The movies of Fellini:
Wonderful concept! Multiple Biography! I take the phrase from the documentary accompanying the DVD of Fellini’s I Vitelloni.
Fellini’s great films are multiple biographies: they’re autobiographical of him, in part, and biographical of you, me, Guido … as well.
In 1963 or so I ran into Michael Peter Kahn, the Shakespeare director, producer guy, my old classmate. I’d heard that Kahn had declared Forbidden Games to be the greatest movie of all time. He may have heard that I said that La Strada, or Roshomon, or Modern Times … was the greatest movie of all time. I though I’d amuse him by declaring that he was wrong: Forbidden Games wasn’t the greatest movie of all time; 8 1/2 was!
Michael laughed, and said, “Of course: that’s all of our autobiography.”
I doubt that Michael meant him and me and you … and Obama; He did mean himself, and me, and Fellini and … Shakespeare. He meant artists, he meant geniuses.
I think that’s what Fellini meant. (Is that why so few people get it?) (We only get it to the degree that we’re a genius, an artist. That’s we’re Christ! and not Pilat!)
Years later, I was on the Columbia campus. I heard that Fellini was to appear at the Casa Italiana. I showed up, on time for a change, my paperback under my nose while everyone else was late.
The room was drab, boring, dull, stupid: grayscale, black and white grunge. But there was a change: in the temperature, in the humidity: in the Spirit Quotient. The place got a tinge of color, of excitement. Fellini walked in. The place became a circus, a genial bedlam.
I sat with my forefinger on my line in the book open on my lap. Fellini took the podium, began a scan of the audience. He gaze crossed mine: stopped, backed up, fixed on me, locked on me … then resumed his serene scan.
I’d always hoped to write Fellini, to try to tell him something of what he’d meant to me since 1954 and La Strada. I hope he got the gist of it from my gaze. Of course he might have thought I was a madman, dangerous.
Would he think of me as the satyr in La Dolce Vita? or as the smiling angel in I Vitelloni?
To myself, I am Gelsomina! I am Cabiria! And I am the Fool! The dumb Franciscan schnook who gets it in the neck, all the time, that moron fisherman on the beach, socially marginal, but who still somehow loves.
Socially marginal: that concept too is from the I Vitelloni DVD. Brilliant: his friends and colleagues observed that that was a Fellini theme in his greatest decade: I Vitelloni, La Strada, Il Bidone …