An anal-retentive perfectionist
director who oversaw every
minute detail of his films, Federico Fellini wrote all of his own scripts with the help of
dialogue writers hired to punch them up. He was also an integral part
of the editing process, playing pivotal roles even in the tedious hours
spent in final editing. He once said that he viewed filmmaking much as
Marco Polo sailed to the Orientónot really knowing what may happen along the
journey or where the end may lie.
Fellini was born into a middle-class family on the rocky
Adriatic coast of Rimini, Italy. The date was January 20, 1920.
He spent his early childhood at a strict Catholic
boarding school. One of the regular punishments the priests meted out
was making their students kneel on grains of maize. As a special
reward on Sundays, students and teachers marched down to the beach, where
they would pray while looking out at the sea. Not particularly suited to
student life, Fellini was good only at drawing, although he and his friends
enjoyed another curriculum nearly as well--cutting classes.
When Fellini was twelve, he ran away from home and joined a
traveling circus, but the police eventually found him and brought him back.
At seventeen, he moved to Florence and, shortly after, to Rome where he
found work as an actor, a newspaper cartoonist, and a radio scriptwriter.
He wrote for a radio series about Cico and Pallina, the Italian version of
eternal American bumblers, Blondie and Dagwood.
In Rome, Fellini changed addresses often because he
developed a habit of entering into romantic liaisons with his landladies.
When the relationships ended, he would be kicked out. In 1939, Fellini
experienced "the most important year of my life" while traveling with his
friend, comedian Aldo Fabrizi, all across Italy with a vaudeville troupe.
During his travels, he earned a reputation as a solid
sketch writer, scenery painter, bit actor, and "company poet." It was
during this period of his life that he saw the wide tableau that his country
offered and experienced the variety of what he called its human landscape.
"A different language is a different vision of life," he said.
While touring with a theater company, Fellini had an
opportunity to collaborate with Italian film director Roberto Rossellini on
the script of Open City (1945). He worked as a screenwriter and
assistant director on several other films before co-directing Variety
Lights (1951) with Alberto Lattuada. The following year, he
directed The White Sheik (1952).
Although his first two films were unsuccessful, his next,
I Vitelloni (1953), won international acclaim. It was the first
of his probing, neorealistic studies of the young drifters, circus people,
and prostitutes whom he had befriended during his earlier days of travel.
When Fabrizi was offered the lead role in a film comedy, Fellini provided
the film's storyline, and his film career was founded.
Fellini met Giulietta Masina, an actress who had taken over
as the voice of Pallina, and married her after a four-month courtship.
She went on to star in several of his films and once said of her husband,
"The only time Federico blushes is when he tells the truth."
La Strada and Nights of Cabiria (1957), both
starring his wife, won Academy Awards for best foreign film. His
subsequent films became more autobiographical and surrealistic, often
incorporating spectacular and grotesque elements and abandoning linear
narrative in an attempt to express the director's subjectivity of his
characters' experiences and thoughts.
The films, 8-1/2 and Amarcord (1974), won for
Fellini two more Academy Awards for best foreign film. The former
portrays a filmmaker's quest for self-understanding; the latter reflects
Fellini's childhood memories.
One of Fellini's best-known films is La Dolce Vita
(1960). Others include Juliet of the Spirits (1965), Fellini
Satyricon (1969), The Clowns (1970), City of Women (1981),
And The Ship Sails On (1983), and Ginger and Fred
(1986). Fellini received the Academy Award for Lifetime
Achievement in 1993. He had a massive heart attack later that year and
died soon afterwards of heart and lung failure.
Fellini once said, "All art is autobiographical. The
pearl is the oyster's autobiography."
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