A “semihumourous introduction” to the world of Federico Fellini movies in a “documentary” made for US television, illustrating dedication to cinema as an intuitive visual art that transcends mere illustrative storytelling.
Federico Fellini, A Director’s Notebook, in his own images…
Federico Fellini Movies: A Director’s Notebook
Commissioned by NBC television producer Peter Goldfarb in 1968 to do an hour-long program on his work, Fellini filmed a “sort of semihumourous introduction” to past and future plans: the recently abandoned project, The Voyage of G. Mastorna, and his latest work-in-progress, Satyricon.
Fellini opines on his Felliniesque creative process: “I think almost exclusively in images, which explains why an actor’s face and body are more important to me than plot structure . . . . The key word to understanding my kind of cinema is vitality. What I seek is to live the expression itself.”
Michael Rowin on Damian Pettigrew’s “Fellini: I’m a Born Liar,”: Fellini was such a good interview subject largely because he reveled in creating his own myth, even outside film (“I invented everything, including my birth”), and, in keeping with its title, the book presents a host of wonderful Fellini yarns, including his childhood abduction via wolf, his mysterious encounter with Carlos Castaneda, and several experiences involving magic and paranormal visions.
The main curios come from projects that never got off the ground: not only the well-known cursed production “Voyage of G. Mastorna” (the funereal mood of which pervaded Fellini’s films from Satyricon onward), but also a WWII version of “Tarzan,” written by Marcello Mastroianni; “Visions of Italy,” a collaboration with Italo Calvino inspired by the latter’s Italian Folktales, dealing with “fables as prophetic dreams”; a story concerning a man who metamorphoses into a woman after a heart transplant; and The Voyage to Tulum, a sort of Fellini Que Viva Mexico! documenting the director’s search for Castaneda, the infamous “Mescaline Man.”
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Interview with Federico Fellini. BBC, 1965.
Michael Rowin continues: Perhaps the greatest surprise, however, comes from Fellini’s sincere humility, not only in his role as an artist (“My films are based on fragile, half-digested ideas propped up with contradictory information and infused with nonexistent memories. If I’m lucky, I manage to get a few laughs”) and his success (“I do not recognize any particular acts of will on my part that can be described as personal ambition”), but also in his approach to life, in his belief that observation and improvisation, rather than aggressivity and hubris, can foster attentiveness to reality while transforming it at the same time.
This was the brilliance of Fellini’s vision – an eye that searches patiently for people and places, essences and oddities. As the maestro himself so elegantly explained it, “To believe is part and parcel of that vague yet fundamental sentiment in which I recognize an essential part of myself – the feeling of waiting for something.” The images in Born Liar attest to the boundless creativity and beauty generated during this wait. – MICHAEL ROWIN (FILM COMMENT) © 2004 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center
On Fellini’s Foray into TV
From Roberto Chiesi: In 1966, Federico Fellini experienced in real life the distressing reality he had imagined three years before in 8½: devastated by a psychological and creative crisis, the director backed out of making his new film, Il viaggio di G. Mastorna, even though the sets were already in place and the contracts signed. Two years later, when he had already presented the Toby Dammit segment and was getting ready for the great enterprise of Satyricon, he was invited by the U.S. TV company NBC for an interview, which was to be part of a program about his work.
The invitation sparked a new film by Fellini, A Director’s Notebook, the first film where ‘The Magician’ shows, with digressive frivolity, the circus of film as it is being made, a behind-the-scenes movie that is actually staged, simulating the spontaneity of documentary filmmaking. It starts on the abandoned set of the film he never made, where Fellini wanders around scenery and costumes, revealing his (ephemeral) fondness for young hippies and shooting some scenes of Mastorna, almost like an exorcism.
Combinations of the past and present take over with the reconstruction of the smoky and wild cinemas of the 1920s – where a beautiful Italian silent film (by Fellini himself) is being screened – and then continues with excerpts from mediums and phony historians, a re-invented audition of Mastroianni for Mastorna, another (brilliantly fake) audition at the slaughterhouse in Rome for Satyricon, a parade of extras and background artists from which the director chooses the most suitable faces.
The film also surprisingly includes an excerpt of a sequence from Nights of Cabiria, which was cut by De Laurentiis due to pressure from the Vatican. These notes in film form have the charm of a confession told as a story, in which a lie, as usual, is the key to the truth. The only Fellini film made exclusively for television, it was not broadcast in Italy by Rai until 1972 and was unjustifiably cut by a quarter of an hour.
H-T Open Culture
Updated 26 March 2023