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||Federico Fellini (1920-1993)|
Italian film director and writer, whose most famous films include La Strada (1955), La Dolce Vita (1960), and 8 1/2 (1963). Fellini began his career as a cartoonist, journalist, and scriptwriter. Marcello Mastroianni played in several productions Fellini's male alter ego, and Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife, was known as the director's anima, feminine side. Typical for Fellini's films is carnivalesque style and constantly shifting boundary between illusion, studio-built artificiality, and reality. Once he remarked, "I make pictures to tell a story, to tell lies and to amuse." Although Fellini opposed in principle literary adaptations and wrote all his scripts, he used works from such writers as Edgar Allan Poe (Tre Passi del delirio), Petronius (Satyricon), and Casanova. Four of Fellini's movies won Oscars for best foreign-language film.
"Everyone lives in his own fantasy world, but most people don't understand that. No one perceives the real world. Each person simply call his private, personal fantasies the Truth. The difference is that I know I live in a fantasy world. I prefer it that way and resent anything that disturbs my vision." (Fellini in I, Fellini, ed. by Charlotte Chandler, 1995)
Federico Fellini was born in Rimini into a middle-class
family. Rimini later became the setting of I Vitelloni (1953)
(1973), dealing with the director's adolescence during the Fascist era.
For some reason, Mussolini felt antipathy towards Rimini itself,
although the town of Riccione became the dictator's favorite beach
destination. Fellini's father, Urbano, was a traveling salesman of
coffee and other
grocery specialties. Ida, Fellini's mother, came from an established
At school Fellini was an average schoolboy but demonstrated his talents in drawing. He was also interested in the circus and according to one story, which he invented, he ran away from home at the age of seven to follow a traveling circus. Fellini drew characters for his own puppet theater and put on shows, where he played all parts. The circus become in his films the perfect manifestation of popular entertainment, its innocence and vulgarity. Dario Fo, the Italian playwright and director, saw the clown as "synonymous with puerile simple-mindedness, with picture-postcard ingenuousness, and with sheer sentimentality." (The Ordinary Acrobat: A Journey into the Wondrous World of the Circus, Past and Present by Duncan Wall, 2013) For Fellini the character had been earlier "the caricature of a well-established, ordered, peaceful society," but later in life he felt that its true essence was disappearing in the modern world. Discussing his film I Clowns, he asked in the French periodical L'Arc: "Who can still laugh at clown? Hippies, politicians, the man in the street, all the world plays the clown, now." In 1970 Fellini made for RAI, the Italian national television and radio monopoly, The Clowns, which become a personal film essay about the spirit of this ancient figure.
In 1938 Fellini went to Florence to study at the university,
then continued to Rome, where he enrolled at the University of Rome's
law school. Instead of attending classes he worked for the newspaper
Il Popolo di Roma, drew cartoons, and wrote short stories for the
humorous magazine Marc' Aurelio.
Fellini never frequented the film clubs and later, when he was asked to
recount the fifty films he loved the most, he said: "Fifty films! Are
you kidding? I never saw that many in my entire life!" (The Cinema of Federico Fellini by Peter Bondanella, 1992) During the early
war years Fellini managed to stay out of the army but in 1943 he was
declared fit for military service. However, Fellini's military records
were apparently destroyed in a bombing and he continued writing for
radio in Rome.
In 1943 Fellini met Giulietta Masina, whom he married
after a four-month courtship. Masina had gained success as the co-star
of Cico e Pallina, a show about a young married couple scripted
by Fellini. For a period he worked on the movie I cavalieri del deserto (Knights of
the Desert) in Libya, but had a lucky escape before the Allied forces
seized control of Tripoli.
After the liberation of Rome opened The Funny Face Shop with
his friends, and drew caricatures of American G.I.s. Through his friend
the actor Aldo Fabrizi, he met Roberto Rosselini, and collaborated with
him as a screenwriter in Roma Città aperta (1945), a founding
work of neorealism. He was also an assistant director on Paisà
(1946). With the director Alberto Larruada he collaborated in Luci
del Varietà (1951), which was based on Fellini's story.
Fellini's first solo effort as a director was the semi-autobiographical film Lo Sceicco bianco (1952, The White Sheik). It was a critical and commercial failure, but started the long collaboration with the playwright Tullio Pinelli, the scriptwriter Ennio Flaiano (1910-1972), and the composer Nino Rota (1911-1979). With I Vitelloni, a tale of tale of aimless young men, Fellini made his international breakthrough.
Fellini began as a neo-realist but gradually he developed his
special imaginative, surrealistic vision of the world. His partnership
with Tullio Pinelli (1908-2009) produced some of his most famous films,
such as I Vitelloni, La Strada, La Dolce Vita
and 8 ½.
It is claimed that Fellini disliked music, he even said it himself, but
the working relationship between the director and Nino Rota is one of
the most celebrated in the history of cinema. "Nino had no need to see
my films. During the screening, in fact, he would often fall into a
deep sleep." (A History of Film Music by Mervyn Cooke, 2008)
La Strada was a version of the fairy tale Beauty
and the Beast.
"You're not going to believe me... yet everything in this world is
useful for something", says Matto (Richard Basehart) to Masina, who
played the simple-minded, childish Gelsomina. She loves beauty and is
terrorized by her brutish husband, Zampano, a strongman. After her
death Zampano has nothing. "Fellini's direction left a great deal to be
desired," wrote Diana Willing. (Films in Review, August/September, 1956) Although writers changed, Fellini did not
receive much understanding in the magazine. Nino Rota's bittersweet theme song for
the film sold more than two million copies in Italy. In the
United States La Strada
was chosen by the Motion Picture Academy as Best Foreign Film of 1956.
Fellini described the film as the complete catalogue of his entire
mythological world. The tragic and bleak scenery
owe much to the style of the cinematographer Otello Martelli, who
collaborated with Fellini on four subsequent productions.
Le notti di Cabiria (1957) won Fellini his second Academy Award. "As a motion picture Cabiria is of no consequence, but sociologically it could have utility as an illustration of how sick Europe is", noted L.C. (Films in Review, December, 1957)
La Dolce Vita (1960) won the Grand Prize at the 1961 Cannes Festival. It opened with a huge statue of Jesus, which is moved by a helicopter above the rooftops of Rome. In another famous scene Anita Ekberg walks through Trevi Fountain. Marcello Mastroianni is a gossip columnist who wants to be a serious writer, but he cannot escape the decadent high society life in Rome. Instead of shooting on the famous Via Veneto, Fellini created his own version of the street at the Cinecittà studios. Henry Hart, who did not share the enthusiasm of other reviewers called the film a "three-hour peep-show – a carelessly written and directed hodge-podge of skits depicting some of the follies of contemporary Western civilization..." (Films in Review, June/July, 1961) The success of the film enabled Fellini to form his own production company, named Federiz.
Otto e Mezzo (1963, 8 1/2), about the conflict between commerce and art, won the best foreign film Oscar. Marcello Mastroianni in the role of Guido Anselmi, a filmmaker, who has made precisely the same number of films as Fellini - 8 1/2. "With Fellini I feel like a friend, not an actor," Mastroianni once said. Guido is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and at the end is left without any clear idea what to do next. In the Soviet Union the film won a first prize at the Moscow Film Festival. All reviews were not positive. "... incidents of fact. dream, fantasy, and imagination strung together without reason and without art", Helen Weldon Kuhn wrote. (Films in Review, August/September, 1963). Giulietta degli Spiriti (1965, Juliet of the Spirits) was Fellini's first color feature, a story of dreams, spirits, and loneliness. The influential American film critic Andrew Sarris was disappointed: "As it turned out, Fellini missed by a mile, and I am sorry that I must write this review more in sorrow than anger, but Juliet is barely slick enough to pass as middlebrow entertainment on the Rose Franzblau level." (Village Voice, November 11&18, 1965)
Fellini had read Petronius Arbiter's Satyricon already at school. The author lived in the times of Nero, and was regarded as director-in-chief of the imperial pleasures. Satyricon was a comic romance about Encolpius, who has lost his potence but hopes to regain it again. His companion is a pretty boy, Giton, with whom he is in love. Encolpius's rival is Ascyltus. Fellini made the screenplay with Bernardino Zapponi, without being too much faithful to the original source. A major exception was the famous dinner at the villa of Trimalchio, filmed in Cinecittà, where Fellini Satyricon (1969) become the most expensive film since Ben-Hur. Satyricon, called a "procession of wild orgies", continued the themes of decadence and impotence of La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. The film did well in Italy and France.
Amarcod, a nostalgic and visionary journey into the
director's memories of his youth, was awarded with best foreign film
Oscar. Fellini recreated his imaginary Rimini in Cinecittà. In one
magic scene people in small boats greet enthusiastically a painted
ship, which disappears in the fog. The cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno
shot three more films for Fellini, from Casanova (1976) up to E la Nave va (1983).
Casanova, starring Donald Sutherland in a false nose and chin, received mixed critics. The American writer Gore Vidal worked some time with the script, but Fellini did not like the changes he made in the story. La Città delle Donne (1980, City of Women) and Casanova failed at the box office, and also E la Nave va (And the Ship Sails On) did not encourage bankers to finance Fellini's movies. Although Fellini had refused to make commercials, he made one for the apéritif, Campari, in 1984. The nostalgic Ginger and Fred (1985), starring Giulietta Masina and Marcello Mastroianni, was a homage to small-time entertainers. Marina was a retired tap dancer who is reunited with her former dance partner and lover for a Christmas television special.
Fascinated by the work of the Peruvian writer and anthropologist Carlos Castaneda, Fellini planned to make a film about shamans, legends, and rituals of the ancient Aztecs. After many fruitless attempts to get in touch with Castaneda, he began to suspect that the author didn't really exist. When they finally met in Rome, Fellini was disappointed. He found nothing in Castaneda's stocky physical appearance to suggest that he's a shaman or initiated. Nevertheless, Fellini made a trip to Mexico, where a native shaman got him involved in a ritual, in which he saw hallucinations. Castaneda had recommened that the director never try peyote, because "considering how much he ate, it would be disastrous." (Federico Fellini: His Life and Work by Tullio Kezich, 2007) Fellini's screenplay, entitled Viaggio a Tulun, was adapted by the noted Italian cartoonist Milo Manera as Viaggio a Tulum and published in the magazine Corto Maltese in 1989.
Intervista (1987), which was awarded a Special Prize at Cannes, marked Fellini's last appearance in feature film. At the 1992 Academy Awards he received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Federico Fellini died of cardiac arrest on October 31, 1993 at the Umberto I Hospital in Rome, after having choked a piece of food while dining in a restaurant. His corpse was transferred to Rimi where he was buried in the family tomb.
For further reading: Federico Fellini: biografia dell'infanzia by Davide Bagnaresi (2021); Federico Fellini: uneksijan sirkus by Lauri Timonen (2021); Fellini's Eternal Rome: Paganism and Christianity in the Films of Federico Fellini by Alessandro Carrera (2019); Federico Fellini as Auteur: Seven Aspects of His Films by John C. Stubbs (2015); Inspiring Fellini: Literary Collaborations Behind the Scenes by Federico Pacchioni (2014); Federico Fellini: His Life and Work by Tullio Kezich (2006); Federico Fellini: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. by Frank Burke & Marguerite R. Waller (2002); The Films of Federico Fellini by Peter E. Bondanella (2002); Federico Fellini by Fabrizio Borin & Bjarne S. Funch (2000); Conversations With Fellini, ed. by Costanzo Costantini (1997); Fellini's Films: From Postwar to Postmodern by Frank Burke (1996); I, Fellini, ed. by Charlotte Chandler (1995); The Cinema of Federico Fellini by Peter Bondanella (1992); Federico Fellini: Comments on Film, ed. by Giovanni Grazzini (1988); Fellini: A Life by Hollis Alpert (1986); The Films of Federico Fellini by Claudio G. Fava (1985); Caro Federico by Sandra Milo (1982); Fellini by Sonia Schoonejans (1980); Federico Fellini: A Guide to References and Resources by John C. Stubbs (1978); Federico Fellini by Gilbert Salachas (1977); Fellini by Liliana Betti (1976); Federico Fellini: The Search for a New Mythology by Charles B. Ketcham (1976); The Cinema of Federico Fellini by Stuart Rosenthal (1976); Fellini on Fellini by Federico Fellini (1974); Fellini by Angelo Solmi (1968); Fellini by Suzanne Budgen (1966)