As I have taken the time to learn more about myself and who I am morphing into, it is always a special moment when I discover that a world icon shares my daily rituals, eccentricities, quirky habits, or beliefs. Life is overwhelming exciting and intricate that I look up to my favorite idols for inspiration and advice on how they were able to navigate it and make most of their time here on earth. If we do have one life, then we must be the mapmakers and live to the fullest.
One of these world renown icons is Federico Fellini who needs no introduction. If you do not know this extraordinary film maker, then I encourage you to first read up on him and watch his films before reading this article. There is so much information on him already that there is no need for me to regurgitate everything again. Instead, I am sharing my personal view and thoughts on a man who inspires me and influences the way I perceive life. I hope that he comes to inspire you too.
I discovered that learning about Fellini from a personal and intimate level provides much more clarity into his films. I made the mistake of delving into his films first without really knowing who he was. Or perhaps this wasn’t a mistake. Maybe it was meant to happen this way, for his worked provoked me and had me curious about its creator. As an Italophile and Cinephile, it was no brainer that I would watch La Dolce Vita. Little did I know how this film would make me feel like Alice in Wonderland going down a rabbit hole and trying to unlock several doors full of surprises.
One thing that stuck out to me the most was Fellini’s response to Irving R. Levine’s question regarding his feelings about interviews during their interview in 1965. Fellini state’s
“It depends. Every day is different. Some days I am willing and flattered to give an interview. Other days less so. The thing is that since I am quite a chatterbox by nature, I generally end up regretting that I said anything . I give an interview, but then I read it or watch it a week later and I always feel remorse that I said some things awkwardly or that I talked too much. So I always resolve not to do it anymore, to behave more seriously , to stop talking so much, but I always fall back into this game.”
This stuck out to me personally because I share Fellini’s sentiment about being a chatterbox and then regretting what I say. I know that this statement was in regards to interviews but I wonder if he felt the same when talking to people in general. Or if he also found himself thinking too much, replaying conversations in his head. Another thing I learned about Fellini and was happy to hear about was his use of empty spaces in his films. When asked what kind of photography I like to do, I usually reply saying that I find myself gravitating towards empty spaces like cathedrals or urban spaces. It is for a selfish reason though.
I like to imagine that I have the most beautiful places to myself. Before Covid, I enjoyed exploring Chicago very early on weekend mornings while a majority of the night owls were hitting REM in their sleep. Feeling like you have a whole city to yourself is exhilarating. That was until the pandemic happened and it started to become eerie for me. In contrast of liking empty spaces, I also photograph occupied spaces. There just needs to be the right alignment and momentum in order for it to be to my liking. Fellini also enjoyed this too. According to scholar David Forgacs, we can see this in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita where in certain scenes, he fills and over populates the screen with people.
While visual techniques are important, I believe that a great film director also knows how to capture our hearts by understanding humanity and how we function in the world. When emotions and visuals are strategically combined in a film, a viewer can easily fall into suspension of disbelief. What is suspension of disbelief you ask? The Scientific American states that this term was coined by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 and he explains it as realizing that we are watching something but feeling as if it is happening live at that moment. Even though we are aware that we cannot change the outcome of what we are viewing, we can still have an emotional reaction. However, we do not act on these feelings. Instead, we feel that we are mentally transported somewhere, become unaware of actual surroundings, and are transfixed on what we are visually consuming.
Knowing suspension of disbelief before watching Federico Fellini’s films, I found it fascinating when he said the following on his interview with Irving.
“I mean to say that filmmaking is a very suggestive art form. It’s hypnotic and extremely effective in terms of persuasion. It’s a remarkable and quite magical weapon because it can hypnotize and compel. For one thing, a film moves at a different rhythm than life. Films have a different rhythm and the viewer adapts to that rhythm. You can practically control people’s heart beats and how their lungs breathe with a film, so it can change even more profound rhythms on the level of imagination and emotion. So the suggestive power of this instrument is frightening. And of course that influence can be positive or negative, so there’s an immerse and terrifying responsibility which I never think about or I’d be crushed and never make another film for those expressing themselves through images. Not on an ethical level but on the human level, because at that moment you have a blank screen in your hands that have a powerful influence on millions of people.”
What are your thoughts on this dear reader? Have you experienced this as a viewer? Which films provoked you in this way? If you are open to sharing, tell me why a certain film made you feel so strongly.
Now that we have a very tiny glimpse of what Fellini was like as an artist, let’s delve into what he was like as a friend and his personality.
“Who was Federico Fellini? Two things come to mind. A genius and a playmate.” – Lina Wertmüller
From the research that I have done, I would argue that Marcello Mastroianni was closest to Fellini. Their friendship and brotherhood seemed to be a very special one. In a 1965 interview, Marcello states that he never came across anyone who really understood people the way that Fellini did. To him, Fellini was supernatural because he would look at a person and read what was inside of them. During film making, Marcello recalls having to approach it as playing a game with Fellini, as if they were in a park with friends. Nightfall would come, and they would still be ‘playing’.
Out of the whole interview, there was one statement that Marcello made that hit home.
“ Or maybe he’s actually more immersed in life precisely because he loves it so much that he won’t allow work to ruin so many hours of the day. Yes, we have to work, but we mustn’t forget that these hours are precious. The days go by. We get older. Let’s live this time too. Let’s work, yes, but let’s live it too, as if it were a big game.”
My emotions were rattled when hearing this because it is so true. It is very easy to get caught up in the hardships, negativity, and strenuous repetitions of life. Fellini was on to something with approaching life as a game. Not saying that you shouldn’t take life seriously. Of course you should, but gosh, make it fun! Do little silly things in between work. Maybe after an intense client call, get up and play a song and just dance to make yourself feel better. Or put on a cup of tea using your finest tea cup you own. If the weather is nice, have lunch on your balcony or yard. Set time with friends to have an aperitif and just vent but also inspire one another. Remember what makes you most happy and bring it out daily. Bring out your inner child!
For most of us, nostalgia stems from our happiest moments as a child. It was then when things seemed so easy and we saw the world from a lens of innocence and wonder. The world seemed to have endless opportunities. As an adult, we tend to find ways to limit ourselves or give power to these limitations which in turn dim our childlike lens. If you can take away one thing from this blog entry dear reader, keep this quote from Fellini in mind.
“No matter what happens, always keep your childhood innocence. It’s the most important thing.”
As Fellini strongly believed in embracing our inner child, he did say in his interview with Irving that ideals should be destroyed. He believed that an idealized life and idealized concepts can be extremely dangerous for our mental health. When creating films, this is what he tried to convey. I will definitely be contemplating on this in the new year.
Thank you for taking the time to read my appreciation for Fellini. Hopefully you enjoyed it as well as took something from it. I wish you a happy and prosperous new year with many blessings and endless opportunities. See you all next year!