Federico Fellini: Making A Film
by Federico Fellini; Christopher Burton White, Translator
Contra Mundey Press, New York, 2015
338 pp. Paper, $25.95
Reviewed by Allan Graubard
New York, NY 10019 USA
Early on, when I began reading this book, I knew I was hooked. Here was the voice of a film director whose creations I have encountered through the years several times over, whether in movie theaters or now, as it is available, on a computer screen (the latter being something that Fellini would be horrified by). As his films enchanted me, at times to the point of entering their world completely as if they held within them something I missed in reality, something I needed, so this book enchants. It is an invitation into the world of Federico Fellini written by the same, and finally available in English in a complete, well-translated form. Italo Calvino, a friend of Fellini's, introduces it, and Fellini's collaborator, Liliana Betti, concludes it.
Between these two doors is Fellini, or as much as he wishes to reveal. And he is generous in this regard There is his youth, growing up in that coastal, Adriatic town of Rimini, his poor efforts to succeed at school, his penchant for drawing caricatures inspired perhaps by his many eccentric neighbors and townsfolk, his adolescence, his work as a screenwriter for Roberto Rossellini and then, finally, a little against his will and almost by chance, walking onto the set as a director who made, in the end, from 1950 to 1990, some twenty-three films; a good number of which gained international renown and awards.
Of those of a certain age, whose experience of film filters through Fellini, and whose expectations and tastes for and in film owe something to Fellini, then this book is a must. Of those who know Fellini as a director from a previous period but who have enjoyed his vision, played out on a screen and for whatever personal reason found something unique, an entertainment that struck poignant chords and which they return to in order to know themselves, or the root of their interest that much more, this book is a must. Of those young enough to have heard of the man but not seen his films, or only a few of them, then on these pages you will meet someone you do not need his films to clarify. For Fellini ever is himself: humorous, direct, sensitive to nuance, truthful, without artifice, someone who talks to you as if he were sitting beside you in a café in a coastal Adriatic town very much like Rimini.
His obsession with faces and delight in characters is all here, as is the influence of Hollywood films of the 1930s. Italy's Fascist years and those post war play their part, as his work as a young screenwriter then developing as a director; the subtle turns and sudden opportunities that opened up for him in those years when neo-realism was gaining a foothold, and which enabled Italian film to attract critical and popular attention (at least in the developed Western world). His delicate and demanding way of working with actors, depending on who the actor was, and his relationships with an industry he used but also held at bay in order for him to preserve the independence he prized, and which we sought and found in him, grow quite clear. How did Fellini go about creating I vitelloni (1953), La strada (1954), La dolce vita (1960), Giulietta degli spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits, 1965), Fellini-Satyricon (1969), Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (The Casanova of Frederico Fellini, 1976), or his journey through his adopted Roma (1972), his marvelous documentary I clowns (The Clowns), and other films he talks about provides a portrait of a process that Fellini kept open and sincere - or, again, as much as he was able to depict in words what began as an obscure need and then, through various transformations, engaged producers, a cast and crew that enlivened his choice of set or location, where invention and discovery prevailed.
In this book you will meet a man who made films and helped to shape the art of filmmaking in the second half of the twentieth century. And if, like me, you break into laughter at more than a few places, then that alone will make the read worthy of your time.
Of course, there are the films, seen new or anew, and all of those strangely intriguing, alluring, whimsical, sexy, tender, odd, sometimes wildly bizarre, other times common people who comprised the brilliant, inner commedia of this director, refashioned on celluloid for us to wonder with or about.
Fellini's Making a Film is also how film gave Fellini a chance to make, re-make and lose himself within film, ever in pursuit of surprise, that moment or meeting we did not expect to take place in just this way. Except here, in these pages, it does, and on those screens where his films and art live.