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.
Bosley Crowther, "'The White Sheik'," in The New York Times (© 1956 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 26, 1956, p. 37.
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Edouard De Laurot
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 people is pre-existent to man's conscious actions; it is offered from above, metaphysically, by a spiritual agent. Meaning precedes existence. Therefore, there is no need—and no place, even—for man to create his own meaning through action of his free will, by imposing human significances upon things….
Aside from metaphysical doctrine, we also find in La Strada Catholic mythology: the Franciscan world inhabited by saints, beggars and simpletons, the weak and the oppressed who alone possess the secret of happiness and salvation—a world antipodal to that where "wealth is a sign of God's grace" and salvation is sought through efficiency….
The temptation to create myths is known to all...
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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 Hollywood Myth, dream of big-game hunting in Africa with Esther Williams, but settle for a drunken evening at the local pool hall. (pp. 24-5)
Fellini is incisive in mocking the empty pretensions of these youths, and employs a series of trenchant symbolic images to illustrate this contemporary wasteland….
The distinction of Vitelloni, however, lies beyond the symbolism, in Fellini's understanding of his characters, and his unusual sympathy for their problems. The rich comedy of this film is intensified by the compassion of the director's approach. There have been many faithless lovers on the screen, but the childish Fausto, whose delighted pleasure in a successful attempt of seduction turns...
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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 Virgin Mary. Here Fellini divides his attention between Cabiria, who prays for the intangible miracle of a new life, and a crippled procurer and dope-peddler, who has come to have his limbs healed. In a brilliantly composed and edited passage, Cabiria and the procurer alternately struggle through a milling, hysterical crowd of pentitents to reach the altar. At the edge of one overhead shot, an elaborate loudspeaker subtly mocks the spontaneity of the occasion. The forward motion of the scene relentlessly accelerates until the procurer throws away his crutches and collapses, writhing and threshing briefly on the floor before Fellini tastefully fades out the scene.
Fellini's treatment of this episode is crucial to an...
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Norman N. Holland
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 Fellini's earlier work, but only "seems." It really has that same strange hankering after myth as his other films. His script for The Miracle reached essentially toward the traditional mating in the fields of sun-god and mortal woman. The White Sheik with its horseplay on different kinds of hats balanced the impotent male of church and marriage against the absurdly sexual male of the fumetti (visual images again). I Vitelloni constitutes a parody of the whole male pantheon, while, in Le notti di Cabiria, a tawdry and pathetic image of Venus renews herself in water after venal Adonises have chosen and abused her. La Strada is the clearest of them all, a classic agon between eiron and alazon...
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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 exegisis (art always suggests more than it says), which is why everybody can understand it except most critics. (p. 17)
Raymond Durgnat, "Some Mad Love and the Sweet Life" (© copyright Raymond Durgnat 1962; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 8, No. 6, March, 1962, pp. 16-18, 41.∗
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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 character. In "The Nights of Cabiria," Fellini takes it all in stride: it manages to assimilate the whole burden of poverty, misery, and shame without surprise or emphasis. (p. 640)
Simpatico, the one characteristic an Italian must find before he can approve of another, would be almost an understatement in Fellini's case. Yet, despite Fellini's bounce, there is always a sense of the lacrimae rerum, as is exemplified in "La Strada," Fellini's magnificent conception of the road of life down which, no matter how fast one runs, one cannot escape the Hound of Heaven. Using extraordinarily poetic cinema but always clinging to realism, Fellini mixes fun and sadness, gaiety and sorrow, beauty and bestiality in a work...
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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 brutal beat of the music, an even greater beach scene, that between the soldiers and the clown's wife at the beginning of Naked Night: but this is a Latin Bergman, sensuous and dramatic and in no way profound. (p. 152)
Dwight Macdonald, "Fellini's Masterpiece" (copyright © 1964 by Dwight Macdonald; reprinted by permission of the author), in Esquire, Vol. LXI, No. I, January, 1964, pp. 149-52.
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John C. Cocks, Jr.
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 [in Le Notte di Cabiria] Cabiria's symbolic resurrection, a sweeping re-affirmation of life. But this film is the weakest of the three; Fellini quite obviously knows what he wants to say, but he seems in Il Bidone unsure about exactly how to say it. (p. 55)
Around [an] essentially simple tale is woven the sur-neorealistic fabric of Fellini's own dream world which manifests itself in images of the seashore, of empty landscapes and fairgrounds, of lonely piazzas with a fountain bubbling, of empty streets, of big, expensive cars, of bizarre nightclubs and loud parties, of alienation and, ultimately, of life without resolution…. But there are scenes too which come close to disaster, which approach, tease and...
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John Russell Taylor
[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 process which is to become characteristic of the key sequences in Fellini's work: from a simple beginning, through a complex action in which the main characters and their problems become swallowed up, or nearly, and then a gradual disentanglement which leaves them alone at the crisis of their troubles before they and those around them are scattered—to a new and probably joyless day, I nearly said, taking it for granted that all these scenes take place at night, and their aftermath in those bleak, cheerless dawns which punctuate Fellini's films with confirmation of the old despair. (p. 19)
As might be supposed in a private world so coherent as Fellini's, there are certain backgrounds—and, naturally, the characters and...
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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 than a cinematic acting out of his own autoerotic fantasies, resolved by an outrageously dishonest conclusion. In Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini's artistic flashiness and moral ambiguity are even more conspicuous; and while the fantasies he invents are now supposed to belong to a middle-aged housewife, they are still more appropriate to a Hollywood producer with a gaudy mind, or a pubescent male weaned on girlie magazines. (p. 22)
The film is well-photographed, and some of its ideas are interesting as a series of visual balances—the conflict between sex and religion, for example, is illustrated by a contrast between a bevy of blowsy whores with smeared lipstick and exposed breasts, and a somber procession of hooded,...
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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 naive prostitute, the pimp, the aristocratic dandies, the corrupt society women, the humanitarian writer, the shrewd peasant, the pathetic yet laughter-provoking idiot, the suicide, the insensitive cruel children, the everyday saints, the callous men and women who know how and where to pick their ripe pleasures, the bigots who pray for the salvation of others; the secularism of priests who have lost sight of their divine mission, the self-effacing beauty of the pure-hearted—all are depicted with human compassion and understanding in what T. S. Eliot has described as the dramatic objectivity of the "third voice of poetry."
In the end, Fellini too shows the false values of the world to be self-destructive. There is perhaps...
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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 "spumone," as the visual style, does something other than provide information and develop a story. Dialogue turns out to be a way of life in Giulietta's milieu, or more exactly, a way of escape from a genuine life of action for the people who surround her. (p. 22)
Fellini's strategy for accomplishing this mutual reinforcement of dialogue and image is not to emphasize to any abnormal degree what things are said, but to emphasize more than usual the ways in which they are said…. When the visual exoticism is thus taken in conjunction with the unremitting dialogue, it ceases to look gratuitously mannered or exaggerated; for together they are the warp and the woof of a major theme of Fellini's work: the...
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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 cinematic mind serves his humanist concerns; the second, in which his humanist concerns are the base for stylist exultation. (La Dolce Vita is the transitional film between the two periods.) This short film is very much a matter of execution, not content; although I don't suppose there is a "new" visual concept in it, Fellini's familiar ideas are still exciting.
Toby Dammit, liberally adapted from Poe's "Never Bet the Devil Your Head," is about a sodden English film star (Terence Stamp) as he arrives in Rome to make a Western that will allegorize the myth of Redemption. Stamp, as we can see and the others cannot, is haunted by the devil in the figure of a sly little girl who bounces a white ball. (p. 196)...
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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 brings it out, they think he is a great artist.
Fellini's pagans are freaks—bloated or deformed, or just simulated freaks with painted faces and protruding tongues…. The freak show of "Fellini Satyricon" is a grotesque interpretation of paganism, yet I think many people in the audience will accept it without question…. Fellini's popular strength probably comes from primitive elements such as these in a modern style that enables audiences to respond as if the content were highly sophisticated. (p. 134)
Like a naughty Christian child, Fellini thinks it's a ball to be a pagan, but a naughty ball, a bad one, which can't really be enjoyed…. In "Fellini Satyricon" the party scenes are no longer...
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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 junctures of material, and he has used this method even in his recent short film Toby Dammit (a part of Spirits of the Dead). There is some splintery referential editing in Satyricon, but the principal method is immersion in texture and color, steady progression through the "feel" of a scene, rather than any lightning mosaics or kaleidoscopic flow. (pp. 250-51)
[What] is there—in the picture itself—that indicates why this man, who has made only contemporary films that were psychologically pertinent even when stylistically extravagant, has abandoned pertinence for extravagance: has chosen a subject that freed him of pertinence and allowed him to concentrate on the extravagance?…
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John Russell Taylor
[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 particularly Fellinian qualities, and the last thing he ever is is a sophisticate. In a way this is his greatest strength. In all his films, though particularly of course those from La Dolce Vita on, it is the sheer spate of ideas that pours from him and on to the screen, like a force of nature, which silences criticism if anything can. Of discretion, good taste, or anything namby-pamby like that, he knows and cares nothing.
Especially in Satyricon. For the light and good humour of Petronius he substitutes something dark, menacing, lit at best with flames of hellish fire from some John Martin vision of cosmic disaster in the ancient world. Hardly any of Fellini's Satyricon is actually funny; it is...
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William S. Pechter
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 charged with meaning that the rest of the film strives in vain to equal.
Fellini seems unable, but is more likely unwilling, to accept this…. [When he] goes after the Big One, he brings back the bulk of La Dolce Vita and La Strada. Where, as in that earlier film, all else gives way to allegory and abstraction, there must at least, by way of justification, be some compensating profundity and complexity of ideas. In La Strada, we are deprived of all the density of life and lifelike art, and, in its place, served up one simple, huge abstraction; you know it: Love. And in La Dolce Vita: Innocence. Reductio ad abstractum; the operative word is reduction. (p. 42)
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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 construct in a studio parts of the motorway circling Rome, in order to stage a traffic jam that would be a miracle of lashing rains and stalled cars under darkly beautiful skies? And in the middle of it there is another false movie crew, pretending to be shooting what we see—the camera high above the congestion, with silky while plastic flapping around it, as if protecting a mikado. The conceits are becoming so ornate they're getting spooky. (pp. 25-6)
This ringmaster feels no need to relate to the circus people. Fellini is an unparalleled extrovert, even for a profession rich in extroversion; he is so extroverted he has abandoned interest in characters and is interested only in his own projections. He is at the center of the...
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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 'Roma' gives it a kind of freedom I have seen in no other Fellini movie. Its capacities for pleasure and terror, for sympathy and irony, are all perfectly met in 'Roma.'
Roger Greenspun, "The New Movies: 'Fellini's Roma'," in The New York Times, Section 2 (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 22, 1972, p. 7.
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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 "typage" (Eisenstein's term)—the ability to select unusual faces that are self-explaining, that serve their functions without dossier—used to be a kind of wonderful caricature; here the method caricatures itself because it is so repetitious and because there is no main substance to which it can contribute. The brothel scenes are the nadir in this matter; the use of raddled faces of cheap whores is always the last infirmity of a social commentator's art. Besides, after La Saraghina in 8 1/2, Fellini has said everything he has to say on the subject—which is precisely his problem on most subjects.
He hasn't even enough resource and observation to fulfill his own commission for this film. Desperate for material,...
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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 for distinguishing the difference.
Thus for those to whom a certain tie to reality is not one of cinema's essentials, this must appear to be Fellini's best film since 8 1/2. It is certainly the most formally cohesive. And if self-expression at the expense of engagement is a choice you are willing to make, Fellini provides marvellous alibis for renouncing social and political concerns….
[His] self-deprecation, or the surface appearance of it, has become a major confessional tool: the film is permeated by breast-beating cameos of people who berate him. (p. 37)
But there is no absolution and the self-criticism falls flat, because what he makes Romans say about him is not invented:...
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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 deceptively idyllic: Rome as it is seen from the provinces…. Above all, it is a paradoxical mixture of past dignity and present temptation…. Fellini's handling of these sequences—recreating his Cinecittà epic as well as his Fascist newsreel … is an important clue to his stylistic methods in the later portions of the film, where even the most apparently direct passages of cinéma-vérité are in fact staged reconstructions.
Roma is a film without a story in the conventional sense, but it does move in a roughly chronological fashion from these memories of the distant past towards a vision of the present and premonitions of a possible future. But within this pattern it is the contrasts set up that are most...
(The entire section is 640 words.)
William J. Free
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 illuminate…. [The] clown represents the modern world most of our literature describes—absurd, grotesque, meaningless, chaotic, suited only for the blackest of comedies or the most ironic of tragedies.
Yet Fellini is also right when he says that the clown has all but disappeared…. Paradoxically, the absurd clown may be an alien in the age of absurdity.
This paradox, central to Fellini's lifelong involvement with the clown, goes deep into his own work and into modern art. Baudelaire said that one of the artist's tasks is to expose those qualities of life lacking in his age so that it might recover a sense of wholeness. To this purpose, he must be alienated from his society to gain perspective. No one...
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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 a sketch rather than with words is simply his way of conceptualizing and planning his work. He thinks visually. Does that make him irrational? Only if rationality is limited to the vocabulary of those who insist that meaning must be put into words, surely one of the most irrational claims ever to bedevil the human scene. (pp. 73-4)
La Strada is a mysterious film, mysterious in the religious sense. In viewing the film one is in "seeingfeelhearing." One knows, but has difficulty making the knowing rationalization. Taken in isolation, incidents and scenes may be outrageously sentimental, incongruous, even contrived. The artist makes them right and proper.
La Strada is love and indifference and...
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John Russell Taylor
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 the film one remembers are those which come closest to the old reprobate Fellini we love or loathe according to taste. (pp. 244-45)
Even these sequences, though, are disappointingly played down. It is as though there is something slightly faded and tired about the whole film, some indefinable lack of vitality which leaves it all looking a bit dusty and distant….
Strangest of all, and the only sustained passage where the film comes up with the old Fellini magic, is the sequence in which most of the town's population goes out at night in small boats to wait—but for what? The Rex, a super-liner which eventually moves majestically past like Leviathan, risen at last from the deep, or a mysterious creature...
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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 'pattern', to which his experience largely conforms. I take 8 1/2 to be the description of one such pattern, the mapping-out or 'anatomising' of a particular constitution. In every way, Guido's pattern defines the film; both its structure, since in the course of the film Guido works through one complete cycle of experience; and its subject, because Guido's predicament is shown to be caused by a conflict between his pattern and his conscious self.
8 1/2 is about an inner process which takes place in Guido on several levels, his reaching for artistic potency, for intellectual consistency and for spiritual purity. But Fellini shows Guido's development as occurring, not through his conscious will or intellect, but...
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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? Even the figure of the whore, whom Fellini used to depict with almost excessive, often sentimental, sympathy, has become a ghoulish, nymphomaniacal madwoman, wallowing in a crude parody of autoeroticism…. [The] best Fellini can look forward to is equaling the dismal record of Ken Russell.
And to think that this once great artist is still only 54; an age at which one hasn't even earned the right to the excuse of senility. (pp. 17, 19)
John Simon, "The Tragic Deterioration of Fellini's Genius," in The New York Times, Section 2 (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 24, 1974, pp. 17, 19.
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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 weren't going to be enough time to get through all the acts….
One of Fellini's greatest gifts is his ability to communicate a sense of wonder, which has the effect of making us all feel much younger than we have any right to. Fellini's is a very special, personal kind of cinema, and in Amarcord he is in the top of his form. (p. 265)
Vincent Canby, "Funny, Marvelous Fellini 'Amarcord'," in The New York Times (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 20, 1974 (and reprinted in The National Society of Film Critics on Movie Comedy, edited by Stuart Byron and Elisabeth Weis, Grossman Publishers, 1977, pp. 264-65)....
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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 La Strada, there is the feeling that we must give up things dear to us before we get too fond of them; but more frequently there is the feeling that only by moving on, by probing and searching, can we ever come to know the purpose of life. Fellini's fondness for processions is obviously related to this. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if the celebration of movement such as we witness in processions may by itself provide the purpose, as if in terrestrial terms there may be, in fact, no goal.
Of course, Fellini would reject such intellectual speculations. For Fellini is an intuitive in his response to life, a great muddleheaded irrationalist with very strong feelings and no clear thought. He lives life from the senses,...
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Lester J. Keyser
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 deaths, weddings and orgies, holidays and holydays, parades and movies, motorcycles and peacocks. Yet beneath the frivolity and sentimentality, under the gentle satire and savage grotesques, lies a rich perception of the appeal of fascism…. To visit Fellini's home town in the thirties, to know the families there, to share Titta's relationship with his teachers, his mother, the town prostitutes, his schoolmates, and his church may finally be the only way to understand fascism. The very emotional, and seemingly harmless, attachments and taboos Fellini so lovingly delineates grew into a mass movement, a fanatical movement where inflamed emotion replaced reason. (p. 25)
Intellectually it's sometimes hard to tie social forces...
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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 obsessions. (p. 50)
Amarcord, like all of Fellini's work, far from being a "return" or a "departure," is a blend of the real and the fanciful—it's a distinctly stylized version of Italian life. This time, though, Fellini has avoided a circus atmosphere; the film isn't the collection of breathtaking tableaux that is, for me, the essential Fellini. He has deliberately simplified his canvas, but he hasn't substituted anything in place of the intoxications of his previous work….
Fellini doesn't impose himself on the material to the degree he has in his most recent films, but he hasn't found anyone else to guide us through the film's fragmented panorama. The point of view is shifting, confused. (p. 51)...
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Louis D. Giannetti
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 with the coming of spring. Each season is typified by a characteristic sky element, which is related to the themes of aspiration and transience….
Related to this seasonal structure is a sense of progression in the episodes in terms of the age of the protagonists. Roughly speaking, the film moves from youth to maturity to death to rebirth. (p. 156)
Most of the characters feel trapped by their mundane lives in this provincial town (hence, the "bitter" implications of the title). Despite their almost universal earthiness, they aspire to a more spiritual state. They yearn for escape and grasp at any symbol, however flimsy, of release from their prosaic existence. In addition to the sky elements, an important...
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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, in my view, tasteless, mindless, or blind.
Now Fellini has become almost too obliging: As if to prove me right so palpably that even the tasteless, mindless, and blind can get it, he has dropped Casanova like a ten-pound weight on our toes…. Particularly offensive and depressing is that Fellini has taken a fascinating protagonist and very rich story only to make them as hollow and aimless as he himself must have become. If this artistic fiasco were not accompanied by boundless arrogance in Fellini's behavior and recorded utterances, one could feel profoundly sorry for the man; as it is, one can only feel revulsion. (p. 57)
What in God's name does this tell us about Casanova? Or even about...
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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 has been encouraged to exploit his personality, and his facility with satire and pathos, until now both his personality and his undeniable talent seem to have been depleted. Even his sense of humor seems to have deserted him….
I am prepared to concede that I grossly underrated 8 1/2 when it first came out, and that I utterly failed to comprehend its impact on the American cultural scene. The movie itself was a commercial failure, but all sorts of people seem to have seen it and been moved by it…. More than even Bergman or Godard, the name of Fellini provoked cries of, "Maestro!" And I am sure that the adulation can be attributed more to 8 1/2 than to Vitelloni or La Strada—and not to...
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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 individuality which inform his movies from The Nights of Cabiria through Fellini's Roma. (p. 68)
[The] evolution from accommodation to breakout within Fellini's first three films seems to usher his imagination into a realm of near-total alienation which becomes visible in his next two feature films, La Strada … and Il Bidone or The Swindle …, which are both of them creatures of extreme dissociation and estrangement. (p. 70)
[While] Fellini's imagination becomes seemingly more alienated, and increasingly sophisticated in its capacity to envision alienation, as it moves from Variety Lights through Il Bidone, it becomes at the same time immensely more sophisticated in...
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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 conductor seems to have gradually changed his brand of Italian autocracy for a more sinister Teutonic version, and as the screen darkens at the end of the film, a führerlike voice starts to bark forth in fluent German.
The natural heir to anarchy, the movie suggests, is despotism. Fellini's film describes the same teasing trajectory as many of those trompe l'oeil episodes from Roma: What begins as an apparently documentary slice of Roman life imperceptibly changes course and metamorphoses into a full-blown surrealist allegory. Provo d'orchestra plays with the audience's uncertainty and adds the Chinese-box, film-within-a-film complexity of a television crew filming the orchestra as well. Only gradually, like...
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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, it seems cogent advice, nor would I deny that it has wider application. But somehow the bite does not seem very sharp.
One problem, I think, is that Fellini has chosen an unfortunate model for his parable. Orchestra musicians, by and large, are a rebellious breed. For the most part, they are gifted and many of them slaved for years to achieve virtuoso careers that narrowly escaped their grasps. They are highly individualistic, fiercely proud of their skills, and yet they are forced to submit to the will of a conductor whom they have not chosen and of whose ability they are often scornful….
So Orchestra Rehearsal might readily be understood, at least until the closing scene, as an instrumentalist's...
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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 orderly but dead past and rebellious contemporary confusion—is soon made unpleasantly obvious. As each arriving musician praises or patronizes his particular instrument to the invisible television interviewer (Fellini's voice), and does so in blatantly anthropomorphic terms; as, moreover, each player speaks with a different regional or snobbish accent, the suggestiveness of symbolism promptly yields to the predictability and constriction of allegory. To cap it all, the conductor is a dictatorial German, and the union delegate who causes considerable mischief, a Sardinian-like Berlinguer, the president of Italy's CP.
When the orchestra members hurl mud or excrement at the portraits of the great classical composers, clamor for...
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