An Italian Master: Federico Fellini

Absurd, baroque, neorealism, surreal, and bizarre are all used to describe Federico Fellini’s film style, but none of them quite capture the true essence of his films. His famous and unique style of storytelling, which was largely autobiographical, blended reality and fantasy and was so distinct that it became known as Felliniesque.

Fellini was born and raised in Rimini, Italy on January 20, 1920. During the late 1930s/early 1940s, Fellini studied law at the University of Rome to escape being drafted and worked as freelance cartoonist, joke writer, journalist, and radio scriptwriter. It was while writing scripts for the radio show Cico e Pallina that he met his future wife Giulietta Masina, who would also star in many of Fellini’s films.
Fellini started out in the Italian film industry as a script writer and received serious critical attention for the film Rome, Open City (1945), which was a collaboration with director Roberto Rossellini and the actor Aldo Fabrizi. In 1951, Fellini went on to direct his first solo film The White Sheik. Many of Fellini’s films can be viewed in three distinct periods, which began with the neorealist films of his scriptwriting days and his early solo films, which depicted Italian social life and the breakdown of traditional Italian morals.   Fellini’s film, La strada (1954) shows a shift from his early neorealist films depicting believable and comic portraits of the Italian provinces to a period of religious iconography and concepts with a focus on conversion of the person. After this period of the soul and religious themes, many of Fellini’s films explore the relationship between reality and illusion, such as in La dolce vita (1960) and 8 ½ (1963). To highlight this, Fellini’s characters tend to work in a fantasy world, such as the circus, film, or some other aspect of entertainment.
The film creation process was a very personal one for Fellini as many of his films are autobiographical in nature. For example, La dolce vita is about an artist newly arrived in Rome from the provinces, which mirrored Fellini’s earlier life, and 8 ½ is about a director in the middle of a mid-life crisis and was named such because it was Fellini’s 8 ½ film (seven feature films and two episodes in composite films, which would equally roughly one half).   Fellini’s film achievements were recognized with many awards, including four Best Foreign Language Film Oscars, two additional Oscar wins, a Palme d’Or for La dolce vita, and several lifetime achievement awards including one from the Cannes Film Festival in 1974 and from the American Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, which he received only months before he passed away in 1993.
In honor of Fellini’s 90th birthday, the Headquarters library is proud to present An Italian Masters: Federico Fellini film series.
La Strada (1954)
Monday, March 22, 7-9
The bubbly, waiflike Gelsomina (Guilietta Masina) is a simpleton sold to the gruff, bullying circus strongman Zampanò (Anthony Quinn) as a servant and assistant. Treated no better than an animal, Gelsomina nonetheless falls in love with the brute Zampanò. When they join a small circus they meet Il Matto (Richard Basehart), a clown who enchants Gelsomina and relentlessly taunts Zampanò, whose inability to control his hatred of Il Matto (literally, "the Fool") leads to their expulsion from the circus and eventually to the film's fateful conclusion. [108 min]
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Monday, April 26, 7-10
Marcello Rubini (extraordinarily played by Marcello Mastroianni) is a tabloid reporter trapped in a shallow high-society existence. A man of paradoxical emotional juxtapositions (cool but tortured, sexy but impotent), he dreams about writing something important but remains seduced by the money and prestige that accompany his shallow position. He romanticizes finding true love but acts unfazed upon finding that his girlfriend has taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Instead, he engages in an ménage à trois, then frolics in a fountain with a giggling American starlet (bombshell Anita Ekberg), and in the film's unforgettably inspired finale, attends a wild orgy that ends, symbolically, with its participants finding a rotting sea animal while wandering the beach at dawn. [174 min]
8 ½ (1963)
Monday, May 24, 7-9
Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido, a director trying to relax a bit in the wake of his latest hit. Besieged by people eager to work with him, however, he also struggles to find his next idea for a film. The combined pressures draw him within himself, where his recollections of significant events in his life and the many lovers he has left behind begin to haunt him. The marriage of Fellini's hyperreal imagery, dreamy sidebars, and the gravity of Guido's increasing guilt and self-awareness make this as much a deeply moving, soulful film as it is an electrifying spectacle. Mastroianni is wonderful in the lead, his woozy sensitivity to Guido's freefall both touching and charming--all the more so as the character becomes increasingly divorced from the celebrity hype that ultimately outpaces him. [138 min]
Further Reading:
I, Fellini by Charlotte Chandler
A first person narrative based on the conversations that the author had with the Italian film director from 1980 until shortly before his death in 1993.
The Films of Federico Fellini by Peter Bondanella
An in-depth look at Fellini, his films, and their social context.
Federico Fellini: Interviews edited by Bert Cardullo
A series of interviews with Fellini from 1957 to 1993 that tend to focus on Fellini’s views of film and cinema rather than his own works (which he states in one of his interviews “I do believe that the author is the least authorized to speak about the film he has made”).
Federico Fellini: Turner Classic Movies
A biography presented by Turner Classic Movies of the film makers life with a list of important people and a timeline of major milestones in his life.
Reviews of Fellini’s Films:
La dolce vita
La strada
8 ½