January 20, 2010
Every child dreams of running away and joining the circus. The 12-year-old FEDERICO FELLINI (1920-93) actually did it, kicking off his enduring love affair with spectacle. Early works like La Strada (1954) and Nights of Cabiria (1957) (his lifelong collaborations with his wife, the actress Giulietta Masina, and composer Nino Rota, are on display in both) may reveal his roots in neo-realism, but his films soon began displaying phantasmagoric imagery. Eventually, his melding of fantasy and reality would inspire the coining of a new term: “Felliniesque.” Hitchcock claimed that great films were “fever dreams,” and Fellini’s visionary works embody this idea like no others. In recasting his memories, fantasies, and dreams in celluloid, Fellini invented a parallel life for himself. He was also a caricaturist: he’d scribble fantastic doodles, then find and cast these cartoons as extras in his films. As the cult of celebrity and its attendant hordes of paparazzi and critics dovetailed with the rise of auteur theory, Fellini created 8 ½ (1963; starring Marcello Mastroianni as Fellini’s cinematic alter ego), a self-indulgent autobiographical masterpiece about a narcissistic, philandering film director without an idea left in his head. Its central image is a man flying to the sun, only to plummet — like Icarus — from that great height.
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