional plays for keeps”). A sentiment not unlike George Leonard’s “dabbler”, “hacker”, and “obsessive” in his book Mastery (check that one out too).

“The pro stands at one remove from her instrument— meaning her person, her body, her voice, her talent; the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological being she uses in her work. She does not identify with this instrument. It is simply what God gave her, what she has to work with. She assesses it coolly, impersonally, objectively.
The professional identifies with her consciousness and her will, not with the matter that her consciousness and will manipulate to serve her art. Does Madonna walk around the house in cone bras and come-fuck-me bustiers? She’s too busy planning D-Day. Madonna does not identify with “Madonna.” Madonna employs “Madonna.””
Madonna employs Madonna.
David Bowie employs Ziggy Stardust.
Mozart employs music.
A singer employs her voice.
A person employs an “I”.
Pause for effect
At last night’s Oscars, Viola Davis won for best supporting actress. I love it when the actors are genuine, with tears in their eyes and gratitude in their hearts. In the acceptance speech, which is routinely showered with thank yous by sycophantic slags, she seemed to have a message for all of us: that time is short and we have art within each of us to unfold. Quite literally, our own “acres of diamonds“.
“There’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered, and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you wan to tell, Viola?’ and I say, “Exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost.’ I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
I could say more but I feel like I am rattling on. I get something in my head and it leads to twenty other things.
Federico Fellini came to rest at the age of 73, the day after his 50th wedding anniversary. At his funeral ceremony, “Improvviso dell’Angelo” by Nina Rota was played by trumpeter Mauro Maur (think “The Godfather” and see video). The title of the song means “suddenly an angel”. His tombstone in Rimini, Italy is a huge ship’s prow made of bronze (below). The purpose of a prow of a ship, which is the furthermost forward portion, is to reduce the resistance of the ship as it moves through the water.
Reduce resistance. A good mantra.

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