Maybe I needed to go to Italy before seeing a Fellini film. Or maybe I just have gaping holes in my film-watching history.
Whatever the reason, I finally began righting that wrong tonight with "Amarcord," which translates as "I remember," and was the latest installment in VCU's Cinematheque series.
Waiting for the film to begin, I eavesdropped on the students near me for some entertainment. "Promise me you won't make any bad Italian jokes," one said to the curly-headed Italian in the group, who looked pained at the suggestion.
"That was the funniest thing I've heard in ten years," another cackled, "and I'm not even that old." Son, if you go back ten years, you were in elementary school.
Introducing the 1973 film, the professor told the audience he was curious to see how the film held up after 40 years because, "It was a huge film in the pantheon of great film-making for my generation."
In other words, I should have seen it way before now.
The semi-autobiographical story of Fellini coming of age in 1930s Fascist Italy was a compelling look at life in a small Italian town full of crazy characters, Catholicism and customs.
There was a lot of lusting, as teen-aged boys are inclined to do, for almost every woman they came into contact with. Teachers, shop girls, the local prostitute, the local beauty.
They're the reason Fellini's alter-ego, Titta, finds himself making regular confession to the local flower-arranging priest. "Saint Louis cries when you touch yourself," the priest says before assigning him major penance.
The film had an episodic narrative, minimal plot and followed the town through a year of seasons and the accompanying happenings.
It wasn't long into the film before it became clear that the mostly-student audience didn't know how to react to many of the scenes they were seeing, especially the lewd ones.
When a gigolo tells another that he did so well scoring with a woman that she even offered him "posterior intimacy," many of the kids around me started sounding very uncomfortable. Wait, middle-aged people do that?
Another scene where Titta visits the tobacco shop and flirts with the magnificently-breasted shop girl until she is forcing them on her had people near me squirming in their seats with discomfort.
Even a scene where Titta and his pals look through a window into an empty ballroom and begin silently waltzing in the street as they imagine the dancing they might someday do in such a room made people around me laugh hysterically and inappropriately.
Which made it all the more surprising when, during the discussion afterwards, several students said they thought the movie held up well.
I would have said the same, having found the two hour-plus story engaging throughout, but I wonder if they realize that some of the things they took for intentionally funny were not meant to be that way at all.
The professor had told them that the reason he was showing "Amarcord" was because, as future filmmakers, they needed to have an understanding of film history and how influential Fellini had been on many films with which they're more familiar.
If you'd seen the looks on their faces when he said that, you'd know it was probably the funniest thing they'd heard since third grade.
But then, that's why I go to the cinematheque. It's as much about seeing a worthwhile film as it is about learning how the current crop of students think.
I have a feeling more than just Saint Louis is crying about that.