I love Federico Fellini’s films. I think if I’d had the opportunity to know him, I might have liked him, too. I first learned of him — his films — when I was a little kid and a then-scandalous “foreign” (OH MY GOD!) film came out. My parents went to see La Dolce Vita. My brother and I had a babysitter that night. All I remember hearing about it the next day was, “I don’t like subtitles.”
I watched Nights of Cabiria in a college film class. Afterward, my teacher explained what Fellini was doing. I listened without being convinced. It’s an incredibly dark film made before Fellini broke from the post-war vision of most Italian directors.
The next Fellini film I heard about was Satyricon. There was a big article about it in Life Magazine that sparked my curiosity. I was in college, and Satyricon was at the Denver art theater, the Flick. A guy from the Colorado School of Mines was trying to date me. He picked me up at the dorm, took me to the theater, and expected me to pay half. THAT wasn’t my idea of a date at all. We didn’t see the movie and I never saw him again.
Eight years later my best friend, her boyfriend and I went to see City of Women at Denver’s Vogue (vague) Theater. It was hilarious, and it beat out all previous films in my experience for quantities of phallus images (to be fair also images of birth canals). As we were leaving the theater, we looked in the window of the nearby Mexican restaurant at all the cocktuses and laughed.
Somewhere in there I had decided that God had abdicated responsibility for guiding my fate and had subcontracted to Federico Fellini. I’d told my friend this one night over dinner. She just laughed at me until one of the songs in City of Women was this disco hit by Gino Soccio that she’d heard ONLY at my house. It convinced her. 😀
Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film about failure, the artistic vision vs. investors, monogamy vs. human nature, the constant pulls on the human heart and the artist’s imagination was my best friend for a long time. Whenever I felt discouraged about teaching, writing, love, life, money, identity, I watched 8 1/2.
In 2004, in the midst of my Felliniesque life, I even gave a paper at a professional conference. The topic was “The Image of the Hero.” My mind went right to Fellini’s corpus. I named the hero of Fellini’s films “Old Half Head,” the nickname given to a statue of Julius Caesar standing in the town square of the movie version of Fellini’s home town, Rimini, in the film Roma. Half of Caesar’s head has broken off. I saw this image over and over and over in Fellini’s films, and over time, realized that it represents what an artist does to himself when he/she gives up, gives in, loses faith. The “Fellini hero”, in many films, “half-heads” “himself.”
The protagonist of La Dolce Vita half-heads himself in the very last scene of the movie. As construction proceeds in a subway in Roma, a Roman villa is discovered and there is a floor mosaic of Fellini with part of his head broken away. In 8 1/2 the hero, Guido, stops short of half-heading himself with a pistol. The half-head is what happens when an artist loses faith. There is also “half-heading” in I Vitelloni, Intervista, and the unfinished Voyage of G. Mastorna.
I haven’t yet lost faith in the journey, even though it often seems dark and desperate. The important thing of man today is to hang on, not to let his head droop but to keep looking up through the tunnel, perhaps even inventing a way of salvation through fantasy or will-power, and especially through faith. For this reason, I think the work of artists is really important today. Fellini on Fellini
P.S. I just learned that yesterday Fellini would have been 100 years old. ❤