The Italian Almanac

Federico Fellini

8 & 1/2
8 & 1/2 (guitar)


Federico Fellini - (1920 - 1973)

Federico Fellini, a canonical name of personal expression and artistic fantasy in the cinema, had no formal technical training in his profession. Born in the seaside town of Rimini in Italy in 1920, he quit the provinces for Rome at age 18. Enrolled in law school, he abandoned the degree. He never considered attending Rome's Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, whose graduates he would later collaborate with. And unlike his contemporaries, he never frequented the cinema clubs that screened the best Italian directors' films and international titles from France, Germany and Russia. When pressed for his influences, Fellini preferred Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx brothers, Pietro Germi, and Bu˝uel (with his black humor) to "cine-club" names such as Dreyer, Griffith and Eisenstein. Young Fellini supported himself as a wandering caricaturist until hired by Marc'Aurelio in 1939. The famed humor bi-weekly served as an unofficial training ground for scriptwriters and directors of the postwar period.

Fellini's formative influences can be traced back to the popular Italian culture of the period, and not primarily the cinema. The cartoons, caricature sketches, and radio comedy that were his popular art mÚtier brought him to the cinema as a gagman and scriptwriter. Novelist Italo Calvino diagnosed the influence of mass culture on Fellini's later sophisticated cinematic language as a "forcing of the photographic image in a direction that carries it from an image of caricature toward that of the visionary." Fellini trained for a professional life as a visionary with over ten years of scriptwriting and on-the-set apprenticeship.

For the postwar Left, a film's critical value was based on whether it depicted Italy's social problems and offered a Marxist remedy. Directors who followed their own imperatives were labeled conservative or reactionary. As a veteran of the scripting team responsible for two exemplars of Italian neorealism, Roma cittÓ aperta and PaisÓ (both Roberto Rossellini, 1945 and '46), Fellini was interested in moving toward a "cinema of Reconstruction." After PaisÓ, he redefined his artistic credo to "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."

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s his films were widely acclaimed, but he was never awarded an Oscar despite 12 nominations for directing and writing. Four of his movies, however, won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. In 1993 he received an Academy Award for his lifetime achievement. That same year, he died in Rome at the age of 73.