Readers may find it odd at first to see Federico Fellini’s name appear as an author on the content’s page of our current issue – perhaps for no other reason than the fact the Italian director passed away in 1993, so he can hardly have written anything new since. Fellini left behind no memoir or autobiography as such, but over the course of his life he did write a considerable number of pieces for various publications, and left an extensive record of interviews. Some may remember a slim volume from 1976 titled Fellini on Fellini (now long out of print), which collected together some of the filmmaker’s disparate writings and interviews, and stood as a kind of pseudo memoir. Some years later, the Italian publisher Einaudi collated a more expansive volume of material with Fellini’s collaboration and approval. Published in 1980 under the title Fare un film (“Making a Film”), it stands as the definitive edition of Fellini’s musings on all manner of things related to his life and work. An English translation of this volume will appear later this year from the publishers Contra Mundum Press, and they, together with the volume’s translator, Christopher White, have kindly given us permission to print an excerpt of the book in advance of its publication.
Autobiography was the raw material of much of Fellini’s cinema, with the proviso that it was not a literal rendition of his life, but a fabulist’s reworking. The literature on Fellini in English is extensive, much less so texts by Fellini, so this new publication will be a welcome and significant addition on a filmmaker who has lost none of his fascination.
Indeed, the spectre of Fellini has been in the air of late, mainly due to La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty), and the many critics who invoked his name in discussions of the film. The film’s director, Paolo Sorrentino, himself made a point of acknowledging Fellini in his acceptance speech when picking up the Oscar for best foreign film at the recent Academy Awards ceremony.
It’s not only La dolce vita (1959) that is La grande bellezza’s obvious point of reference, but also Roma (1971), and, more particularly, Sorrentino’s film is a kind of modern Satyricon for the Berlusconi era. Set in the twilight-of-an-era decadence of ancient Rome, Fellini’s 1969 film offers an interesting point of comparison: however much disgraced former Prime Minister Berlusconi’s banga banga revelries inform the long, crazed party sequence early in La grande bellezza, it’s more likely Sorrentini had in mind a modern parallel to Camacho’s debauched banquet sequence from the Fellini film. Ancient Rome and contemporary Rome may not be so far apart after all.
Rarely has Rome looked like a mausoleum, beautiful but asleep, a place for the living dead, the exhausted and the defeated. Sorrentino frames his film with a quote from Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night, yet he could have just as easily adopted another Céline title, Death on the Instalment Plan, in place of The Great Beauty as the title of his film. For if the film is about anything, it is as much about death as anything else – and death in its various guises – cultural, aesthetic, spiritual, et al. As the protagonist Jeb Gambardella says, late in the film, “Everything around me is dying.” A film about a decaying culture, then, which has betrayed its immense historical patrimony and promise.
Not to dwell on death, it would be remiss to note the passing of the great Alain Resnais. If the term ‘modernism’ means anything in cinema it is certainly due to titles like Hiroshima mon amour (1959), L’année derniére à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad), Muriel (1963) and countless others, films whose formal experimentation were for the time (and still remain) cutting edge. His documentaries of the 1950s (some made in collaboration with Chris Marker) also contain great riches. In many ways, one of the giants of cinema.
Last but not least, our great thanks and fond farewell to Wendy Haslem whose last issue this is as Book Reviews Editor. She served the role with distinction over her years with us and made an invaluable contribution to the journal in many ways. Sad to see her go and we wish her well with future endeavours.
We hope you enjoy the issue,