February 01, 2008

Frederico Fellini

Frederico Fellini

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Under Construction


Millicent Marcus in her third book tracing Italian cinema through case studies called 'After Fellini' notes that the outpouring which occurred as Fellini's coffin was lying in state at Cinecittà studio acted as a synechdoche for the death of Italian cinema over and above the death of a gifted individual:

Fellini stood for the entire age of brilliant signature filmmaking that gave Italian directors a disproportionate place in the international pantheon......To name Fellini, then, is to invoke that period when cinema occupied a position of cultural primacy - when films were seen as foundational acts, as socially defining exercises, as interventions in the life of the country. In short Fellini, stands for a time when filmmaking mattered.  (Marcus, 2002 p3)

Peter Bondanella (2002) suggests in his slightly hagiographic introduction that "the very name Fellini has come to stand for the art film itself and for the kind of creative genius that produced this phenomenon, so crucial a part of the film culture of the 1960s and 1970s." Fellini's films represent says Bondanella :

...a series of complex chapters in the creation of a unique, private and personal world of poetic, lyrical, visual images. Fellini stands in complete contrast to the academy, for if his films represent any ideological stand, it is a courageous defense of the imagination as a valid category of knowing and understanding and a rejection of "group thought", political correctness, or sociological explanations of art in favour of the individual imagination and the creative personal act. (Bondanella, 2002 p 2)

Certainly Fellini has grasped the imaginations and attention of a far wider audience than most of the other Italian directors. This doesn't make Fellini any more or less of an auteur than other Italian directors such as Visconti, Pasolini or Rossellini. Bondanella's cry for a recognition of poetics in cinema is an important one and he is right in suggesting that contemporary academic criticism downplays the issue of aesthetics and indeed poetics, however, the world of criticism needs to keep all these balls in play. None of us exist outside of ideology as Eagleton has noted. That Fellini has undoubted emotional appeal and was able to  raise a budget to make highly personalised films itself requires an explanation. Certainly in an industry such as cinema the ability to continuously raise money is fundamental. Whilst the writer of poems needs relatively little money to produce a book of poems the films which Fellini went on to make were not cheap. Arguably Fellini was a beneficiary of the large amount of footloose investment money which came from Hollywood to Europe during the 1960s as Hollywood reconstructed itself. To a certain degree then these films were products of their time. It is hard to think of any director since this time that has been able to command such high budgets for less than mainstream products. Other directors of what can be considered as 'Art Cinema' such as Greenaway and Jarman certainly haven't had those budgets. 

Bondanella argues that Fellini's work is largely about an examination of his own dreamlife and is thus highly personalised:

Besides being a storyteller, Fellini was primarily a poet. He created his visual images primarily through an examination of his own dream life, and when his personal expression succeeded in tapping into a similar experience  in his audience, this linkage, this reception of a personal form of poetic communication  created a powerful emotional experience that is often unforgettable. (Bondanella, 2002 pp 5/6)

There is little doubt that Fellini's work has created far more international writing than any other Italian director as one can quickly see from the bibliographical pages in Bondanella's well know Italian Cinema (2003). Fellini's work was certainly very well known when I ran Italian film courses and doubtless his reputation attracted many to the courses. At an anecdotal level this certainly provides support for Bondanella's argument that there is an audience out there who are interested in a more poetic less narrative driven style of cinema. Nevertheless all texts can be subject to textual analysis of varying descriptions and individual entries on this blog will deal with this as they appear. At times Bondanella seems to think that Fellini is above critique as indicated in one of his footnotes complianing that a book on Fellini had inappropriately tried to encapsualte Fellini's work in ways that didn't suit the work. To talk of 'political correctness' as Bondanella does is also to align oneself with the right-wing ideology that invented the term as a denial of ideology in the first place. The reality is that Bondanella is anti-Marxist (now itself a pretty untrendy position in any case) apart from any other theoretical perspectives else which frequently comes out in his Italian Cinema history (2003). 

In an age when culture is increasingly industrialised the poetic and art can perhaps function as critiques or they can be idealistic hidey-holes. for those involved at the more industrial end of culture there is always likely to be a creative tension between the poetic and the strictly functional. In culture the latter would be a product which delivers entertainment effectively and functions to be supportive of the status quo rather than allowing any serious critique to develop. In other fields such as architecture creative designers such as Walter Gropius strove to develop a poetry of the industrial as can be seen in his 1914 Werkbund Pavilion and his later contributions to the development of the Bauhaus design school.

Werkbund Pavilion Cologne 1914

Above: Gropius & Meyer the Werkbund Pavilion Cologne 1914. an exercise in poeticising the industrial?

Fellini as Scriptwriter

Fellini began his career in cinema as a scriptwriter. Many of the well known neorealist films were scripted by more than one person often involving the director themselves. Fellini contributed to several of the scripts of of the classic neorealist cinema. These included Rossellini's seminal  Rome Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946) He also contributed to the scripts of the less well known Rossellini films Il miracolo / The Miracle (1948) Francesco, giullare de Dio / The Flowers of St Francis (1950). Fellini also scripted Senza Pieta / Without Pity (1948) for Alberto Lattuada  and Pietro Germi's Il cammino della speranza / The Path of Hope (1950).  This strong association with the core of Italian neorealist cinema was important for when he made his breakthough film as a director La Strada (1954) he was strongly accussed of being a 'traitor' to the ethic of neorealism, as of course were other filmmakers such as Visconti. 

Fellini as Director 

Fellini's first film as director was a shared one with Alberto Lattuada Luci del varietà / Variety Lights (1950) which followed the journey of a travelling theatre and performance group around the rural parts of Italy, and examined the desire for stardom amopngst its leading lights. In some ways it can be seen as a precursor to Fellini's ongoing concerns with film and media. Fellini followed these up with Lo sceicco bianco / The White Sheik (1952) and I Vitelloni (1953). His following film La Strada ( 1954) was his breakthrough film. It gained 'unprecedented international success' (Bondanella 2004). It received wide critical success including a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film (1957).   

It was to be La Dolce vita 1960 which was to firmly place him on the international map.  


  1. Voce della luna, La (1990)
  2. Intervista (1987)
  3. Ginger e Fred (1986)
  4. E la nave va (1983)
    ... aka And the Ship Sails On
  5. City of Women
  6. Prova d'orchestra (1978)
  7. Casanova di Federico Fellini, Il (1976)
  8. Amarcord (1973
  9. Roma (1972)
  10. Clowns, I (1971) (TV)
  11. Fellini - Satyricon (1969)
  12. Block-notes di un regista (1969) (TV)
  13. Histoires extraordinaires (1968) (segment "Toby Dammit")
  14. Giulietta degli spiriti (1965)
  15. 8½ (1963)
  16. Boccaccio '70 (1962) (segment "Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio")
  17. Dolce vita, La (1960)
  18. Notti di Cabiria, Le (1957
  19. Bidone, Il (1955)
  20. Strada, La (1954)
  21. Amore in città, L' (1953)
  22. Vitelloni, I (1953)
  23. Sceicco bianco, Lo (1952)
  24. Luci del varietà (1950)


Sight & Sound. Philip Kemp: Why Fellini?

Sight & Sound. Guido Bonsaver: Late Fellini

Bright Lights Interview with Frederico Fellini

Senses of Cinema Frederico Fellini Overview

Frederico Fellini 8 1/2. Malcolm The Guardian

La Dolce Vita. Philip French The Observer


Affron: 8 1/2. Rutgers University Press

Bondanella: La Strada. Rutgers University Press

Bondanella. The Films of Fredrico Fellini. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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