Federico Fellini- The Magician of Cinema
Federico Fellini’s name is the most well-known in the history of cinema. Anyone literally connected to the world of cinema and the film industry, from any part of the globe, would undoubtedly be aware of Fellini and his contributions to this sector. He was an Italian film director and screenwriter who was noted for his unique style, which combined fantasy and baroque imagery with realism. He is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers of all time. Fellini’s films are a unique combination of memory, dreams, fantasy, and desire, and they are very personal and peculiar perspectives of society. The terms “Fellinian” and “Felliniesque” are used to describe any flamboyant, imaginative, or even baroque picture in film and art in general, even in these modern times. His ideologies and perspectives to look at a particular topic were way ahead of his time. He has inspired and influenced budding filmmakers to create unique content and add realism to cinema.
Talking about his early life, Fellini was born on January 20, 1920, in Rimini, then a small town on the Adriatic Sea, to middle-class parents, Urbano Fellini and Ida Barbiani. Fellini grew up in a Roman Catholic family and considered himself a Catholic, yet he eschewed official Catholic engagement. Catholic themes appear throughout Fellini’s films; some glorify Catholic doctrines, while others criticize or mock church orthodoxy. As a young and enthusiastic boy, he enjoyed painting, performing puppet performances, and reading corriere dei piccoli, a popular children’s magazine that replicated traditional American cartoons by George McManus Winsor McCay, and Frederick Burr Opper. Later, in his teens, Grand Guignol’s realm, the circus with Pierino the Clown, and cinema were all new to him. The first film he watched, Guido Brignone’s Maciste all’Inferno (1926), would mark him in ways that were related to Dante and the cinema for the rest of his life. In films like I Vitelloni (1953), 8+1/2 (1963), and Amarcord (1973), Fellini reproduced crucial incidents from his childhood and adolescence, yet he emphasized that such autobiographical memories were fiction. His films were not dominated by recollection. He believed that labeling his films as autobiographical was an oversimplification and hasty categorization. He believed that his life was made up of virtually almost everything: childhood, personalities, nostalgia, fantasies, and memories, and his films were a projection of all his memories which he could recount. With Fabrizi’s help, Fellini got his first film credit as a comedy writer on Mario Mattoli’s Il pirata sono io (The Pirate’s Dream) when he was just twenty years old. His circle of professional acquaintances grew to include novelist Vitaliano Brancati and playwright Piero Tellini as he progressed quickly to multiple collaborations on films at Cinecittà. Talking of love in his life, in the autumn of 1942, while writing for radio to dodge the draught, Fellini met his future wife Giulietta Masina in a studio office at the Italian public radio broadcaster EIAR. Masina was well-known for her musical-comedy broadcasts, which delighted an audience saddened by the war. She was well-paid as the voice of Pallina in Fellini’s radio serial, Cico and Pallina. The pair married on October 30, 1943, after dating for nine months. Masina miscarried a few months later after falling down the stairs. Pierfederico, her son, was born on March 22, 1945, but died 11 days later on April 2, 1945, from encephalitis. The tragedy however, had long-term emotional and creative consequences for Fellini.
His career also was not an easy one. He had to face his share of failures, flops and blockbusters films. The only thing that kept him going despite all of this was his passion and love for cinema as an art. Variety Lights (Luci del varietà), Fellini’s debut feature picture, was co-produced and directed by Alberto Lattuada in 1950. It starred Giulietta Masina and Carla Del Poggio and was set in the milieu of small-time travelling performers. Its bad reception and limited distribution proved disastrous for all parties involved. The production firm went bankrupt, leaving Fellini and Lattuada with over a decade of bills to repay. He was not ready to stop because of this so, in September 1951, Fellini began shooting on The White Sheik, his first solo-directed picture, after travelling to Paris for a screenplay conference with Rossellini on Europa ’51. Orson Welles’ Othello was among the films in competition when this film was selected at Cannes, but it was later withdrawn. Critics slammed it for having “the atmosphere of a soccer match” when it premiered at the 13th Venice International Film Festival. Fellini had “no the least ability for cinema direction,” according to one reviewer. He proved everybody wrong as his film I Vitelloni was well-received by critics and the general public in 1953, which earned Fellini his first foreign distributor after winning the Silver Lion Award in Venice. After this, he literally created magic. All of his films back-to-back were hits and got nominated for various awards. Some of the most notable films he worked on, including La Strada (1956), Nights of Cabiria (1957), Amarcord (1974), and 8+1/2 (1963), earned academy awards in numerous categories, demonstrating how wonderful an artist he was.
One of his major contributions to world cinema was the concept of Italian Neorealism, which added a completely new perspective to the traditional sort of storylines that were included previously. Italian neorealism, often known as the Golden Age, is a film trend in Italy characterized by stories set among the poor and working classes, filmed on location, and frequently starring non-professional actors. The majority of Italian neorealism films deal with the tough economic and moral conditions of postwar Italy, portraying changes in the Italian psyche and ordinary living conditions such as poverty, oppression, injustice, and desperation. In Italy, Neorealism was a symbol of cultural revolution and social advancement. Its films included current stories and concepts and were frequently shot on location because the Cinecittà film facilities had been severely damaged during the war. Being a live witness of war conditions and Mussolini’s rule, Fellini could empathize and relate to the characters he was directed, which made his films seem even more authentic. It also helped the world see how hard things were for people back then, empathize with them and make stories of cinema more real and relatable.
Since political films were being made by the time Fellini entered cinema, people expected him to have viewpoints on the same. While he was largely uninterested in politics, he had a strong antipathy for authoritarian institutions, which Bondanella interprets as a belief in the dignity, if not nobility, of the individual human person. He stated in a 1966 interview that he would make it a point to note if certain philosophies or political attitudes harmed the individual’s private rights. However, for the most part, he was not prepared, and I had no intention of becoming interested in political affairs. Fellini rarely stated political opinions in public and never created an openly political picture, with the exception of Ginger and Fred (1986), a comedy/drama film, which satirized Silvio Berlusconi and mainstream media. In January 1970, Fellini travelled to Los Angeles for interviews with Dick Cavett and David Frost to help promote Satyricon in the United States. Satyricon, is a 1969 Italian fantasy drama film written and directed by Fellini and largely based on Petronius’ work Satyricon, which was published during Emperor Nero’s reign and set in imperial Rome. The story follows Encolpius and his friend Ascyltus as they struggle to win the love of a little boy named Gitón amid a strange and dream-like Roman setting. Roma, a seemingly random collection of stories shaped by the director’s experiences and impressions of Rome, began filming in March 1971. “The various episodes are linked together solely by the fact that they all ultimately derive from the director’s fertile imagination,” notes Fellini scholar Peter Bondanella. The film’s opening scene foreshadows Amarcord, but the most bizarre section depicts nuns and priest’s roller skating over shipwrecks of cobwebbed bones in an ecclesiastical fashion display.
Coming to Fellini’s final days, he didn’t stop working and creating his magic even when his health was not supporting him. Fellini collaborated closely with Canadian director Damian Pettigrew between July 1991 and April 1992 to create “the longest and most thorough discussions ever captured on film.” He didn’t restrict himself to cinema alone, with funding for feature films becoming increasingly difficult to come by, Fellini created a series of television projects titled Attore, Napoli, L’Inferno, L’opera lirica, and L’America. Fellini earned his fifth Academy Award for lifetime achievement in April 1993, in appreciation of his cinematic achievements that have captivated and entertained people all around the world, which is one of his biggest achievements. It is a dream for all filmmakers and for Fellini to live this dream was a true delight for him as well his audience.
Fellini died on October 31, 1993, in Rome, at the age of 73, from a heart attack he had just a few weeks before, on his 50th wedding anniversary. An estimated 70,000 people attended the memorial service in Studio 5 at Cinecittà. This alone shows the love and respect he has earned in his life. Filmmakers across the globe even today take references from his films and incorporate his ideas. Being a role model for so many people take a lot of hard work and devotion, and being able to accomplish so much in a single lifetime, makes you want to become like him. The Federico Fellini Airport in Rimini is also named after him; it is a symbol of honor and pride for him, as well as an identity for the city where he was born.
His works have been acknowledged by many people across the globe, as in Sight & Sound’s 2002 list of the best directors of all time, Fellini was voted second in the directors’ poll and seventh in the critics’ poll. Fellini was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won four, the most for any director in Academy history in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. At the 65th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, he got an honorary medal for Lifetime Achievement. In critical polls, almost all his films have received a lot of appreciation by audiences worldwide. A number of documentaries about him have eloquently shown his life. Some of them include Fellini: I’m Born a Liar (2002), which is directed by Damian Pettigrew, which is a feature documentary. The film avoids a linear biography in favor of focusing on the Italian director’s unconventional working techniques, conscience, and philosophy. , directed by Etore Scola, this film chronicles Etore Scola’s friendship and inspiration for his dear friend, Federico Fellini, a film director. It all starts when Fellini, at 19 years old, arrives in Rome and walks into the office of the magazine Marc’Aurelio, starting off his career as an artist. These documentaries give us a deeper insight into the director’s personal life, his viewpoints, ideologies, perspectives about various concepts in the society and a lot more. It is an inspiration for the audience, who get to learn a lot many things from a legend like Fellini.
His uniqueness in terms of approaching the storyline of a film, shooting on actual locations to makes the whole idea of the film seem more realistic for the viewers as well as his idea of picking common men instead of mainstream actors for a particular project set him apart from the common lot, giving him a unique identity. Achieving all of this at a time when only fantasies and fairytales would sell in terms of cinema is another major goal hit by him, both as a director and screenwriter. Even today, his films are so relatable and the storyline seems so fresh that one can easily get hooked on to it. Empathy was a prominent theme in many of his works, and it is a characteristic that is rapidly diminishing nowadays. It is a trait that we must all strive for in order to live in a better world. A lot of more inspirational themes and concepts have been acknowledged and incorporated by Fellini. Today’s generation may not be familiar with this “magician of cinema,” as we call him, but they should absolutely watch and admire his work since we are confident that they will enjoy it.
Samiksha Periwal is an 18 year old student from Kolkata, West Bengal. She is an enthusiast, eager to learn and explore. She has done her schooling from Lakshmipat Singhania Academy, Kolkata and is currently a student of Christ University, Bangalore pursuing a triple major in BA Psychology, Sociology and English. She is a passionate writer and has won many laurels for her school through the years.