Cinema: Federico Fellini

John Gehl sends us this bio of  the Oscar-winning Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini (1920-1993), best known for his flamboyant, sometimes  grotesque film fantasies. His 1960 film "La Dolce Vita," a stinging indictment of contemporary Roman decadence, made him an international media star.  Starting out as a journalist and gag writer, Fellini drifted into films as a scriptwriter, first in collaboration with Roberto Rossellini on the neorealist films "Open City" and "Paisan." He debuted as a director with the satirical comedies "The White Sheik" and "I Vitelloni." With "La Strada," the powerful 1954 fable, Fellini won the Oscar for best foreign film. A second Oscar came two years later for "Nights of Cabiria." Fellini's third Oscar winner, the 1963 film "8 1/2," used stream-of-consciousness techniques to depict the inner filmmaking struggles experienced by a director.  Fellini's next films --"Juliet of the Spirits," "Satyricon," and "Roma" -- were less critically acclaimed, but in 1974 Fellini won a fourth Oscar for "Amarcord," a stirring depiction of adolescence under fascism set in his hometown of Rimini. After the mid-1970s none of Fellini's films attained the celebrity of his earlier productions, but he retained his fame as a director with a filmmaking style original enough to be called "Felliniesque."

Fellini was born in Rimini on the Adriatic coast of Italy, where his father was a food-products salesman. After schooling at Bologna, Fellini went in 1938 to Florence, where his talent for drawing got him work on a humorous weekly and on science fiction serials. In 1939 he went to Rome in the hope of becoming a journalist and sold caricatures in restaurants. He was able to avoid military service during World War II, and in 1940 he became an editor of Marc'Aurelio
, a popular satirical weekly magazine. In 1943 he wrote a radio serial in which the actress Giulietta Masina appeared. They married that same year. When Allied forces took Rome in 1944, Fellini opened a shop, in which he drew caricatures and made voice recordings for Allied soldiers. Fellini became a friend and associate of the director Roberto Rossellini, who put him to work as a scriptwriter and assistant director. Fellini fell in love with the movie business and with the help of Rossellini (and later the prominent Italian director, Alberto Lattuada), gradually gained the experience he needed to become a director in his own right. Critics have hailed his best films, which were all partially written by him, as artistic blends of realism and social satire, with an uniquely Fellini touch of fantasy. So much were his films the product of his own inner being, that it was not unusual for Fellini to have the story unfold as the film was being made.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: March 17, 2005