All 4 entries tagged Frederico Fellini
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January 01, 2009
La Strada 1954:Frederico Fellini
Gelsomina and Zampanò in the circus ring
1954 can in some ways be seen as a turning point in Italian cinema as a shift away from neorealism as a dominant aesthetic force amongst more independant film-makers had gone beyond its sell-by date. In many ways the idealised notion of what norealism was was in fact rarely met, with films such as Rome Open City relying upon melodrama and at times a mise en scene which owed something to German Expressionism, however, La Strada by Fellini and Senso by Visconti were releases that moved away from norealism in quite different directions. In terms of ideological approaches, trouble with the censors and a critical response which prioritised the less challenging La Strada over Senso at the Venice Film Festival. Marcus (1986) picks up on the analysis of the contemporary Marxist critic Aristarco who saw in Senso a development of neoralism into a historically based realism whilst by comparison La Strada reprsented a regression to prewar individualism and mysticism as well as becoming a quest for pure style placed above content. Whilst Aristarco may have been overly harsh and in danger of being reductionist I think that Senso is the more important film but it was politically a hot potato at the time.Certainly André Bazin stormed to Fellini's defence.
|At the opening of the film we see small children on a beach who have come to collect their elder sister Gelsomina taking her to met Zampanò. Zampanò is an itinerant 'artiste' with a strongman act. He has returned to give Gelsomina's mother 10,000 Lire for the right to take Gelsomina with him to act as his assistant. We learn that Zampano had already done the same with Rosa, Gelsomina's older sister but that she had 'died'. This assertion is never confirmed within the film. The deal is agreed and then the film which is effctively a road movie starts. The film is structured in a series of episodes which are largely discreet and there is no strong underlying linear narrative driven forward by ach episode This structure is therefore a good representation of the contingency which rules the lives of itinerant entertainers. Initially both Gelsomina and the audience are introduced to Zampanò's act which is a simple one consisting of binding his chest in a chain and breaking the link by expanding his chest. Gelsomina is introduced into what Zampanò needs doing to help him create a performance. Zampanò is taciturn and uncommunicative and makes Gelsomina very unhappy and she wants to return home. After several episodes including entertaining a wedding and witnessing a high wire act in a small city they join a circus on the outskirts of Rome. Here Gelsomina meets The Fool who tries to train her and also temt her away from Zampano. There is much emnity between The Fool and Zampanò which ends with Zampanò spending a night in jail. In the end The Fool persuades Gelsomina to stay with Zampanò by pointing out that she is important because she is the only person in the World to be able to put up with Zampanò. In later episode Zampanò comes across The Fool whose car has broken down. Zampanò hits the fool a couple of times but the Fool dies. After that Gelsomina suffers breakdown and Zampanò, who shows no remorse about the killing abandons her. The films cuts to a beach resort which turns out to be five years later. Zampanò learns that Gelsomina had been there and had died. Zampanò goes to a bar to drown his sorrows and eventually ends up on the beach in a foetal position clutching at sand in an echo of the Fool's death where he was clutching handfuls of grass.
Reading some current critical responses and analyses of La Strada has been rather surprising. To my mind some of it is very overblown and efffectively a post-hoc defence of the film's success. Some comments seem based upon assertion rather than being grounded. Peter Bondanella (2002) numbers amongst these critics who tend to exaggerate
The very fact that Gelsomina, Zampano and The Fool appear normally as stock commedia dell'arte characters, often obscuring their identities with makeup and clown accessories... (Bondanella 2002 p 58)
Well, this is something of an exaggration because for a lot of the film Zampano, for example, is in his everyday clothes. He is strongly associated with wearing an old flying jacket to keep warm on the motorbike/caravan. His corduroy trousers have a huge patch in the seat. Zampano manages to get a suit to fit him from the widow who was organising the wdding celebrations. Apart from his show cloths Zampano had nothing else. It is in this suit that we see him in the closing shots of the film getting drunk and ending up on the beach.
A little further on Bondanella discusss the "magical" appearance of some musicians whilst Gelsomina is sitting on the bank playing with some insects (Availabl in Youtube xtract above). In fact although it is a 'magical moment' there is a good underlying reason for the musicians being there as they are on their way to a festival. Bondanella's article focuses upon the notion of the deep poetic powers of Fellini's image making:
The most poetic quality of La Strada consists in its fablelike plot, which is constructed upon archetypal narrative elements that seem as old as time. (Bondanella 2002, p62)
Like great poetry, this film can support equally well a number of intrpretations; and perhaps part of Fellini's message is that a complicated, academic exegesis serves little purpose unless the spectator feels the emotional impact of the film's visuals. (ibid 63)
Whilst not in anyway trying to downplay the visual power of Fellini's work Bondanella is focused upon placing Fellini on a poetic pedestal as though this was not achieved by other filmmakers. Visconti's Ossessione was full of remarkable visual poetry and as for his later The Leopard this combined a high point of aesthetic achievement whilst not compromising on the politics. In contemporary terms on might wish to look at the extraordinary visual power of the work of Angelopoulos for example.
Part of the attraction of this film rests upon a fundamental binary opposite which is apparent between Gelsomina and Zampanò. It is a 'Beauty and the Beast' syndrome and the Chaplinesque characteristics of Giulietta Masina (Fellini's wife) as Gelsomina playing opposite American actor Anthony Quinn whose reputation was built on being a 'hard man' character was central to the appeal of this film. Surprisingly the critics haven't picked up on the mystical associations between Gelsomina being a little "fey" as the Scots would say and "nature" this really is such a cliché which Fellini gets away with and nowadays fminist criticism would be strongly commenting upon this. Although Marcus (1986) thinks Aristarco's accusations about the film's lapse towards cheap mysticism to be "wrongheaded" a reasonably objective account to my mind will find it hard to avoid this conclusion.
Maybe there is a Catholic consciousness presnt amongst some of the critics as Gelsomina becomes associated with a sort of Christlike character. The fact is that Gelsomina is a bit of a simpleton who is innocent and näif and thus ripe for exploitation. She is thoroughly exploited by someone who for the rest of th world can only be considered a loser. Gelsomina's shift from wanting to escape into a position of self-sacrifice to the point of total mental breakdown is a tragic event. Taken as a study in cruelty and neglect with a position of some sort of redemption in the final scene the film works well and certainly there are powerful images which underpin the film.
To some extent this film seems to have been constructed to appeal to a growing international Art House cinema as the de Laurentis production team was behind the film. The fact that two American actors were involved and post-dubbed shows that there was a clear eye to marketing from th outset. This paid off handsomely with the film doing well with overseas audiences.
Despite some of my scepticism regarding some of the academic critical positions this film is certainly very good and well worth seeing. It is important that it is recognised that this film is a move away from neorealism for there is no serious institutional criticism implied compared for example with Umberto D. Some of th parameters of neorelism are present such as grinding poverty and with a strong emphasis on outdoor shooting:
La Strada remains a film indifferent to the social and historical concerns of orthodox norealism. (Marcus 1986 p 150)
With the film focusing upon individual characters Bazin defended it by describing it as a form of "neorealism of the person" (in Marcus 1986 p 148). Marcus sees this attitude to the film as one which is holistic considering problems of existence beyond sociopolitical and historical determinants.
Certainly the film marked a distinctive break with neorealism and Fellini increasingly followed his own artistic projects from then on putting an increasing distance between himself and left-wing politics.
Bondanella, Peter. 2004. The Films of Frederico Fellini. Cambridge: Cambridge Univrsity Press
Marcus, Millicent.1986. Italian film in the Light of Neorealism. Princeton: Princeton University Press
December 31, 2008
I Vitelloni 1953: Frederico Fellini
It was nice to catch up with this film finally only yesterday. The first thing to strike me was clearly the autobiographical influences that were informing the film. On reading the comments by Bondanella (2001) and Liehm (1984) I was struck how far removed these critics were from the social reality which informed Fellini. There was much ruminating on the masks and Pirandellian charactristics of the nature of the central group of protagonists - I Vitelloni or "young bucks" who could equally be described as "the lads". For me the social ontology and reality of this film was palpable and there is a clear case for arguing that sometimes critics can overwork the intellectual cross-references at the expense of missing the core elements of the film.
The fact that film had an international appeal is hardly surprising. It would have appealed to males in particular who had dreams of becoming something but who lived in a petty constrained highly provincial environment. For anybody who has experienced sad little holiday resorts in winter when the visitors have gone away this film would have had powerful resonances. If Fellini is dealing in masks one mask he is is intent upon unmasking is that of world behind the resort. What happens to those left behind at the end of the season as the crueller seasonal winds kiss the make-belive bonhomie of the outgoing summer. The second aspect of social reality which the above critics really failed to highlight was a wider social critique of the way in which women were hugely exploited by these young men. Whether mothers, sisters or wives the women in the film were forever supporting the good-for-nothing young men. From my perspective at least Fellini was providing an implicit social critique of the Italian family structure.
Fellini & Rimini
Fellini had been brought up in the seaside resort of Rimini which he finally left in 1939 with ambitions to become a journalist at the age of 19. His past is strongly refrenced in both this film as well as Amercord which was made much later in 1974.Fellini struggled for several years spending time writing scripts for reviews and downmarket comedies and drawing charicatures and cartoons. Fellini was to meet Rossellini in 1944 becoming a very close collaborator working on scripts such as Open City, Paisan and several others. He also worked with other neorealist scriptwriters for directors such as Antonioni's Mill on the River Po. his involvement with the creative centre of artistic endeavour within the Italian film industry was central in helping him go beyond his provincial background whilst avoiding the more superficial aspects of commercialism within the big city.
Some critics have noted the weakness of "the plot" however this is clearly the film's central strength precisely because of the slice of life contingent nature of the group of "lads" / "slackers"/"wasters" or " I Vitelloni" who are the protagonists of the film. A synopsis can't do justice to the film because it can't describe the visual ambience which is core to the creation of meaning of the film.
Although there are five of them, there are two central characters who the film revolves around. Fausto is described through voiceover as the group's 'spiritual leader' and he appears slightly older than the rest. Moraldo is the youngest of the group and is clearly the person closest to Fellini's own life. Moraldo and Fausto are more closely linked because Fausto is forced to become Moraldo's brother-in-law at the beginning of the film. Fausto has got Sandra, Moraldo's sister pregnant and Fausto goes to live at Moraldo's house as he has no job or current prospects of his own. Fausto is forever trying to get other women into bed and is forever getting into trouble over it. It gets him sacked as a shop assistant in a shop selling religious icons, statues etc and he eventually persuade Moraldo to help him steal a statue in order to gain just "compensation" for sacking without notice. They try selling it to convents and monasteries but fail miserably. Eventually it is kept at the beach and of course discovered. Both get into trouble but Moraldo lies to Sandra about Fausto's amorous activities and he restored. Eventually Fausto goes too far and Sandra disappears from the house and the Vitelloni spend the day searching for her as Fausto finally comes to realise what is actually valuable in his pathetic little provincial life. Sandra has gone to Fausto's father and little sister. When they eventually find her Fausto's father takes a belt to Fausto and finally there is reconciliation.
Moraldo is always represented as being slightly on the outside of the group. He dislikes being placed in a morally ambivalent position of either betraying his sister or his peer group and he of all the group seems to recognise that the town holds no future for him as it constrains his future. He will bcome some sort of shopkeeper making money from summer tourists and settling down to have children and forgetting any larger ideas. Moraldo is frequently associated with the railway station which brings the summer visitors from the cities. In the end he takes the train for a new life and like Fellini himself escapes provincialism. It is a journey made by Julie Christie a few years later in Billy Liar whilst Billy Liar himself fails to make it. In this sense Fellini was well ahead of the game, which is perhaps yet to be recognised.
There are other episodes briefly focusing upon the other characters. Alberto sponges off his hard-working sister and was a little unfairly described by Liehm and then Bondanella as the most pathetic of the group. This is unecessarily judgemental and a pointless criticism. Leopoldo is the group's "intellectual" and is a wannabee playright who by the end we know isn't going to make it.
Episodes are centered around events in the town of which the carnival is the most important. Of course carnival is something which Fellini is strongly attracted to and these moments were clearly important in his development. But these events are interludes in which minor "trangressions" are temporarily allowed but these are chimeras around which the ontology of the everyday proceeds with monotonous regularity.
I thought the film insightful, poignant and funny. It was well supported with a good soundtrack from the ubiquitous Nino Rota. As a critique of the limitations and petty aspcts of provincial life the film worked well. It clearly played an important part in Fellini's own development and as far as I'm concerned it stands the test of time and comes as strongly recommended viewing although it is not a "masterpiece".
February 01, 2008
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.
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.
- Voce della luna, La (1990)
- Intervista (1987)
- Ginger e Fred (1986)
- E la nave va (1983)
... aka And the Ship Sails On
- City of Women
- Prova d'orchestra (1978)
- Casanova di Federico Fellini, Il (1976)
- Amarcord (1973
- Roma (1972)
- Clowns, I (1971) (TV)
- Fellini - Satyricon (1969)
- Block-notes di un regista (1969) (TV)
- Histoires extraordinaires (1968) (segment "Toby Dammit")
- Giulietta degli spiriti (1965)
- 8½ (1963)
- Boccaccio '70 (1962) (segment "Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio")
- Dolce vita, La (1960)
- Notti di Cabiria, Le (1957
- Bidone, Il (1955)
- Strada, La (1954)
- Amore in città, L' (1953)
- Vitelloni, I (1953)
- Sceicco bianco, Lo (1952)
- Luci del varietà (1950)
January 30, 2008
Italian Directors Hub Page
I have decided to open this page however currently most of the entries below will not be available for visitors. As part of the development plan director pages will be made available as soon as a Google search down to page 20 has been conducted and sites deemed useful entered. Filmographies will also need to be put in place. It has been decided to proceed like this as links embedded in the chronology of European Films page are being redirected to National director pages as they are developed. Apologies for any disappointments and inconveniences in the meantime. Provided it manages to service some needs then it seems to be worth keeping it 'as a work in progress'
Antonioni, Michelangelo (Now Open)
De Santis, Guiseppe (This page is open for a filmography / webliography / bibliography with film links to kinoeye reviews when possible)
Moretti Nanni (Currently weblinks available)
Risi, Dino (Now open)
Rossellini, Roberto (Now open for bibliography and weblinks. Main overview still under construction)
Taviani, Paolo & Vittorio
Visconti, Luchino (Currently available)