Federico Fellini

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

Tullio Kezich’s Federico Fellini: His Life and Work is an updated revision of his earlier Fellini, which was published in 1987 and approved by Fellini himself. After an introduction that describes his first meeting with Fellini in 1952 and which characterizes his subject as an apolitical filmmaker preoccupied with fable, myth, and dreams, Kezich discusses the details of Fellini’s birth. He uses the fictional account, that Fellini was born on a moving train, as an example of the way that Fellini’s stories often are not true or are only partially accurate. Fellini’s portrait of himself as a rebellious hellion is also exaggerated: Fellini was actually an introspective and solitary boy who exhibited a knack for drawing. His account of his “escape” from Rimini, his hometown, also does not jibe with the accounts of his childhood friends, but the “escape” motif does play an important part in Fellini’s career, first as a cartoonist, then a screenwriter, and finally as a film director. Fellini’s first escape was, perhaps, a flight to join the circus; his second was a train ride with Bianca Soriani, his first love, another embellishment of the truth. These escapes, like many events in his life, reappear with some poetic license later in his films.

Before he went to Rome, he had published some cartoons in 420, a journal specializing in political satire, and when he and his brother Riccardo arrived in Rome, Fellini began working for Marc’Aurelio, a Roman newspaper. In the early 1940’s he also wrote for radio and later began his screenwriting career. He also met and married actress Giulietta Masina, his wife for the next fifty years. During the 1940’s he was busy avoiding the draft and writing screenplays, primarily for Cesar Zavattini, the noted neorealist film director. He then teamed up with Aldo Fabrizi, another screenwriter, for several films. When the team split, Fellini met Roberto Rossellini and worked on his Rome, Open City (1945), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. In their next collaboration, Paisan (1946), Fellini took the lead role and acted as a temporary director in Rossellini’s absence. According to Kezich, Rossellini was responsible for awakening Fellini’s cinematic vocation. When the duo broke up after Paisan, Fellini teamed with Tullio Pinelli and soon got his first directing assignment in Variety Lights (1950). When he directed a scene from The White Sheik (1952), Fellini, according to Kezich, “became” Fellini, but again Fellini’s version of the story does not square with those of other people on the set. Nino Rota did the score for the film and for many of the following Fellini films.

For Kezich, the 1950’s were full of good-byes, for Fellini and for Italian culture. The Young and the Passionate (1953), for example, signals the end of “small-town Italy, provincial patriotism, variety shows, comic strips, Gypsies, grifters, and prostitutes”all key ingredients of early Fellini films. The first Fellini film to be distributed internationally, it won many awards and, according to Kezich, influenced such later films as Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973), George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1974), and Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire (1985). La Strada (1954), starring Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina, was Fellini’s next big hit, winning an Oscar for best foreign film and establishing Masina as an international star. Like many Fellini films, La Strada can be read as a fable, but the interpretations vary widely. One is that the relationship between the strong man and the submissive woman parallels that of Fellini and his wife, but Masina’s view was that Fellini can be found in both her character and in Quinn’s. For Kezich, the film is “the most painful and also enigmatic fairy tale of Fellini’s life.”

Fellini’s next major film was The Nights of Cabiria (1957), again featuring his wife. During the filming Fellini met Pier Paolo Pasolini, who became a confidant. Although the Roman Catholic Church attempted to censor The Nights of Cabiria for its story line about a prostitute, the film garnered an Oscar for best foreign...

(The entire section is 1756 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

Booklist 102, nos. 9/10 (January 1, 2006): 43.

Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 24 (December 15, 2005): 1311.

Library Journal 130, no. 20 (December 15, 2005): 132.

The Nation 282, no. 11 (March 20, 2006): 32-36.

Publishers Weekly 252, no. 45 (November 14, 2005): 53.

Weekly Standard 11, no. 37 (June 12, 2006): 29-31.