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Federico Fellini

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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