Fellini, Federico (Vol. 16)
Federico Fellini 1921–
Italian director, screenwriter, artist, and actor.
Fellini's films are an intense mixture of fantasy and reality. He often appears to be a naive bystander observing the carnival of life. His films are deeply personal; for example, his wife plays herself in Juliet of the Spirits, the story of their marriage. While many critics find his films imaginative and perceptive, others accuse him of egotism and self-indulgence. But even though the quality of his work is disputed from film to film, his exuberance is undeniable; he revels in the eccentric, the colorful, and the bizarre, but he does not mock the characters he depicts. Rather, he seeks to understand them.
Born in Rimini, Italy, Fellini moved to Florence at the age of seventeen. Already he had acquired traits that reappear in his work: a love of the sea and antipathy toward the Catholic hierarchy. In Florence, he worked as a street artist until he was offered a position in a vaudeville show. He became a gag writer, then progressed to scriptwriting. An assistantship with Roberto Rossellini on Open City exposed him to neorealism, the cinematic movement that used non-professional actors and worked on location, thus bringing about an effect of verism. Fellini's first directing effort, with Alberto Lattuada, was Variety Lights. Though critics deemed it a failure, its revenue enabled him to direct his first solo film, The White Sheik. Its strict adherence to neorealistic style gave little indication, however, of Fellini's creative prowess.
I Vitelloni is regarded as a transitional work that retains various neorealistic elements of The White Sheik while foreshadowing the broader thematic aspects of La Strada, the film which brought Fellini international renown. Fellini used a carnival metaphor in La Strada for his theme, a lonely person's search for love. Some view it as Fellini's first acknowledgement of Christian belief, seeing La Strada's structure as a pilgrimage. Others interpret it in more secular terms. In their opinion, Fellini is merely sympathetic towards all humankind.
La Dolce Vita caused an uproar in Italy due to its condemnation of Rome's upper class. Some critics misunderstood its mockery and felt Fellini was glorifying, rather than lampooning Roman society and its morals. Not surprisingly, it most upset the very people it attacked.
8 1/2 marks a new stylistic development and is considered his most poetic film. Though the story of a filmmaker, 8 1/2 is actually the story of a man in the process of finding himself artistically and personally. It, too, is subject to more complex interpretations that examine Fellini's concern with aging and religious ambivalence.
The films following 8 1/2 have been more intimate, interspersed with fantasy and reality. Some, such as Satyricon, are blatantly flamboyant, and it is in this film that his obsession with the grotesque and bizarre is most evident. His most recent film, Orchestra Rehearsal, received mixed critical reviews due to his controversial treatment of an orchestra rehearsal as a metaphor for the cyclical nature of life.
Although many critics have accused Fellini of immorality and conceit, his uniquely personal means of depicting life has resulted in innovative cinematic expression. Indeed, flaws are considered part of his personal statement. Fellini brushes aside accusations of egotism with "If I made a movie about a filet of sole, it would be about me." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68.)
The first film of Federico Fellini, a highly touted young Italian director, to be shown publicly in these parts is a 4-year-old item called "The White Sheik."… In fairness to Signor Fellini, we will not speculate on his talents until we see a few more of his films.
For the truth is that this little item, which significantly has to do with the naive and farcical adventures of a hick honeymoon couple in Rome, is surprisingly broad and ingenuous, in the manner of early silent comedies. And, except for a few clever touches, it is devoid of the robust fun of the antique form….
We won't count this against Signor Fellini. This one was just a practice swing.
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In its internal consistency, La Strada is more than a remarkable example of personal style. We may then ask: What is Fellini's image of the world we live in, his conception of man and the ethic he advances? Men are separated by astral distances and do not realize their unity in the human condition. Obstinately and gropingly they quest for understanding and belonging: everyone needs someone….
Undeniably, man's highest quest is to give meaning to his existence in the world. But neither pure matter (here, a pebble) nor man as a pure existent have being, or else this quest, expressed through man's conscious action, would be superfluous. In Fellini's Pantheism, however, the meaning of things and...
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Avoiding the studied poetic imagery of [La Strada], Vitelloni is at once a subtler and a more perceptive work. The protagonists, no longer alienated from the conventions of civilization, are now isolated within the social organism. Existing under the watchful observation of family and friends, these vitelloni, too young to have fought in the war but old enough to have suffered its consequences, are trapped in a wasteland of their own devising.
The young wastrels chosen to represent the modern generation in Vitelloni are carefully differentiated as illustrations of Fellini's ambitious theme…. These young men, their thinking molded erratically by Hemingway, Nietzsche, and the...
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By casting the diminutive, clown-visaged, essentially sexless Giulietta Masina as his prostitute [in Le Notti di Cabiria], Fellini has automatically divorced himself from the currently fashionable exploitation of lurid themes. His treatment is neither sensual nor sentimental. By depicting Cabiria's spirited recovery from her ludicrous betrayal, Fellini indicates his concern with the indestructibility of his heroine, and by implication, of the human spirit generally. We sense that Cabiria's dunking in the stream is not her first setback, and Fellini quickly insures that it shall not be her last. (p. 19)
God enters Cabiria's life in the guise of a miracle-seeking procession to a shrine of the...
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La Dolce Vita amazes indeed the very faculty of eyes and ears. Eyes and ears are not just the targets, though, but recurring symbols for what author-director Fellini has on his mind. (p. 425)
The music of the film parodies itself, and the point of Fellini's images of sound seems to be that they fail. It was, of all people, Robinson Crusoe (though he was surely not the first) who pointed out that sound and language are the means of which human beings can achieve more than an animal relation with each other. Sound and language in La Dolce Vita, however, seem always to fail to create such a relationship. (p. 426)
La Dolce Vita seems more tied to reality than...
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Fellini's La Dolce Vita is a great bas-relief of the day-dreams and the ideals of an age—the rootless hedonism, the sensationalised religion, the spiritual nostalgias and an erotism which is blatant and obsessive because it is rootless….
If ever erotism and social context were inseparable, it is in La Dolce Vita. The film itself is massive yet disjointed, its structure recalls the tumbled slabs of a Roman temple. One feels Fellini chose the images that he fancied; because he is a poet, and, more important, a poet who does not disdain to use images which have common currency, these images are solid and relevant. Still, their import has to be felt rather than restricted by a literal...
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In his art Fellini reflects an Italy facing harsh and complicated realities yet fortified with the traditional wisdom of the centuries. He offers an image of hope, an image of a magic land which has rejuvenated itself throughout history more than any in the world….
Though his vision includes sin, Fellini is too Christian for despair, too convinced, even in the face of the worst human perversity, that God is love and cares for us through those ministering angels which find their way into every Fellini film….
Significantly, Fellini reflects the Italian character in his view of poverty: the absolute lack of a future without any corresponding despair seems alien to the Anglo-Saxon...
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Like Baroque art, of which it is a belated golden ray, "8 1/2" is complicated but not obscure. It is more Handel than Beethoven—objective and classical in spirit as against the romantic subjectivism we are accustomed to. It's all there, right on the surface, like a Veronese or a Tiepolo….
[In] "8 1/2" Fellini borrows from everybody, just like Shakespeare. Borrowing on this scale is creative: "8 1/2" is an epitome of the history of the art. His borrowings are also creative because they are returned with his fingerprints all over them. The childhood episodes are Bergmanesque chiaroscuro, as the great scene on the beach when La Saraghina dances for the schoolboys, which echoes, right down to the...
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What we are seeing [in Il Bidone] is Fellini in a kind of Stylistic transition, and a search, too, for an adequate expression of the director's highly personalized vision of, as he has said, "the terrible difficulty people have in talking to each other—the old problem of communication, the desperate anguish to be with, the desire to have a real, authentic relationship with another person." Il Bidone … is the second part of what Fellini has called "my trilogy of solitude" and the religious theme which so permeates all his work is easy to trace through these three films: in La Strada, the anguish of Zampano on the dark beach; Augusto's ritual death on the hillside in Il Bidone; and...
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[Luci del Varieta is the first real Fellini film.] It is so, obviously, in the subject-matter: the faded underside of show-business, the gaudy, tawdry, improvised world of one-night stands and not knowing where the next meal is coming from. Here Fellini is speaking from his own experience of people he has known…. What makes it a film which no one but Fellini could have invented (both conceived, that is, and put on the screen) may perhaps best be illustrated not by generalities but by studying two particular sequences: the party at the castle and the wanderings of Kecco, the comedian-manager, after he leaves his new star Liliane one night in the city. Each is developed according to a ravelling and unravelling...
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[Juliet of the Spirits] is specious and hollow, in addition to being very boring; and its failures bring into focus what has been bothering me about Fellini's more celebrated successes: they are indebted less to true perception than to carnival showmanship….
In La Dolce Vita Fellini revealed himself to be deeply attracted by the very things he was pretending to ridicule or expose (upper-class orgies, intellectual parties, Catholic ritual and pageantry, Anika Ekberg's chest); and in "8 1/2" he dropped the mask of impersonality entirely, initiating some superficial explorations of the unconscious which, for all their disarming self-irony and technical dazzle, seemed to me little more...
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Fellini's imagination is inexhaustible. He rarely uses scripts, but follows his own inspiration from moment to moment to decide what sequence to adopt, working out the details, via facendo, as he goes along.
What emerges is the full and varied complexity of modern life. The existential noia, the lethargy of man face to face with his reconstituted tabula rasa, is but a single moment, a small corner of that life. Fellini does not dissipate his artistic energies in the desperate task of trying to extract meaning out of a meaningless existence. The existential theme is there, not as a philosophical axiom, but as a subtle epiphany which illuminates the vast canvas at key moments. The...
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[Taken by themselves the] reels of dazzling visual images [in Giulietta degli Spiriti] may well come to seem gratuitous and even tiresome. A terribly earnest and pathetically ingenuous wife makes her psychological journey through facts and hallucinations in sequences of astonishing exoticism. The scenes are often not so much in color as coloristic, and the settings, both actual and hallucinated—with no particularly insistent demarcation—are not so much extravagant as extravaganza-ed. Virtually every shot has a contrived air, to the spent and twitching point of mannerism. Hence the frequent characterization of the film as "baroque." But the dialogue, precisely by being just as "frou-frou," just as...
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Go to see Spirits of the Dead about an hour after it begins. It's a three-part film—three Poe horror stories made by three different directors. The first two are silly bores, by the justly disregarded Roger Vadim and the greatly overrated Louis Malle. The third is by Federico Fellini. And his horror story is joyous.
Joyous, not because Fellini has no sense of the macabre—after all, his story ends with decapitation—but because he revels in making films and because his darting invention never stops playing around and through the picture, so that even this film of terror plunges us into a sort of Satanic champagne. Fellini's career easily divides into two periods: the first, in which his...
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The idea that sticks out in every direction from "Fellini Satyricon" is that man without a belief in God is a lecherous beast. I think it's a really bad movie—a terrible movie—but Fellini has such intuitive rapport with the superstitious child in the adult viewer that I imagine it will be a considerable success…. Fellini is not a sanctimonious manipulator …; he makes fantasy extravaganzas out of tabloid sensationalism, but he appears to do it from emotional conviction, or, perhaps more exactly, from a master entertainer's feeling for the daydreams of the audience. He seems to draw upon something in himself that many people respond to as being profound, possibly because it has been long buried in them. When he...
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Fellini's life has been spent in the service of both reality and nonreality, largely because he knows, as one of the few film masters who also understand theatricality, that theater without artifice is a fake ideal and a naïf's idea of truth.
His movie dream of Petronius [Fellini Satyricon] is another work of truth and artifice…. [Fellini Satyricon] is elegiac, joyless, resigned. There are many scenes of revel and of sex in it; there is very little gusto.
Another burden from which Fellini has to be freed is our expectation of method. He has taught us to expect lightning play in his editing, swift referential humor and counterpoint, drama and dialectic by deft...
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[Satyricon] starts where Giulietta degli Spiriti left off, moving wholly into a world of dreams and visions, bigger and more bizarre even than the highly-coloured fantasies of Giulietta in full flight. The result should be impossible, utterly indigestible, but paradoxically it is not: one adjusts rapidly to accepting the extreme ornateness of the action (what is going on in front of the camera much more than how the camera records it) as a sort of norm, so that effects which even in Giulietta would have drawn attention to themselves as extraordinary and exceptional here seem hardly more remarkable in themselves than a dead metaphor in everyday speech….
Charm and grace are not...
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La Dolce Vita is not so much long as redundant. Scene duplicates scene; and scene after scene is protracted long after its every point has been unmistakably made. The trouble would seem to be that the film is conceived on a grand scale, but imagined only within rather narrow limitations. Fellini almost invariably extends all his scenes beyond every interest save the visual…. [A] negative compensation in all of this is in the proof it offers that the film is definitely more than a visual medium. (pp. 39-40)
There is nothing more beautiful or more terrible in La Dolce Vita than what is suggested by, and contained by implication in, its opening. It is a metaphor...
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Urban chaos is used as spectacle in Fellini's Roma, an ambivalent celebration of decay. The opulent rotting city of the film is indeed his own, with extras painted up as voracious citizens, and mock excavations, and a high-camp ecclesiastical fashion show that is also meant to be some sort of glittering, satirical comment on the old aristocracy, though it's hard to know exactly what the point is. Roma is an imperial gesture at documentary—a document about the city of Fellini's imagination, an autobiographical fantasy in which he plays ringmaster to the Roman circus…. The usual critical encomium "No one but Fellini could have made this movie" is certainly appropriate…. [Who] but Fellini would...
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'Fellini's Roma' is perhaps three-quarters Fellini and one quarter Rome; a very good proportion for a movie. Although an appreciation of the city informs every part of the movie, Rome is not so much the subject as the occasion for a film that is not quite fiction and surely not fact, but rather the celebration of an imaginative collaboration full of love and awe, suspicion, admiration, exasperation and a measure of well qualified respect. It is also, for me, the most enjoyable Fellini in a dozen years, the most surprising, the most exuberant, the most beautiful, the most extravagantly theatrical…. The director's mind, whether you like it or not, is one of the most important phenomena of contemporary filmmaking and...
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[Fellini's Roma is] another quasi-documentary: of what the city meant to him as a provincial youth, how it seemed when he arrived, what it seems to him today.
Not a bad commission for a picture, and anyone who has never seen a Fellini film might be struck by the fertility and easy skill of this one. Unfortunately not many of us have the requisite ignorance of Fellini. We keep seeing remakes here of what he has done before. The scenes of youthful longing are varied only slightly from those in The Clowns, which even then were not as good as in I Vitelloni. The burst of outdoor communal eating in Rome is only a domesticated modern version of the feasts in Satyricon. Fellini's...
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[The traffic sequence in Roma] is one of those ever-more-rare sequences in Fellini's work which treat a simple, daily matter in an abstracted, symbolic way, but still so beguilingly realistic as to become prototypes of the matter portrayed.
This ability to make one see that which one should really have seen all along but somehow hasn't seen, has been Fellini's major force. Because of it, his films have a haunting quality between realism and stylization even when they are (or rather, were) about everyday things….
[The mixture of reality and fantasy] is still the thing Fellini does best. In fact, sometimes the suspicion grows that he may be on the road to losing the capacity...
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Fellini is totally autobiographical but unproblematic: like those Renaissance painters who filled the walls and ceilings of innumerable villas and palaces with exuberant portraits of their mistresses and friends, barely disguised as figures of classical or biblical allegory.
Such reflections are brought to the fore by Fellini's latest film, Roma, which presents a dual portrait of the city and the cinéaste. The confrontation of these two runs as a unifying thread throughout the film. All great baroque art is a cry of defiance against death, and Rome, seen as a dying city eaten away from within, provokes Fellini to some of the most dazzling sequences of his career. The opening is...
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Federico Fellini, discussing his film I Clowns in the French periodical L'Arc, attributes the disappearance of the clown to the sense of absurdity and disorder which pervades modern life. "The clown," he says, "was always the caricature of a well-established, ordered, peaceful society. But today all is temporary, disordered, grotesque. Who can still laugh at clowns? Hippies, politicians, the man in the street, all the world plays the clown, now."
Fellini's explanation of the disappearance of clowns is appealing in its simplicity and stimulating in its suggestiveness, but it is hardly an adequate accounting for either the phenomenon of clowns or for the film which his remarks intend to...
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In another age Fellini would have been a Botticelli or a Bosch rather than a Leonardo. His vision is comic and surreal rather than realist. (p. 71)
Fellini is a thoroughly filmic artist. He is often put down as being a romantic. But, as with objective and subjective, the description is irrelevant. (p. 73)
Fellini's inability to stick to a predetermined course, his constant improvisation, his delight in coincidence is no more irrational than their opposites. It is irrational only if rationality is equated with the rules of logic the rationalists invented. Fellini's mind is one of the most alert and perceptive of the twentieth century—that he will often start a film or a scene with...
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Compared with [Fellini's] other recent films, Amarcord is simple and classic to the point of self-denial. It resolves itself into a succession of scenes from provincial life, strung loosely round the experiences of Bobo, the representative of Fellini in the film, during the summer of 1935, aged about 15-16. In a sense, the film consists of nothing but set-pieces, but hardly anything is played up to the pitch of frenzy which usually seizes a Fellini film somewhere along the way. This seems to be very much Fellini playing it cool, toning down the extravagances, trying, heaven help us, to make a tasteful film. (p. 244)
But who really wants a tasteful, restrained Fellini? Inevitably, the bits of...
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8 1/2 demonstrated how a film could be about a temperament: the events it dealt with were interior events, and its most important episodes happened outside time, in fantasy, dream and vision. In 8 1/2, Fellini renounced the political or social emphasis of neo-realism, and the new relation between the artist and the outer world that resulted has since become fundamental to much Italian cinema. Guido, groping blindly from within toward his millennial vision, is the blueprint for a new kind of film director, whose ideology originates not in any analysis of society, but in the artist's own constitution.
Everyone would perhaps agree that each one of us has a fundamental and recurrent...
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[The] worst thing about "Amarcord" and its immediate predecessors is that the chief joke is human ugliness. Whether it is obese women displaying their behinds on bicycles, a ridiculous-looking uncle (another one) making himself more obviously repugnant by sporting a hairnet, a female Goliath using her naked bosom as a weapon, a family dinner scene in which almost all the faces, even those of the youngsters, are profoundly unprepossessing,… the joke is always on humanity, and almost always on the easiest, cheapest, and, finally, most witless level.
There is no denying that witty satire thrives on savaging mankind, but where in "Amarcord" is there witty satire? Alternatively, where is compassion?...
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Amarcord is a haunting, funny, beautiful work that makes most other recent movies, with the exception of Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, look as drab as winter fields without snow….
[The film] is his memory of a year in the life of Rimini, or a town much like it, and for Fellini memory has a lot in common with dream. It needn't be what literally happened but what he wanted to believe, or perhaps what time has forced him to believe. (p. 264)
Amarcord has the circus's pace, drive, good spirits, fascination with costume and masquerade (sometimes grotesque), and abundance of events. The characters tumble onto the screen one after another, as if there...
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In essence, the whole of Fellini can be found in [the first] sequence from La Strada [which ends with Gelsomina following the circus band after leaving Zampano]. His thematic centre is here. To begin with, reinforced by the title itself, there is the sense of life as a journey, as a constant tearing away from things known and a plunging into the unfamiliar. Unlike Bergman, however, whose allegoric wanderings are generally from place to place … in Fellini, there is seldom any sense of direction or eventual goal. The form of his films tends to be circular, the characters usually ending where they began.
This restlessness of movement can work in different ways. Occasionally, as with the nuns in...
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Fellini's avowed purpose in Amarcord is very straightforward: "I simply wanted to create a portrait of a little Northern Italian town for a couple of hours. A town with its fantasy, its cynicism, its superstitions, its confusions, its fetes, and the passing of seasons." The film, however, is much more complex than a simple reverie or unvarnished history. No one remembers quite like Fellini, as we all know, so the film is really a quite personal and idiosyncratic vision of social history.
Fellini's loving portrait of his little town lacks a unifying plot; Amarcord is an impressionist mood piece that generally outlines the seasons of the year and the stages in life. There are births and...
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Amarcord may be the director's warmest, most subdued film (who goes to Fellini for warmth and good nature?), but it is also his safest. I miss the grand flourishes, the master showmanship, the epic heightening, that I've come to expect from Fellini. Amarcord lacks the vigor and drive, the joyous high spirits and sense of release that have been for me the chief pleasures of Fellini's work….
Amarcord is a trimming away, a paring down, rather than a return to the style of his earliest films…. Fellini has always shown impatience with strict realism. Rather than objectively recording the surfaces of Italian life, he always worked from personal predilections that hardened into...
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What we see [in Amarcord] is not a year from the lives of several citizens of Rimini during the Fascist period, but Fellini's poetically stylized remembrance of things past. Like Proust, Fellini organizes his experiences subjectively, as in a dream, where "insignificant" details loom overwhelmingly, and "important" facts are either ignored, or casually noted then cast aside as emotionally irrelevant…. In keeping with the impure nature of the film, Fellini the documentarist fuses with Fellini the lyrical poet….
Like many of the director's later films, Amarcord is unified by a dense substructure of leitmotifs. Perhaps the most obvious of these are seasonal. The film opens and closes...
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Time and again I have written that after 8 1/2, a deeply flawed but suggestive satire and, in a scene or two, even affecting film, Federico Fellini was a burnt-out case. There were signs of decline even before that, but few major film-makers have, after two or three great films and as many estimable ones, gone on to a series of abominations comparable to what Fellini has spewed out since 8 1/2. This, for me, includes even his one subsequent success, Amarcord, which I found a gross, witless, ham-fisted rehash of earlier Fellini movies, especially the incomparable I Vittelloni. Whoever puts these two films side by side without perceiving the later work as a lumpish travesty of the earlier is,...
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Federico Fellini has been given a blank check by his American admirers ever since 8 1/2 in 1962. Now, finally, in 1977 Fellini's Casanova is being returned for lack of fun(ds)…. A joyless, sexless, often pointless caricature of Casanova is hardly the current notion of making whoopee, and a running time of two hours and 45 minutes makes this puritanical pill even harder to swallow….
[In] the desperate world of filmmaking every artist must double as a con man, and Fellini has made fewer compromises with his personal vision than most of his contemporaries have. That may be the problem: He has made so few compromises that he has virtually ceased to communicate. For more than a decade he...
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If we were to single out one quality that distinguishes Fellini's career-long imaginative evolution, it would be the drive for individuation, the search for ever more authentic ways of rendering growth in his world. Even his early movies—films of increasing alienation—reveal growing pressure for individuation within his imagination and his characters. (His characters individuate themselves from, rather than through, their world; hence their ultimate alienation.) And as Fellini's imagination refines its capacity to create unique and singular creatures, it also evolves beyond stories of individuation-through-alienation to stories of individuation-through-integration: the stories of unitive...
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[Can] one ever have too much of Federico Fellini's special brand of excess? The maestro, after one of his customary long silences, has come out with all cameras firing….
[For his film Provo d'orchestra] Fellini had the majestically simple idea of using a rehearsing orchestra as a symbol of social order and hierarchy. And of their fragility. No sooner does discipline break down in the orchestra—when its members stage a sudden, headstrong rebellion against their autocratic conductor—than Heaven itself seems to thunder in anger by pulling down the walls of the ancient Italian church in which they are rehearsing. Order is restored amid the dust and debris, but is it the same as before? The...
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Federico Fellini, whose habit it is to offend the sensibilities of his fellow Italians, is at it again in a film with the precisely accurate title, Orchestra Rehearsal, and an explanatory subtitle, "The Decline of the West in C# Major." Beginning with La Dolce Vita, Fellini has made a series of films dealing with moral and social decadence; here he turns allegorically to political chaos and violence. (p. 221)
The message is clear enough, if perhaps a little simplistic: shape up, do your jobs, show some responsibility toward the society of which you are a part—in short, discipline yourselves, for if you don't, someone will come along to discipline you. In the present Italian context,...
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For the first few minutes of Orchestra Rehearsal it is as if the early, good Fellini had miraculously risen from the ashes of his self-indulgent, self-parodying, overblown and vacuous later works. A decrepit music copyist sets the scene for a symphonic rehearsal in a trecento oratory where several buried popes and bishops seem somehow to make the acoustics perfect, and where a TV crew is about to film the rehearsal. The atmosphere is vintage Fellini: the old fellow, an amateur actor and typical Fellinian oddball, is comfortably crotchety and eccentrically sensible; the oratory looks austerely authentic….
The films's interest … dies quickly, because the point—the contrast between an...
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Fellini, Federico (Vol. 85)
Federico Fellini 1920–1993
Italian filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, and cartoonist.
The following entry presents an overview of Fellini's life and career from 1976 through 1994. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 16.
Considered one of the most influential and original filmmakers of his generation, Fellini was acclaimed for his use of surreal, often grotesque imagery and for developing a fragmentary, nonlinear narrative style. Expanding on the techniques and methods of such neorealist directors as Roberto Rossellini and Alberto Lattuada, Fellini developed an unorthodox approach to filmmaking, often using nonprofessional actors and allowing his screenplays to evolve and change during the filming process. Peter B. Flint commented: "His style evolved from neo-realism to fanciful neo-realism to surrealism, in which he discarded narrative story lines for free-flowing, freewheeling memoirs."
Fellini was born in Rimini, Italy. He attended Catholic boarding schools during his youth, where he exhibited a flair for drawing. While in his teens, he left Rimini for Florence, where he worked as a proofreader and cartoonist before enrolling in law school at the University of Rome. He did not attend classes, however, and instead worked as a cartoonist and short story writer for the satirical publication Marc' Aurelio. In the late 1930s he travelled throughout Italy with a vaudeville troupe, an experience he later described as a formative part of his artistic development. He then returned to Rome where, after World War II, he and several friends opened an arcade called the Funny Face Shop. It was at this time that he met Rossellini, who initiated Fellini's development as a director. Fellini worked on Rossellini's 1945 film Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City), and made his directorial debut in 1950 with Luci del varietà (Variety Lights). Throughout his career, Fellini forged highly successful collaborative relationships, most notably with writers Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli; composer Nino Rota; and actors Marcello Mastroianni and Giulietta Masina, his wife. Fellini's numerous European and American film awards include four Oscars and a 1993 Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Fellini's early films reveal the influence of Italian neorealism—which typically emphasized social themes and employed documentary-like filming methods—and his collaborations with Rossellini and Lattuada. Notable among his early works is La strada (1954), a "poetic tragedy" dealing with the suffering and social disruption of postwar Italy that foreshadows his career-long fascination with the Italian people and landscape. In subsequent films Fellini continued to broaden the scope of neorealism to include autobiographical and subjective elements, often finding his visual metaphors in the flamboyant and decadent images of circuses, carnivals, parades, and, later, television. La dolce vita (1960), a controversial portrait of modern Rome's hedonistic cafe society, is in many ways the apotheosis of Fellini's fascination with these aspects of life, and the film established Fellini as a popular international figure. Otto e mezzo (1963; 8 1/2), a semi-autobiographical work depicting a director who cannot determine the subject of the film he is making, is considered Fellini's masterpiece as well as a landmark film that expanded the possibilities for personal expression in the cinema; the title signifies that Fellini considered this his "eighth and a half" film. With such later works as Ginger e Fred (1986; Ginger and Fred) and Federico Fellini's intervista (1987), Fellini adopted an introspective and nostalgic tone, frequently lamenting the commercialism and fragmentation that pervades modern twentieth-century society.
Some critics have observed that Fellini's reputation peaked during the mid-1960s with 8 1/2, which, for many, marked the artistic culmination of a series of progressively original and controversial works. Subsequent films, particularly those following Amarcord (1976), were frequently dismissed by reviewers as redundant, simplistic, or excessively flamboyant. Richard A. Blake observed: "With each new film, the images became more grotesque, the action more surreal and the story lines more insignificant. As critics became impatient with this development, ever more frequently the new films bore the brand 'self-indulgent.'" Some commentators have recently explained the rise and fall of Fellini's critical reputation by pointing to the popularity of several movements during the 1960s—including auteurism, high modernism, and romantic individualism—which viewed film as a medium best understood as the purely individual expression of a director's vision. Frank Burke commented: "Just as Fellini's international recognition corresponded with the rise of auteurism and the European art film movement, his decline has paralleled theirs." Despite the lack of critical consensus regarding the proper interpretation of his films, Fellini is widely considered a pioneering artist whose charismatic and distinctly personal style influenced an entire generation of filmmakers.
†Luci del varietà [Variety Lights] [with Ennio Flaiano, Alberto Lattuada, and Tullio Pinelli] (film) 1950
Lo sceicco bianco [The White Sheik] [with Flaiano and Pinelli] (film) 1952
‡"Un'agenzia matrimoniale" [A Matrimonial Agency] [with Pinelli] (film) 1953
I vitelloni [The Young and the Passionate] [with Flaiano and Pinelli] (film) 1953
La strada [with Flaiano and Pinelli] (film) 1954
Il bidone [with Flaiano and Pinelli] (film) 1956
Le notti di Cabiria [The Nights of Cabiria] [with Flaiano and Pinelli] (film) 1957
La dolce vita [with Flaiano, Pinelli, and Pier Paolo Pasolini] (film) 1960
§"Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio" [The Temptations of Doctor Antonio] [with Flaiano, Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, and Goffredo Parise] (film) 1962
Otto e mezzo [8 1/2] [with Flaiano, Pinelli, and Rondi] (film) 1963
Giulietta degli spiriti [Juliet of the Spirits] [with Flaiano, Pinelli, and Rondi] (film) 1965
¦"Toby Dammit" [with Bernardino Zapponi and Clement Biddle Wood] (film) 1968
Block-notes di un regista [Fellini: A Director's Notebook] (film) 1969
Satyricon [Fellini Satyricon] [with Zapponi and Rondi] (film) 1969
I clowns [The Clowns] [with Zapponi] (film) 1970
Roma [Fellini Roma] [with Zapponi] (film) 1972
Amarcord [with Tonino Guerra] (film) 1976
Il Casanova di Federico Fellini [Casanova] [with Zapponi] (film) 1976
Prova d'orchestra [Orchestra Rehearsal] [with Rondi] (film) 1979
La città delle donne [City of Women] [with Zapponi and Rondi] (film) 1980
E la nave va [And the Ship Sails On] [with Guerra] (film) 1984
Ginger e Fred [Ginger and Fred] [with Guerra and Pinelli] (film) 1986
Federico Fellini's intervista [with Gianfranco Angelucci] (film) 1987
La voce della luna [Voices of the Moon] (film) 1990
∗All of the films listed here were directed by Fellini (with the one noted exception). He also collaborated significantly on the screenplays and/or direction of a number of films by Roberto Rossellini and Alberto Lattuada. The Rossellini films include Roma, città aperta (1945; Rome, Open City), Paisà (1946; Paisan), "Il miracolo" (1948; The Miracle), Francesco, giullare di dio (1949; Flowers of St. Francis), and Europa '51 (1952). The Lattuada films include Il delitto di Giovanni Episcopo (1947; The Crime of Giovanni Episcopo, also released as Flesh Will Surrender), Senza pietà (1948; Without Pity), and Il mulino del Po (1948; The Mill on the Po).
†Lattuada assisted in the direction of this film.
‡Episode IV of L'amore in città, produced by Cesare Zavattini.
§Part II of the four-part film Boccaccio '70.
¦Episode III of Tre passi nel delirio, loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe short story "Never Bet the Devil Your Head."
SOURCE: "The Artist on His Art," in Fellini: The Artist, revised edition, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. Inc., 1985, pp. 25-34.
[Murray is an American film critic, drama critic, and educator. In the following chapter from the enlarged edition of his critical study Fellini: The Artist, originally published in 1976, he discusses visual elements, the concept of neorealism, major themes, and notable stylistic influences in relation to Fellini's career and works.]
I have no vocation for theories. I detest the world of labels, the world that confuses the label with the thing labeled.
Fellini does not espouse a theory of film. Indeed, as the quotation above makes clear, he has little respect for what he conceives to be the emasculating operations of the intellect. "I am not a cerebral artist," Eileen Hughes quotes him as saying. Fellini views the technique used in a picture as a rational process (the how), but he regards the inspiration behind that process as irrational (the why). An artist cannot wholly explain what his art means; moreover, if he attempts to do so, he destroys what is vital in the work. Hence Fellini has an antipathy for criticism: "Why reevaluate something that has moved you, water it down, control it, kill it?"
Although Fellini rarely utters a remark which might be construed as a generalization on the subject of film art, and although he normally resists offering explanations on the score of why he did such and such in a particular movie, he has been extremely voluble on how he makes a film.
Because cinema is basically a pictorial medium, Fellini believes that a director must be curious about what he calls "the multiple aspects of reality." Working with Rossellini,… taught Fellini that pictures are more expressive than dialogue on the screen. "I believe I have the internal rhythm of the sequences in mind well before shooting begins," he informed Tullio Kezich; however, he added: "If I find that a scene assumes a significance because the camera has started rolling around a glass and goes on to the discovery of all the rest, I adjust my way of shooting to the discovery I have made." Fellini denies that he chooses deliberately to use certain individuals or places for visually symbolic purposes. "Things happen," he informed Gideon Bachmann. "If they happen well, they convey my meaning." The Italian director would agree with the American critic James Agee that "there is only one rule for movies," namely, "that the film interest the eyes, and do its job through the eyes"; and that symbols should "bloom from and exalt reality, not be imposed on and denature reality."
According to Fellini, a black and white film allows the viewer a more imaginative engagement with the characters and story than a color film because viewers tend to project onto the screen the colors they desire. Nonetheless, aside from the fact that most spectators prefer color, and that almost all films today are in color in order to meet audience expectations, the color picture can make a positive aesthetic contribution to screen art. To do so, however, color must be an integral feature of the picture; color must be born with the film in the film-maker's imagination; color should not be a redundant duplication of reality but a vehicle for artistic values. Naturally, a color film is harder to make than one in black and white. As Fellini put it to Pierre Kast: "cinema is movement, color immobility; to try to blend these two artistic expressions is a desperate ambition, like wanting to breathe under water." Lighting is the secret to bringing out the distinctive qualities of a face or a landscape. Yet once the director calls for the camera to move, the light changes. Although the cameraman shot a green room, the screen later shows a rose room. Of the thirteen feature-length films Fellini has made, five—his last five—have been in color.
"Film is only images," Fellini claims. "You can put in whatever sound you want later and change and improve it." In most instances, the actors we see on the screen in a Fellini picture are not the sources of the voices we hear on the sound track. Fellini contends that it is rare to find an actor whose voice remains as true to the artist's conception as his face; consequently, he feels compelled to dub his pictures. In spite of the fact that Fellini believes (or pretends to believe) that the image is all in film, he works carefully on the dubbing, music, and other sounds, often running a scene one or even two hundred times in order to achieve precisely the effect he wants. The experienced film-maker, Fellini maintains, learns to alternate sound and silence in an expressive way. Undoubtedly, film is a combination of sight and sound and silence—though of the three elements, it is true, sight remains by far the most important.
"I cannot make a picture without knowing exactly who wears this shirt, that tie, a moustache," Fellini told Tom Burke. "I must know intimately everything I put in a shot." Yet Fellini is no partisan of the documentary approach. For to him, the imaginative world is in no way inferior to the phenomenological world; indeed, if a choice had to be made between imagination and actual events, he would even argue that his filmic transformations of the world "out there" possess more truth value than the empirical domain. Fellini is well aware that art and life are not identical; he also knows that there remains a subjective realm and an objective one. Selectivity on the part of an artist presupposes interpretation—with the obvious result that complete objectivity, even if it were desirable, is impossible.
Since Fellini performed as a scriptwriter for a number of neorealist directors before making pictures himself, his films reveal traces of the neorealist approach. Location shooting, the use of nonprofessionals in the cast, close attention to "this shirt" and "that tie"—all this is reminiscent of Rossellini's Open City and De Sica's The Bicycle Thief (1949); however, the stark "objective" style—that fidelity to external appearances—which distinguishes the cinema of those directors is not the dominant feature of Fellini's work. Fellini's attempts to define neorealism historically have not been successful. For example, he informed Enzo Peri: "The really important contribution of neorealism is that it suggested a way to look at things—not with the narcissistic glasses of the author, but with equilibrium between reality and subjectivism." The foregoing statement would seem to be a more accurate description of Fellini's pictures than of neorealism. "For me," the director told Bachmann, "neorealism means looking at reality with an honest eye—but any kind of reality: not just social reality, but also spiritual reality, metaphysical reality, anything man has inside him." Again, Fellini's remarks on neorealism tell us more about l'universe fellinien than about neorealism.
Because of Fellini's respect for the mysterious, for the indeterminacy of being (in spite of his gloomy utterances about the harmful effects of past conditioning), and for the viewers intelligence, he never really ends his films or presents ready-made solutions. He feels that if he did provide a closed ending, he would be guilty of dishonesty, since he has reached no lasting solutions in his own life. Fellini prefers to let the viewer imagine how the story will ultimately conclude, what will happen to the characters at last; for unless the viewer is permitted to construct his own conclusion by actively participating in the film, he will be handed a trite or rosy denouement, and thus will be discouraged from seeking remedies for the problems in his own life. Although some of Fellini's characters change and some do not, the conclusions of the films are never wholly determined, the endings are never final, there are always question marks left in the viewer's mind at the last fade-out.
Jean-Paul Sartre has written: "A fictional technique always relates back to the novelist's metaphysics." The same can be said of a cinematic technique. "I do not want to have a fixed idea about life," Fellini told...
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SOURCE: An interview in Federico Fellini: Comments on Film, edited by Giovanni Grazzini, translated by Joseph Henry, The Press at California State University, 1988, pp. 157-67, 180-93.
[Grazzini is an Italian film critic. In the following interview, originally published in Grazzini's Federico Fellini: Intervista sul Cinema (1983), Fellini discusses 8 1/2 and highlights some of the philosophies and collaborative methods that have influenced the development of his films.]
[Grazzini]: 8 1/2, which many consider your finest film, [is] widely imitated to the point of becoming a genre, like the western, the detective story, the historical film,...
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SOURCE: "Lost Souls," in The New Yorker, Vol. LXII, No. 9, April 21, 1986, pp. 97-100, 103-04.
[Kael is a widely-read and respected film critic, consultant, and educator. In the following excerpt, she discusses the plot, style and themes of Ginger and Fred, asserting that the film lacks energy and artistic inspiration.]
I would dearly love to see Federico Fellini work on material that doesn't come out of his world-weary loins. If he worked with a script that had a story and characters and some propulsion, and if its contours made it impossible for him to get a bellyful of decadence and soullessness or to display grotesques, hermaphrodites, or even transvestites,...
(The entire section is 2117 words.)
SOURCE: "Clean Shaven," in National Review, New York, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 8, May 9, 1986, pp. 54-6.
[Simon is a Yugoslavian-born critic and educator. In the following negative assessment of Ginger and Fred, he asserts that the quality of Fellini's films declined following 8 1/2.]
There is a splendid story by the Italian humorist Massimo Bontempelli, La barba di Federigo, about a man with a gorgeous beard no woman (or anyone else) could resist. But the devil in disguise asked him with seeming innocence whether he slept with his beard inside or outside the covers. Trying to figure out the answer drove poor Federigo nuts, to the point where he couldn't sleep...
(The entire section is 1537 words.)
SOURCE: "Out of Step," in New Statesman, Vol. 112, No. 2903, November 14, 1986, pp. 23-4.
[In the review below, Williamson offers a positive assessment of Ginger and Fred, praising Fellini's ambivalent treatment of the role of television in the modern world.]
Where does authenticity lie in a world infinitely replicated by video, computer, and representations which are as much about other representations as about a real world? This is the question which preoccupies theorists of post-modernism (whose answer, incidentally, is 'nowhere'); and in a sense it preoccupies everyone in a world increasingly experienced through electronic media at a time of breakdown in...
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SOURCE: "Fellini's Magical 8 1/2," in American Film, Vol. XIV, No. 8, June, 1989, pp. 16-17.
[Pierson is an American screenwriter, director, producer, and educator. In the following essay, he discusses the thematic strengths of 8 1/2, focusing on Fellini's depiction of the character Daumier.]
Actors, and most directors, want to experiment, improvise, fly on gossamer wings of inspiration into all kinds of irrelevancies and distractions. The story is, to them, a series of situations to embroider and exploit. The screenwriter's job is to throw cold water on all this and try to keep everyone focused and on track. The screenwriter becomes something between a...
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SOURCE: "Fellini: Changing the Subject," in Film Quarterly, Vol. XLIII, No. 1, Fall, 1989, pp. 36-48.
[In the following essay, Burke discusses how Fellini's major works reflect key issues in literary and film theory, namely the notions of authorship and identity.]
The career of Federico Fellini offers remarkable parallels to the recent history of individualism and the subject, especially in the domain of film theory. Particularly evident is the concurrence of Fellini's reputation and the fate of auteurism: 1954 was the year of La Strada and of Truffaut's promulgation of a politique des auteurs; 1959 saw the shooting of La Dolce Vita and the...
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SOURCE: "Fellini and the Literary Tradition," in Perspectives on Federico Fellini, edited by Peter Bondanella and Cristina Degli-Esposti, G. K. Hall & Co., 1993, pp. 191-202.
[In the following essay, originally published in Italian Journal in 1990, Lawton discusses the unifying motifs of Fellini's oeuvre.]
In no country more than in Italy, does "high culture" play so prominent a role in "popular culture." In fact, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the two. This certainly is the case where Italian cinema is concerned. And while literate viewers are, for the most part, conscious to some extent of the presence of the Italian literary and...
(The entire section is 6077 words.)
SOURCE: "Making the Best of It," in The New Republic, Vol. 207, No. 24, December 7, 1992, pp. 30, 32.
[Kauffmann is an American dramatist, editor, and theater and film critic. In the following review of Intervista, he applauds Fellini's nostalgic and poignant examination of his life as a movie maker.]
Federico Fellini can be called the most naked genius in the history of film. In 1963 he made 8 1/2 a quasiconfessional comedy-drama about the modern artist's torment: he or she is bursting with talent and can find nothing to expend it on. Out of this crisis Fellini made a masterpiece; since then, that same crisis has been often more evident than acknowledged...
(The entire section is 1241 words.)
SOURCE: "Warm Memories and Hot Nightmares Are Etched in Fellini's Singular Vision," in The New York Times, October 29, 1993, pp. B1, B7.
[Canby is a novelist, playwright, and the chief film critic for the New York Times. In the following excerpt from a review of a Fellini retrospective held just before the filmmaker's death, Canby provides an overview of the major films of Fellini's career.]
Now that the Fellini career is approaching its end, one can follow its splendid arc with a certitude not possible before. It begins with the early, bracingly comic, sometimes somber neo-realist black-and-white comedies, and includes the breakthrough with his two...
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SOURCE: "Arrivederci, Fellini," in America, Vol. 169, No. 18, December 4, 1993, pp. 10-11.
[A Roman Catholic priest, Blake is also an American film reviewer, editor, critic, and educator. In the following essay, he argues that Fellini's Catholic heritage was an important source of artistic inspiration.]
News of Federico Fellini's death on Oct. 31  at the age of 73 came as less of a surprise than the discovery, a few weeks earlier, that he was still alive. The Maestro had regained the attention of his public during his final illness, beginning with a stroke in August and reaching a climax with heart failure in mid-October. With an irony that only he could...
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SOURCE: "Fellini, Farewell," in The New Republic, Vol. 210, No. 5, January 31, 1994, pp. 28-30.
[In the following tribute, Kauffmann discusses the contrast between Fellini's early and late films, their critical reception, and Fellini's unique approach to filmmaking. He also reviews Voices of the Moon and relates some of his personal memories of the filmmaker]
Federico Fellini died in Rome on October 31, 1993. Three days later, Alan Cowell wrote in The New York Times, with appropriate tremolo:
In the studio where he made his movies and his name, Fellini lay in cinematographic state today, the lights soft, the music no...
(The entire section is 3046 words.)
SOURCE: "Federico Fellini and the White Clowns," in Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, Vol. 18, No. 4, April, 1994, pp. 28-30.
[Dillard is an American educator, poet, novelist, and film critic. In the following essay, he emphasizes Fellini's lasting influence on a generation of filmmakers and comments on the importance of individual, rather than "politically codified," expression in his films.]
Near the beginning of Federico Fellini's Intervista (1988), a very large camera crane is about to rise, wreathed in smoke and artificial moonlight, high above the sound-stages of Cinecittà. One of the camera operators calls down to his director (Fellini being...
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Stubbs, John C., with Markey, Constance D., and Lenzini, Marc. Federico Fellini: A Guide to References and Resources. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978, 346 p.
Bibliography of writings on Fellini through 1978.
Alpert, Hollis. Fellini: A Life. New York: Atheneum, 1986, 337 p.
Discusses Fellini's life and films.
Kezich, Tullio. Fellini. Milan: Camunia, 1987, 567 p.
Considered an authoritative biography of Fellini which debunks several myths surrounding...
(The entire section is 502 words.)