The following is meant to provide a brief introduction to Fellini's Films:
From Postwar to Postmodern. The selections from the Preface and the opening
and concluding chapters are meant to indicate the kinds of methodology employed
and the critical and intellectual context within which Fellini's work is
situated. The table of contents makes clear that the bulk of the study involves
detailed analyses of Fellini's films, which in turn lead to many of the
conclusions in the final chapter. I have placed the table of contents last
rather than first because the material that precedes it helps make the chapter
titles more meaningful. - FB
Federico Fellini would seem to need little by way of introduction. He may be
the best known of the postwar Italian directors. He is also among the most
noted filmmakers in the history of the medium. In 1980, Harry Reasoner claimed
on CBS's Sixty Minutes that Fellini was "maybe the premier filmmaker of
the age"--a pronouncement which may seem a bit exaggerated from the perspective
of the 1990s but which also suggests the role Fellini played in international
cinema from 1954 (La Strada) to at least 1973 (Amarcord). He was
awarded five Oscars, and though he suffered decline in the public eye through
the 1980s and early 1990s, his final Oscar was the 1993 lifetime achievement
award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He received a similar
award from Cannes as early as 1974, as well as the outstanding cinematic
achievement award of the Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York City) in
Perhaps more important, Fellini's work continues to be a significant influence
on the contemporary filmmaking scene. In a 1992 Sight and Sound survey,
while neither he nor any of his films made it into the top ten of critics'
favourite movies and directors, he ranked first among international directors
surveyed. As Geoffrey Nowell-Smith put it in a subsequent issue of Sight and
Sound: "The word is out. Federico Fellini is the directors' director par
FELLINI IN CONTEXT
This study will address two persistent "narratives" operating throughout
Fellini's career. The first, which is largely thematic, is the rise and fall of
individualism. The second, which is largely aesthetic (though with crucial
cultural implications), is the movement from a relatively realist cinema,
generally concealing the act of filmmaking itself, to a highly self-conscious
examination of cinematic and narrative technique. This "self-reflexive" phase
(to use a term common to film and literary criticism) has a movement of its
own: from an exploration of principally cinematic representation to a
questioning of the underlying conditions of representation and meaning
The fall of individualism is, interestingly, linked to the trajectory of
Fellini's critical reputation. In a 1950s and 1960s ideological climate of
heightened individualism, in which artists were marketed as cultural heroes and
film was elevated to the status of artform, Fellini became, as [one critic] put
it, the "director as superstar"--for academics as well as for a larger public.
However, more recently, in a cultural and theoretical climate which has come to
deny the autonomy of the individual, as well as the artwork, the modern
artist-as-romantic-hero was debunked, and Fellini became viewed as an egoistic
anachronism. . . .
. . . .
POSTWAR INDIVIDUALISM, AMERICAN INFLUENCE, AND NEOREALISM . . .
While neorealism may have been Fellini's postwar cinematic context,
individualism was the prevailing ideological current as he emerged as a
scriptwriter and director. Individualism, of course, has a long history in
Western culture. However, in the last 200 years, it has become synonymous with
American ideology--and Fellini was heavily influenced in his youth by the
American popular-culture promise of individual freedom . . . .
. . . .
Within the larger context of Western and American ideology, Fellini fashioned
his own brand of individualism as an anti-authoritarian response to his Fascist
and Catholic upbringing. . . .
Though Fellini abhorred Catholic dogmatism, this did not prevent him from
fusing individualism in his early work with a secularized form of Christian
humanism: a belief in the "salvation" of the individual via psychological
individuation. The road to salvation was not the Way of the Cross, but the
evolution of consciousness from the unconscious and the integration of all the
fragmented and repressed aspects of the individual psyche.
. . . .
HIGH MODERNISM, AMERICAN IDEOLOGY, THE ART FILM
Fellini's U.S.-driven individualism dovetailed with three major movements in
the arts and in film in the 1950s and 1960s: High Modernism, the Art Film, and
Auteurism. . . .
. . . .
POSTMODERNISM . . . .
. . . as countless observers have noted, a crucial cultural shift began to
take place in the 1960s, accelerated in the 1970s, and became formalized
(counter to its own anti-formulaic strategies) as "postmodernism." As the
latter part of this study will argue, this shift dramatically affected
Fellini's work, despite his frequently strong resistance to it.
. . . .
One of the most important themes of postmodern thought is the death of the
"subject": the kind of self-determining individual or center of consciousness
that Fellini sought to represent in his early work. . . .
. . . Fellini's postmodernity was only partly a matter of theoretical and
cultural ambience--and equally a matter of his own experience in relation to
that larger context. . . .
Following the making of Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini suffered serious
artistic, economic, and physical crises . . . promoting his own shift into
postmodern modes of expression. . . . If Fellini's brush with death in 1967
contributed to a questioning of the creative freedom of the ever-evolving
individual, his repeated brush with producers and with financial constraints
from the late 1960s on inevitably accelerated his questioning of the autonomy
of art and the artist. . . .
. . . .
FELLINI'S FILMS: FROM REALISM TO REPRESENTATION TO SIGNIFICATION
When Fellini moves from original or self-conceived projects to adaptation and
reproduction, the emphasis in his films begins to shift from individuals (and
artists) in search of authenticity, to art about art, texts about texts. This
brings us to the second "narrative" I posited at the outset of this chapter,
the movement of Fellini's career from a relatively realist aesthetic to a
self-conscious concern with issues of representation and meaning.
. . . .
Fellini's movement from realism to representation reflects a broader
renunciation of the real that has characterized Western art for the last 150
years or so. This renunciation, and a consequent turn toward self-questioning
art, has been one of the hallmarks of aesthetic modernism (i.e., modernism in
painting and literature).
. . . .
POLITICS, GENDER, AND FELLINI'S CRITICAL REPUTATION
. . . Fellini's reputation has been in marked decline among film theorists and
critics since the 1970s. . . .
The following is an attempt to address two general areas in which Fellini's
films seem to generate the most problems for contemporary theorist/critics:
politics and gender (which I will eventually link to sexual orientation). I use
the first term broadly, to include not just engagement with overtly political
issues but also the relationship of Fellini's work to larger social issues and
the possibility for social change. The second term, strictly speaking, should
be a subcategory of politics, particularly given my broad use of the term.
However, because it has become such a significant issue unto itself in recent
years--and because it is such a crucial issue on its own within Fellini's
work--it works best as a separate area of consideration.
. . . .
It seems to me that there are three places to look for "politics" or social
significance within Fellini's work: (1) films of broad and often insistent
social critique from Variety Lights through La Dolce Vita but
also including, to some extent, 8 1/2 and Juliet of the Spirits;
(2) films that seem to deal specifically with political moments or problems
(Amarcord, Orchestra Rehearsal); and (3) films that analyze and
critique representation and signification (his work from "The Temptations of
Dr. Antonio" through The Voice of the Moon). Though these areas are
rough and overlapping (and, in fact, "(2)" will end up collapsed into "(3)" in
my discussion, they provide a useful point of departure for discussing the
. . . .
. . . .
I have addressed the issue of politics, the social, and Fellini in relation
principally to post-'68 (1970s) cultural theory. New issues arise in relation
to more recent theory, centered on cultural difference and generated by the
increased assimilation and/or visibility of previously marginalized groups.
(The causes of both the visibility and the theory have been numerous:
decolonization; globalization; late capitalism's pursuit of new labour forces,
new markets, and new consumer groups; and so on.) In light of such theory,
Fellini's films are liable to the charge of Eurocentrism--of not seeing beyond
the perspective of traditional white European (and European-derived, hence
North American) culture.
. . . .
GENDER AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION
The area of recent theory for which Fellini's work is probably most
problematic is gender. . . .
. . . I would argue that gender in Fellini is more complex than may initially
seem the case [. . . in fact] intricate enough to reward at least three kinds
of responses: feminist, "masculinist," and postmodern. At times the three
overlap in mutually enhancing ways. At times they lead in quite different
. . . .
. . . Fellini's films seem quite conventionally and normatively heterosexual.
Though Fellini had numerous gay friends and collaborators . . . the films tend
to equate male homosexuality with stereotypical effeminacy. . . .
The most complex examination of sexual orientation in Fellini's work is
Fellini-Satyricon. [Lengthy discussion of the film, as both positive and
negative construction of gay experience.] . . . .
. . . .
[Brief concluding "balance sheet," of the relevance of Fellini's work, based on
the preceding discussion.]
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Fellini in Context
Chapter 2. Individuality Denied: Variety Lights to Il Bidone
Chapter 3. Individuation and "Creative Negation":
The Nights of Cabiria and La Dolce Vita
Chapter 4. Film About Film and Modernist Self-Reflexivity:
"The Temptations of Dr. Antonio"
Chapter 5. Individuation and Enlightenment: 8 1/2, Juliet of
Spirits, and "Toby Dammit"
Chapter 6. The Individual in Crisis From 8 1/2 to
Chapter 7. The Individuation of Art Versus Character
From 8 1/2 to Roma
Chapter 8. Art and Individuality Dissolved: Roma, Amarcord, and
Chapter 9. Postmodern Reproduction: Fellini's Casanova to
With La Dolce Vita Revisited
Chapter 10. The Voice of the Moon
Chapter 11. Politics, Gender, and Fellini's Critical Reputation
Notes and References