* Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links and sponsored links. Learn more on my Disclosure page.

This is a guest post by Aniya Wells.

I had trouble getting into Fellini Satyricon the first time I saw it, maybe fifteen years ago. The film opens with a theatrical, discursive monologue in front of a graffiti-covered wall. The main character, Encolpio, is bemoaning the loss of his slave-boy and love interest Gitone. The dubbing is not great (this is a quirk of Italian cinema; historically, they never shot with live sound, so everything is dubbed even if there’s no language difference).

At this point, you might well be tempted to stop the movie and find something else. But that would be a mistake. I recently re-watched Fellini Satyricon via Netflix Streaming. I believe it’s the fourth time I’ve seen it, and the film still amazes me.

By the end of Satyricon, you’ll be swept away into another world, a society so different from our own, it might as well have been on another planet – Fellini himself described it as “science fiction of the past” rather than the future. The really impressive thing is that, despite Fellini’s famous extravagance as a filmmaker, the film is a reasonably accurate adaptation of its source material, the Roman “novel” (more accurately, a long-form mixture of verse and prose) Satyricon by Petronius (~27-66 AD).

The plot, in both the text and film, is best described as picaresque – a digressive series of colorful incidents that serves more as a travelogue of this bizarre ancient world than an airtight plot. It has a hypnotic effect that pulls you in to this human zoo, and the characters (most famously, party king Trimalchio, who inspired Fitzgerald’s creation of Gatsby) are so vivid, bizarre, and often frightening, that you can’t look away.

As exotic and garish as the film is, there is also a sense in which it is familiar. Appearing in 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots, the moon landing, Woodstock, and the Manson killings, the film was a daring depiction of classical hedonism and yet undeniably of its time.

One could point to the silly peplum or “sword and sandals” epic genre of the early 60s – those campy gladiator films, unintentional icons of queer cinema, sometimes starring Steve Reeves as Hercules, etc. – as precedents. Perhaps more relevant to the film’s style and attitude is the work of Pier Paolo Pasolini (a Fellini collaborator in his youth on Nights of Cabiria): both his contemporary tales of street hustlers such as Accatone, and a series of boundary-pushing bawdy films based on ancient, and thus public-domain, source texts (Oedipus Rex, Medea, The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron, and The Arabian Nights). In fact, Pasolini’s producer, Alfredo Bini, rushed out his own Satyricon the same year when he heard Fellini was working on one. Legal action ensued, and the maestro was forced to add his own name on the marquee, thus Fellini Satyricon.

Bottom line: Fellini Satyricon is less a movie than a unique, indelible sensory experience. You might have some weird dreams afterwards.

Aniya Wells is a freelance blogger whose primary focus is writing about online degree programs. She also enjoys investigating trends in other niches, notably technology, traditional higher education, health, and small business. Aniya welcomes reader questions and comments at aniyawells@gmail.com