Monday, December 23, 2013

Film History Student Final Paper #3 - Federico Fellini

I am fortunate to teach Film/Video Production History in the Motion Picture/TV Department at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. At the end of each semester, the students (who range from ages 18 - 21, usually) are required to write a paper about an auteur filmmaker of their choice. They are to provide an overview of the filmmaker's career and identify specific stylistic and/or thematic traits in his/her work that are "signatures," i.e. the things that make the filmmaker an auteur. I ask the students to write the paper in an informal, conversational tone, as if they are telling a story to a young person who knows nothing about the subject.  

I have picked three papers out of the bunch that I feel are worthy to be published here on my blog.


Fellini: The Life of Cinema
Federico Fellini, my favorite director (tied with Kubrick) once said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine that “Talking about dreams is like talking about movies, since the cinema uses the language of dreams; years can pass in a second and you can hop from one place to another. It’s a language made of image. And in the real cinema, every object and every light means something, as in a dream” (Rolling Stone, no.421, 1984). Fellini solidifies an aesthetic I appreciate in my work and others, which is the blur between reality and whimsical fantasy.

He was a film director and screenwriter known specifically for his unique style that blended baroque visuals with fantastical imagery. He is considered one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century. I would absolutely agree, considering his influence over my own cinematic work. Over his career, he won five Academy Awards (four Best Foreign Language Film, one Lifetime Achievement Award).  This was the most Best Foreign Language Film Oscars anyone has ever won (

Fellini was born on January 20th 1920 from Italian descent in the small town of Rimini (that would partially inspire one of his masterpieces, Amarcord). He left Rimini at the age of eighteen to move to Rome.

Fellini discovered in 1926 the world of Grand Guignol, the circus with Pierino the Clown. This discovery would eventually create a motif of the circus that would carry throughout his cinematic career.

While in Rome, Fellini achieved success writing regularly under his column for Marc’ Aurelio titled: Will You Listen to What I Have to Say? The magazine gave him consistent employment allowing him to meet future collaborates and get his foot into the movie industry.

In 1950 Fellini co-produced and co-directed with Alberto Lattuada Variety Lights, his first feature film. The film features Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina and Lattuada’s wife, Carla del Poggio as characters set in a world of travelling performers (the origins of the circus motif). Variety Lights received poor reviews and limited distribution, resulting in failure for everyone involved with the project (leaving Fellini and Lattuada in debt for over a decade).

Regardless of such an early disastrous fate, Fellini would go on to write and direct over twenty-five films, but I am going to discuss his three most important films (three of the four films that he won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film).

My second favorite Fellini film, La Strada, won him his second Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. La Strada is Fellini’s last neo-realist movie that hints toward his future embarkation into fantastical narrative, characters, and filmmaking techniques. The film portrays the journey of a brutish strongman, Zampano and a na├»ve young woman, Gelsomina, whom he buys from her mother and takes with him on the road; their encounters with his old rival, the Fool, cause their destruction. The film is highly symbolic. The metaphor of the road is the journey of life that would lead to their entire end. Each main character is an archetype of humanity: the Fool is always pushing buttons, even if it may lead to his own demise; Zampano who loves but does not know how to express it, therefore it manifests into brutality; and Gelsomina, who is absolutely innocent to the point of not being able to help herself. La Strada has become "one of the most influential films ever made," according to the American Film Institute ( It was placed fourth in the 1992 British Film Institute directors' list of cinema's top 10 films ( In my opinion, La Strada has one of the most powerful endings, and it truly shook me emotionally, of Zampano on the beach coming to terms with his brutality that destroyed the one thing that would ever love him.

Amarcord is my third favorite Fellini film, which won him his fourth and last Best Foreign Language film Oscar. Over a period of six months between January and June 1973, Fellini shot the movie. The film depicts the adolescent, Titta, and his friends, working out their sexual frustrations against the religious and Fascist backdrop of a provincial town in Italy during the 1930s. Circular in form, Amarcord avoids plot and linear narrative. I was mesmerized by its structure and style (characters consistently breaking of the fourth wall), which is presented as if the audience is a guest visiting and exploring the memories and adventures of this small Italian town. It is a mosaic, a collage of the imaginational memory of Fellini’s childhood.

And finally, 8 ½, my favorite film of all time, and it is considered Fellini’s magnum opus. It won him his third Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. To epitomize the moving image and the study of film, Fellini’s 8 ½ triumphed to let me see what can be done with a camera and lighting. Fellini’s flamboyant, magical tracking shots were elaborately blocked, allowing reality and fantasy to move interchangeably within the frame of the camera, creating a new cinematic dialogue and artistic perspective of viewing life. It is a narrative of the creative process brought to reality. The story is of Guido, a filmmaker, who is suffering with the creative process of producing his new film. As he struggles to make his film, the movie blurs reality with a series of flashbacks and dreams of Guido’s life and what he wants to portray within his film. 8 ½, honored as one of the greatest films of created and the best movie ever made about filmmaking, reflects to me the process and struggle that all artists have to endure and how we confront the issue. Guido’s struggle to create art is universal. Fellini understood his medium and was a master of it. Reviewing 8 ½, Roger Ebert states, “The printed word is ideal for ideas; film is made for images, and images are best when they are free to evoke many associations and are not linked to narrowly-defined purposes.” Fellini’s unique style and mastering of his medium allowed him to create the unimaginable that I long to create. Fellini’s inspired among others: Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore, Truffaut’s Day for Night, and Fosse’s All That Jazz.

Fellini in my eyes is the ultimate auteur director internationally and my favorite. His personal and highly idiosyncratic visions of society are a unique combination of memory, dreams, fantasy and desire. A film is now coined “Fellinian” or “Felliniesque” if it resembles Fellini’s iconic extravagant, flamboyant cinematic style. He has created a new cinematic language for filmmakers to go forward with. Before any film project I create, I always watch a Fellini picture.

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