The Religious Affiliation of Director
Federico Fellini was born in Italy, where he lived throughout most of his life. He was raised in a devout Catholic home.
Although Fellini abandoned formal activity in the Catholic Church as an adult, he had a strong sense of Catholic identity throughout his life and his film career. He consistently referred to himself as a Catholic. Fellini used Catholic themes and imagery extensively throughout his film career. Various of his films have been regarded as among the greatest, most Catholic films ever made, and also the most blasphemous and impious. A number of his films have both strong detractors and strong supporters among both Catholic laity and Catholic clergy and leadership. While Fellini's films contain much that celebrates Catholicism and its teachings, his body of work also contains films which seem clearly anti-clerical and intended to hold the Catholic Church up to ridicule.
Fellini was a strong believer in astrology, supernatural phenomena and the occult. Throughout his life he frequently consulted astrologers, mediums and clairvoyants. Later in life, Jungianism also became an important part of Fellini's personal belief system. In 1965 Fellini even made a religious pilgrimage to the Zurich home of Carl Jung, the founder of Jungianism.
From: Hollis Alpert, Fellini: A Life, Atheneum: New York (1986), pages 15-18:
Rimini, where Fellini was born on January 20, 1920, is a town on the Adriatic coast about 100 miles south of Venice. Then populated by less than 50,000 inhabitants...
Fellini's father's family were mostly respectable farming and tradespeople of Romagna, the region to which Rimini belongs.
Urbano Fellini [Federico Fellini's father] was born in the nearby village of Gambettola in 1894... [In Rome he] met Ida Barbiani [who would become Federico Fellini's mother]...
He [Federico Fellini] described her [his mother] as coming from "a very Catholic and bourgeois family. When he [Federico Fellini's father] asked to marry her he was refused. Then, strangely, she decided to elope with him. Her family never forgave my father for running off with her. They were quite rich--and it was my mother's brother who inherited all the money..." Only at Christmas time would the brother send packages for the family...
Ida Fellini recalled that it was love at first sight between herself and Urbano, and that her family did everything possible to keep them from marrying. Being stubborn, she agreed to elope with him, and the wedding took place in July 1918...
It is because of his mother that Fellini likes to think he is at least half a genuine Roman. A cousin on her side whose hobby is genealogy traced the Barbiani name as far back as 1400 and discovered one such in the court of Pope Martin V...
On the Romagnola side he doesn't feel himself to be typical of "the conventinoal belief that all Romagnolas are extroverts, that they are sensual, generous, gregarious, good talkers, good eaters, blasphemers who consider themselves atheists, given to bad language, but who send their daughters to church because someone in the family has to have some kind of relationship with the eternal father." If some of the labels seem to fit him, one that doesn't is political ability. "In that," he said, "I'm more of an Eskimo."
[The birth of] Federico was followed a year and a half later by a brother, and, in another five years, by a sister, Maddalena. Discipline in the family was provided mostly by Ida, a handsome, humorous woman with a wide smile and a touch of mischief in her black eyes. She was also intensely religious, and determined that her children would receive proper religious educations.
Thus, Fellini was sent to a kindergarten run by the large-coifed Sisters of St. Vincent, who also maintained a primary school. The memories of his early years, Fellini once said, consisted of a kind of vibration, but now and then out of the vibrating vagueness would arise a distinct image. One such had to do with a Sister in the school who was fond of him and would hug him frequently. She was young, and smelled of rancid soap. Fellini regards the experience as giving him his first sexual feeling. The Sister would stroke his back while holding him close, and the odors that emanated from her--potato skins, stale broth, the starch of her habit--remained with him to the extent that for a long time after, he said, the smell of potato skins made him weak.
Not all of the Sisters were so nice to him. One who wore glasses like Harold Lloyd's admonished him while he was holding a candle in an outdoor procession: "Don't let the candle go out because Jesus won't like it."
A strong wind was blowing, and he was overwhelmed with the responsibility of keeping the candle lit. He wondered what Jesus might do to him if he blew it out. The procession of children began to move amid a crowd of monks, priests, and nuns. "Suddenly," said Fellini, "sprang a melancholy and monotonous chant. All of it frightened me. I broke out sobbing." Such early religious memories would have their later effects.
From: John Baxter, Fellini: The Biography, St. Martin's Press: New York (1993), page 15:
'My mother was a severe woman and a religious one,' Fellini says. 'No meat on Fridays; that sort of thing. My father, a wise man, travelled a great deal.' In 1960, Fellini used Urbano [his father] as the basis of Marcello Mastroianni's father in La dolce vita, showing him as a typical travelling salesman, charming, clubbable, genially womanising, henpecked at home like many Italian men and, again conforming to the national stereotype, only truly comfortable in the all-male society of the cafes.
...Ida hoped Federico would become a priest or, failing that, a lawyer.
Baxter, pages 17-18:
The Romagna of Fellini's childhood whispered with legends and superstitions. Every Romagnolo village had its clairvoyant, healer or witch. An old man down by the docks could put a hex on sheep and chickens, or remove one. Another woman given to trances had the ability to cure sickness. Angelina, who came to restuff the farm's mattresses, showed young Federico a small glass casket hanging around her neck. Inside, a lock of her hair was entwined with part of her lover's moustache, souvenired while he slept. By knotting the two together she ensure dthat, though he'd gone to Trieste to work, he would surely come back. Alboino Fellini also dabbled in the occult, and Federico never forgot dipping into some books on black magic which his uncle brought to the house when he was eight. If one can judge from a lifetime spent consulting astrologers, clairvoyants and mediums, Fellini believed it all.
Like every Romagnolo child, Fellini was sent to church from infancy and, at five, placed in the parish school system. Catholicism, with hits vestted interest in eradicating sexuality and creativity, was a stifling influence. 'I was taught "No", "You cannot", "You ought to be ashamed." There were so many admonitions to remember it was a wonder after all that I was not too incapacitated to buttom my fly. I was filled by school and church with an overwhelming sense of guilt before I had the faintest idea about what I was guilty of . . . Sex was something not spoken of. For a time I thoght all women were aunts. I was overcome by excitement if I saw a woman in an evening dress.'
Fellini preferred what he later called Romagna's 'strange, arrogant, blasphemous psychology, mingling superstition and defiance of God'. His personal creed is that 'blasphemous psychology' write large, a thicket of mysticism, astrology, antique Catholic dogma and Jungian psychoanalystic theory, rooted in the peasant's fear of the unknown.
But while Fellini abandoned Catholicism in adulthood (and is pointedly anti-clerical in his films), his awe of the Church and its trappings never disappeared. His resentment of the hierarchy was transferred to other authority figures, in particular producers, with all of whom, but especially Dino de Laurentiis... he clashed spectacularly. 'I know it's a bit ridiculous to imagine de Laurentiis in a cardinal's vestments,' he mused, 'but I like to think that film producers, like publishers, have inherited without deserving it a kind of sacred regalia, since the fate of the artist is to live off the bread of the grand duke, the prince and the Pope.'
Baxter, pages 361-363:
In June of 1993, Fellini entered a Zurich clinic for sixteen hours of bypass heart surgery. Rather than brave the paparazzi in Rome, he elected to convalesce in Rimini... On 8 August, he collapsed with a stroke and was rushed to the local hospital, his left arm, left leg, and the left half of his face paralyzed.
Once out of danger, he transferred to a Ferrara clinic specializing in stroke therapy... Masini [Giulietta Masina], constantly at his side, was joined by other members of the [Fellini] court... On 9 October Fellini was transferred to the Umberto I Hospital in Rome. Allowed out for the first time on Sunday, 17 October, to spend the day with Giulietta, he returned that night and, while eating dinner, suffered another, more massive stroke. His brain was so badly damaged that doctors offered little hope of recovery.
...He was given last rites.
... On 23 October a tracheotomy was performed to help his breathing but at the same time doctors declared his brain dead. He died the following Sunday, 30 October, late in the morning. It was his fiftieth wedding anniversary, almost to the hour.
Fellini's gradual slipping away gave ample time to prepare obituaries and tributes. The flops were forgotten, and his triumphs recalled with enthusiasm. Both church and government declared theselves ready to reverse a half-century of disapproval. Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, Vatican Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, announced that, as a 'friend of the family,' he would officiate at the funeral. President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, who, thirty-three years before, had denounced La Dolce Vita in the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano for its 'scenes of perversino, prostitution, and orgiastic eroticism', confirmed he would lead the mourners.
On Tuesday, 2 November, the body lay in state at Cinecitta on Stage 5. National guardsmen flanked the coffin displayed on a dais against a cyclorama of blue sky. Thousands of ordinary Romans as well as scores of filmmakers filed past. The low-key event was in contrast to the funeral the next day at Michelangelo's Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli... Clutching a rosary, Giulietta [Fellini's widow] appeared from the sacristy leaning on her brother Mario. She wore white. 'Federico hated mourning,' she explained.
The doors closed thirty minutes before the service, leaving ten-thousand people jammed into piazza della Republica... [Cardinal] Silvestrini told the congregation that Fellini's work was 'poetry, which enters the hearts of the people. We should put our questions to the poets, listen to them for the knowledge they have of the suffering world.' True, Fellini had denounced the Church, but 'with irony and love.' A solo trumpet played Gelsomina's song from La Strada and Silvestrini descended from the altar to kiss Giulietta's hand. It was an event to the obsequiousness, dishonesty, and sentiment of which only Fellini himself might have done justice.
Many editorials and obituaries, especially in Italy, remarked that Fellini's death ended an era... Even the replacement of his own past with something more befitting his status accorded with the ethics of their world. 'Whynot?' he must have asked himself. In an Italy of industrial robber barons and Vatican-created marquesses and princes... a little biographical enhancement was excused--even expected.
After his posthumous and unwilling welcome back into the Churhc, Fellini was even more humiliatingly repatriated to Rimini, to be interred next to Urbano and Ida [his parents] rather than in his beloved Rome.
Baxter, page 125:
At the end of Il bidone, Fellini had four projects in developement... One was a script about the efforts of a bigamist to keep all of his fifteen families content... The second, The Little Sister, was based on the life of a nineteenth-century nun named Serenella who'd earned a reputation as a miracle-worker. After she'd miraculously kept herself and four sisters alive without food throughout a snowbound winter, she was summoned to Rome. 'We see her tiny in St. Peter's,' explained Fellini, at his most anti-clerical, 'a contrast between the two faces of the Church, the majestic columns of the temple and the little wildflower of grace. After some days in Rome the flower is crushed; she is murdered.'
Alpert, pages 20-21:
Following two years at the school run by the Sisters of St. Vincent, Federico was sent to another ecclesiastical school [i.e., Catholic school] in Fano... This was a boarding school, founded by the Carissimi fathers, dull, provincial, and squalid, as he described it. "We at badly and were severly punished by the fathers."
...While at that unpleasant school, he apparently absorbed enough religious fervor to flirt briefly with the notion of becoming a priest. But soon enough this fervor declined. During confession he would kneel to recite his misdemeanors, but the moment he began with "Father, I have . . ." a skinny hand would dart from the monk's brown robe and land, unerringly, a slap on his face. This bewildered him, for he hadn't managed to say what he had done wrong. Then, when he did, the priest would doze off.
Federico seized one such opportunity to invent some dreadful sins, including setting fire to a house and causing hundreds to perish, and axing a priest to death. At the finish he raised his voice and confessed that he had kicked a friend during recess. He was told to say 100 "Hail Mary's," and then another slap. He became adept at jumping out of reach, and avoided confession if at all possible.
During his three-year residence at Fano, "the revelation of women," as he put it, came to him [at age 10]... The lure of the oposite sex also figured in a prank the older boys played on their teachers. The students were being given a slide lecture on St. Francis of Assisi. One of the boys had obtained a slide of a naked girl and managed to slip it in among the others. Suddenly, in the darkened room, the full back view of the girl appeared on the screen, shocking Federico, and undoubtedly the good Fathers.
Alpert, page 276:
The reviews of City of Women in Italy, and almost everywhere else, were respectful for the most part, but lacked the enthusiasm, or the sharp divisions that had greeted so many of Fellini's previous films. There were a few expected sorties by feminists. In Italy, a young teacher declared the film to be the work of a dirty old man (Fellini, now sixty, had reached the age where he could be victimized by the charge) and said that the women it were the kind a dirty old man would imagine.
Fellini replied, when the comment was brought to his notice, "If I were to be offended, it would be more for the adjective old and not for dirty. Good Catholic that I am, the phrase 'dirty man' seems to be a medal of honor and distinction."
Alpert, page 178:
Guido [the central character in Fellini's film 8 1/2] had a problem, Fellini said, with his Christianity. He was a victim "of medieval Catholicism which tends to humiliate a man rather than restore him to his divine greatness." Fellini's friends said he was a "worried" Catholic himself. But he was able to achieve his own state of grace when making a picture. "He feels reborn," said Mastroianni. "When I make a picture," Fellini said, "I am healthy, happy, don't need anything except sex. I live in a dimension in which I am absolved, taken by life. My crisis begins when a picture finishes, when I am again with my real problems--God, wife, women, taxes--until a new light comes to announce a new game and it takes me again."
Baxter, page 75:
'I go to church only when I have to shoot a scene in church, or for an aesthetic or nostalgic reason. For faith, you can go to a woman. Maybe that is more religious.'
- Fellini in 1965
Baxter, page 277:
On 24 June 1971 the court [of Fellini, i.e., his assistants and close crew] acquired a new member in Gerald Morin, a young Swiss critic who'd seen Otto e mezzo and decided he must work with Fellini. Seeking him out on Ponte Garibaldi, where he was shooting the motorcycle invasion sequence that ends Roma, Morin requested an interview for his Geneva paper. Fellini agreed, 'but later'. Morin returned each night. After ten days, Fellini asked Liliana Betti to remind him just who this long-haired observer was. When she discovered that his beard and shulder-length hair disguised an ordained Jesuit, Fellini was delighted. Morin was jovially introduced to visitors as 'my private confessor'. Next day, Fellini handed him a letter from France asking for his autograph and said: 'Answer this for me, will you?' Morin obliged, eventually becoming Fellini's private secretary and assistant. He neer did make the interview. Though Morin has long since left both the Church and the Fellini circle, for a successful career as a producer/director, Fellini still refers to him as 'The Priest'.
Alpert, pages 149-151:
Naturally enough, Fellini, who had brought on this avalanche of interpretation, was asked for his own explanation of his intentions in La Dolce Vita... Fellini pondered questions asked by Martine Monad of Les Lettres Francaises.
"I am not a man who dashes off messages," he told her. "I don't have a very precise ideology. When you describe your epoch, no matter how impartially, you notice that there are emergencies, events, attitudes that strike you more than certain others and that are more important. . . . So you unconsciously become a moralist. If La Dolce Vita has a meaning it came all by itself; I did not go after it."
...In another interview, he [Fellini] attempted to clarify his "Christianity." If by Christian you mean love toward one's neighbor, yes, all my films revolve around that idea. There is a priset who came up with a fairly accurate definition when he said: 'When the silence of God falls upon mankind.' Aside from what is solemn and biblical in this definition, yes, La Dolce Vita could be viewed in this light. Indeed there is the silence of God, for love is lacking. Theyonly talk about love, but they are barren, unable to give it. Thus even La Dolce Vita is a deeply Christian film.
At other times, in discussion, Fellini would edge away from any too obvious moral meaning [for La Dolce Vita], including too close a connection with a "Christian point of view." When speaking with students of the Centro Sperimentale... he said he didn't want the film thought of as a kind of trial, but if taken as such, it was "not a trial sen by a judge, but rather by an accomplice."
In a later interview with an American professor, Charles Thomas Samuels, he made an even stronger denial about showing corruption, and said there had been no polemical intentions in the film. The title, he went on, "came to have a meaning exactly the opposite of which I had intended. . . . I wanted (it) to signify not 'easy life' but 'the sweetness of life.'"
"That's now the way it comes out," Samuels objected. "Marcello looks like someone wallowing in trouble. Think of that scene in which he sees an angelic girl . . ."
"That is a result of the myth produced by a Catholic upbringing," Fellini replied. "A wish for some purity, something morally complete and angelic--stamped at the bottom of our minds and leaving us with a nostalgia for something rarified."
Alpert, pages 261-262:
Fellini once more dredged up The Voyage of G. Mastorna and also City of Women, the script he, with Zapponi, had written for the abandoned project with Ingmar Bergman.
Which to make? Ramakrishna Sarathy, an astrolger and palm reader form New Delhi, claimed that in 1976 Fellini had shown him the scripts for both these films, and asked his advice on which to do. Sarathy, who said he often dvised film-makers, chose Mastorna. Fellini had been most kind to him; invited to lunch with him at the studio, Sarathy was touched by Fellini's sensitivity in preparing a delicious vegetarian meal for him.
Baxter, pages 1-2:
Fellini was fifty-nine... Though born on 20 January, on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius, Fellini was a typical Aquarian, or so he believed. Famously superstitious, he'd always been a ready client of astrologers, psychics and seers, many of whom were brought into his circle and cast in his films. Aquarians are 'inventive, mad and miracle-minded', says one text, and noted for vision, intolerance and delight in scandalising people. The description could have been tailored to Fellini.
...His obsession with the occult was a clue that, behind the flamboyance, even arrogance, Fellini was anything but sure of himself. In particular, he felt keenly his lack of education, having left school at eighteen with a dismal academic record.
Alpert, pages 167-170:
"I am Guido," Fellini once said, when he was asked by a critic if his own problems corresponded to those of the hero of the film [8 1/2]. Several writers have wondered to what degree Fellini's inner or psychological conflicts influenced the substance of 8 1/2, and have commented on elements in the film that they interpret as both Freudian and Jungian. One writer stated that Fellini was in Jungian psychoanalysis shortly before and during the making of 8 1/2.
A clue to the reason for the speculation can be seen in a section of the film in which Guido, at the spa, meets the entertainer one evening. He is Maurice, a magician who claims to be able to read minds. The magician has an associate who will write on a blackboard what she receives from his reading Guide's mind. She chalks out the mysterious phrase "asa nisi masa." Yes, that's what he had thought of, Guido admits. The incident acts as a trigger to Guide's childhood memories. As a boy, he and a friend used to play a word game involving a made-up language in which the vowel of each syllable of a word is preceded and followed by the letter "s." In this case, the word is "anima," Italian for soul but also an important word in Jungian psychology.
The word "anima" was used by Jung to characterize every male's unconscious female identity (for a woman's unconscious male identity he used "animus") and it was, of course, seized upon as an indication that the meanings of 8 1/2 could be found in Jungian theory. The correspondences do intrigue. Without going into the abstruse byways of Jung's many volumes of theory, it is possible to see Guido as an example of his "extraverted" type, a man oriented toward external reality. A man such as Guido, Carolyn Geduld, a professor at Indiana University, wrote, would retreat into fantasy, a "typical reaction of the extravert who fails to adapt to external conditions." She mentions also "the mother archetype. . . . For Guido, the reproachful--yet dangerously sexual--woman who is his biological mother (and in later life, his wife Luisa) is also an unpleasant synthesis of the two types of women he knew in childhood." (Meaning the kindly nun and the prostitute Saraghina.) For Guido, then, the archetype takes on a whore-nun dichotomy. He must resolve and synthesize the problem with his anima and will then, presumably, find his way back to wholeness and mental health. Or, in Ms. Geduld's words, he will achieve "an inner unity."
In 1984 Fellini told me that in spite of his great interest in Jung and his theories, he had never undergone analysis. Rather, he had had many talks with a prominent Jungian analyst in Rome, and learned much about Jung's thought from him.
From early on, Fellini said, he had maintained a deep interest in parapsychology and psychology. The year after he made La Dolce Vita a friend and colleague, Vittorio De Seta, told him about Dr. Ernst Bemhard, a Jungian analyst. "I became curious to meet him," Fellini said, but it took unconscious field forces for the meeting to occur.
"One day I dialed a number that I thought belonged to a very beautiful lady. A man answered. 'Who is speaking?' I asked him. 'This is Bernhard,' he answered. 'Bernhard who? Who are you? I am trying to reach the number of a beautiful lady.' 'I'm sorry,' he said, 'but I'm an old man.' I discovered he was the very Ernst Bernhard De Seta had told me about, and I told the doctor I wanted to meet him. He was surprised, because he thought I was still trying to get to the beautiful woman. Anyway, we met, and became good friends."
Several people, Fellini said, have asked to speak with him about his interest in Jung. One of these was Dr. Suzanne Wagner, a Jungian analyst who resides and practices in Malibu, California. She and her husband were preparing a documentary film on Jung, and having heard of Fellini's interest in the Swiss psychologist, she wrote to him in Rome and he agreed to meet with her.
Fellini, by then, had stated: "I have complete faith in Jung, and total admiration for him."
His discovery of Jung, he told Dr. Wagner, had less do at the time with 8 1/2 than with another idea he was exploring that had to do with death. He would start on it, pursue it for a time, then lose the thread. Sometimes he was distracted by an outside interference, but he had the feeling that his failure to bring the idea to fruition had something to do with his own inner condition.
Fellini also told Dr. Wagner about another incident that had occurred shortly after he mistakenly called Dr. Bernhard. He was walking in the vicinity of the Spanish Steps and encountered a friend who seemed pale and in a state of shock. The friend told him he had just been to see his analyst, Dr. Bernhard.
"This struck Fellini," Dr. Wagner said, "that mysterious forces were at work, drawing him toward Dr. Bernhard, truly a leader then in Rome of what might be called the Jungian community."
Fellini's fascination with Jung is further documented by the fact that he visited the strange tower that the psychologist had built in his home village of Bollingen, Switzerland, and that he became friends with Jung's son. But Dr. Wagner, a charming and attractive woman, believed that with her Fellini was being more than a little whimsical. Even so she had the impression that he made frequent visits to Dr. Bernhard and gained some relief from what he referred to as "a depressed state of mind." Nor did he strike her as someone who had been "analysed"; rather, he seemed somewhat anti-analysis.
He told her a story about leaving the office of Dr. Bernhard one day, still in his state of depression, and noticing a beautiful woman standing at a street comer. He hailed a cab, and on the spur of the moment invited her along. Simply the sight of the woman banished his depression, he told Dr. Wagner, and the encounter was fully as helpful as any analysis. "He did not add anything more about the incident," she said.
In placing Jung among those he most admired, Fellini gave Dr. Bernhard credit for "explaining his thought to me in an incomparable way. It was like the sight of unknown landscapes, like the discovery of a new way of looking at life; a chance of making use of its experiences in a braver and bigger way, of recovering all kinds of energies, all kinds of things, buried under the rubble of fears, lack of awareness, neglected wounds. What I admire most ardently in Jung is the fact that he found a meeting place between science and magic, between reason and fantasy." It would seem logical, in view of this statement, that 8 1/2 was not only influenced by some Jungian indoctrination, but that the meeting with Dr. Bernhard was an important element in the film's origination.
Alpert, page 176:
"I don't know if Jung's thought influenced my films from 8 1/2 on," Fellini said some years later. "I only know without question that reading some of his books encouraged and favored the contact with deeper and more stimulating areas, and provoked fantasy in me."
He added, "I have one great limitation, I feel--of not having general ideas about anything. Reading Jung has freed me from the sense of guilt and the inferiority complex this limitation gave me."
Alpert, page 273:
It turned out that the feminist revolt was hardly more than a pretext for another of Fellini's self-examinations that had begun with 8 1/2. In that film, his Jungian interests had led him into the exploration of his own creativity.
Baxter, pages 171-172:
More important than any of these was Fellini's discovery late in I960 of the work of Carl Gustav Jung, which was to have a profound effect, personally and professionally. A colleague of Freud, Jung had broken with him over a diverging vision of the imagination. Against Freud's mechanistic view of the mind, Jung erected a theory of race memory and the ''collective unconscious'. Dreams weren't simply, as Freud would have it, symbolic indicators of mental disturbance rooted in infantile sexuality but archetypal images surfacing from a reservoir of common experience.
Fellini loved this idea. Under Jung's theory, the dreams that were the cornerstone of his work were not aberrant but creative. It was as if he had been offered absolution for a life of psychic sin. At one swipe the guilt of his Catholic upbringing and his embarrassment at his poor education were wiped from the slate. "I have always thought that I had one major shortcoming,' he said, 'that of not having general ideas about anything. The ability to organize my likes, tastes, desires in terms of genre or category has always been beyond me. But reading Jung I feel freed and liberated from the sense of guilt and the inferiority complex that the shortcoming I touched upon always gave me.' He was even more delighted with lung's essay on On Synchronicity, which suggested a logical basis for the coincidences and omens that had always ruled his life.
Vittorio de Seta had given Fellini the number of Ernst Bernhard, Rome's leading Jungian analyst.l! became curious to meet him,' Fellini said. "One day I dialled a number that I thought belonged to a very beautiful lady. A man answered. "Who is speaking?" I asked him. "This is Bernhard," he answered . . . ' Some time later, in the street, Fellini met a friend looking pale and shaken. He confessed he'd just visited his analyst - Doctor Bernhard. Freud, who insisted that such chance meetings were really subconscious rendezvous, would have explained that Fellini simply confused phone numbers and that, since Bernhard lived on via Gregoriana, not far from Fellini's apartment, meetings with patients were to be expected, but to Fellini the encounters were more evidence that Jung was right. Though he claims he was never formally analysed by Bernhard or anyone else, Fellini did visit him weekly for some months, solicited his advice, was guided in his reading by him and, most important of all, began towards the end of 1960 to keep a dream diary.
One of his first recorded dreams, dated March 1961, is set in an airport of which Fellini is both administrator and head of Immigration. A mysterious, silent Asian in mouldering grey robes confronts him and, though a crowd is waiting, Fellini is unable to make a decision about him. The scene changes to a room flooded in grey water where Fellini, in a ringmaster's top hat and tail coat, is forcing a large rodent to swim in desperate circles, urging it on with a whip. Such images, of airports and mysterious Asians, of the circus, of costumes and whips, and of indecision, would figure increasingly in Fellin's films as the freedom conferred by Jung unlocked the combined zoo, attic and whorehouse of his unconscious.
The discovery of Jung made the process of refining his ideas for the new film even more tortuous. Taking Flaiano on one of his nocturnal drives, to Ostia and the sea, Fellini explained he had ''a confused desire to sketch out a man in a day out of his life, the picture of a man in his contradictory, unclear sum of diverse realities, in which you could see all the levels of his being, the planes superimposed on each other like a palace of which the facades have crumbled and which reveals its internal structure, still intact: stairways, hallways, rooms, the furniture.
Baxter, pages 185-186:
His interest in Jung had encouraged Fellini totally to abandon realism, and he kicked over the traces of his minor casting. After telling Rondi that 'actors dressed up as emperors, directors, magicians and priests fit in well with this story', he went in the opposite direction and dressed writers, restaurateurs, salesmen and businessmen as actors.
...The supernatural played its customary supporting role in the film. Yet again, Fellini followed his penchat for horror-film actors by choosing Barbara Steele, star of a dozen Italian vampire films, as Mezzabotta's spiky girlfriend Gloria. Mary Indovino, who played Maurice's clairvoyant assistant Maya, appealed, to Fellini because 'Indovino' means 'clairvoyant' and the actress claimed some small talent in divinatino. Fred Hartig, a parapsychology buff with whom Fellini had fallen into a conversation at a party... also had a small role.
At the spa, an audience is arranged for Guido with the old cardinal. In an oblique reminder of Fellini's skirmishes with the Vatican, his secretary expounds the Church's morality of movies, restating Pius XII's line: 'The cinema . . . does not lend itself very well to certain topics.' He chides Guido: 'You mix sacred love and profane love with too much nonchalance.' His staff envy him the meeting. Fellini had noticed that Italian film crews are, under their cynicism, intensely superstitious about religion. Agostini begs Guido simply to mention his name to the cardinal. ...the old man offers Guido only homilies from Origen (a eunuch, significantly), warning: 'He who is not in the City of God is in the City of the Devil.'
Baxter, pages 197-199:
...Fellini's obsession with the supernatural increased between 1963 and 1965. With Jung as his pretext and key, he admitted himself to a new world of sensory and mystical experiences. (In 1965 he even made a pilgrimage to Jung's Zurich home.) His interest was partly intellectual but it also disguised fundamental fears of death and of waning creativity.
Encouraged by 'an analyst friend', presumably Ernst Bernhard, he took LSD... Everything he said was also taped. The 'trip' lasted seven or eight hours, much longer than expected, and during it Fellini walked and talked almost continuously. As a revelatory experience it was a disappointment. Fellini never listened to the tapes or read the stenographic record, and looks back on the event mostly with embarrassment.
He was happier with traditional mystic guides. In times of stress he made daily visits to the fashionable German-born astrologer of Elle and Il messagero, Francesco Walder (and became enraged, Waldner recalled, when the omens were bad). Advised by occult writer Leo Talamonti, he called on healer Pasqualina Pezzola and a rural magician known simply as 'Uncle Nardu', who claimed to be able to turn himself into a horse. A visit to the Turin home of 'white' magician Gustavo Adolfo Rol was more fruitful. Rol was the undisputed psychic star of the sixties. Admirers like Tullio Pinelli claimed he could read closed books, paint in the dark, change the faces on playing cards, move objects from room to room without touching them and fortell the future. Rol and Fellini were walking in a Turn park when they saw a nurse asleep next to a baby being menaced by a hornet. 'At forty metres, simply with a gesture,' Fellini said, 'he blasted the hornet. I've seen it. It gave me goose-flesh.' He was sufficiently impressed to return frequently over the next decade.
Years later, journalist Sheilah Graham claimed that mediums told Fellini at this time that 'his next two films would die'. Word got around, she wrote, and actors refused to work with him. Fellini never confirmed this story, but, if true, it gives credence to his belief in the supernatural, since both films did 'die', one commercially and artistically, the other literally, coming close to killing Fellini with it.
Ever since La strada, Fellini had considered films about a woman with psychic powers. The first had been The Little Sister. This was supplanted by a biography of the clairvoyant Eileen Garrett, similar to the 1957 The Three Faces of Eve... The plot of what would become Giulietta degli spiriti developed from these...
[page 199] Fellini wanted the film to end with Giulietta [Masina]'s rejection of the fears and phobias embodied in these dreams, symbolised by her walking out of the philandering Giorgio and burning down their villa. While this reflected his doubts about his marriage, it didn't necessarily square with Masina's, and she grew increasingly uncertain.
The psychic elements also disturbed her. Masina believed in the supernatural. She's been known to pause in the middle of a conversation and murmuer: 'We are not alone.' Her belief was perhaps greater than that of Fellini, whose interest was mainly superstitious, an obeisance and sacrifice to his personal devils in return for an untroubled life. During pre-production, Fellini persuaded her to attend a seance in their Rome apartment, but she balked at holding others. 'I believe in it and am considered a good medium,' she said of spiritism, 'but that's why I don't want to do it. It reveals a fascinating world and a dangerous one.'
A fellow Jungian played a role in the making of Fellini's film Il viaggio. Baxter, page 221:
Though he had, essentially, decided not to do the film, Fellini continued to go through the motinos. With the 3 September deadline in sight and no star, he shot some tests of Mastroianni to see if he'd be physically credible as a cellist. Jungian analyst and cellist Peter Ammann, a friend of Ernst Bernhard, was called to advise. The tests were convincing and the actor agreed [to star]...
About Jungian elements in the promotion of Fellini's film I clowns, from: Baxter, page 262:
The personae of White Clown and Auguste superseded gender, [Fellini] insisted... To publicise the film, Fellini had himself made up as a clown, one half of his face painted, the other untouched. To any disciple of Freud (a White Clown) rather than, like himself, of Jung (inevitably an Auguste), it was a powerful image of sexual ambivalence.
Alpert, page 52:
During the German occupation of Rome, a priest, Don Morosini, was caught and shot by the S.S. for aiding the underground. This shocking incident became the subject of a short film Rossellini was planning to make, and he wanted Fellini to help him persuade Aldo Fabrizi to play the role of the martyred priest.
About Fellini's film Paisan, from: Alpert, pages 60-61:
Fellini modestly has said, "I may have given Rossellini a hint to turn in a certain direction, or directed his attention to some particular situation, but nothing more. For instance, when he was directing an episode at Majori (near Amalfi) I discovered a little monastery of Franciscan friars and, since as a young boy I had been sent to a boarding school run by friars, I entered it full of curiosity, and actually discovered a charming place, very much resembling a picture. There were five or six friars, very poor, extremely simple. One evening I took Rossellini to dine with me there, and I suggested the possibility of filming an episode.
"At first the idea was to have a meeting between American chaplains and Italian friars; between an active belief, as that of military priests should be, and this kind of faith, so meditative, a life of prayers only, as it was lived in medieval monasteries that can be found here and there in Italy. The idea was there, but not yet the episode, which I wrote in that same monastery."
The episode, when filmed, had three American army chaplains arriving at such a monastery in a just-liberated area, bringing with them a supply of food. The monks, half-starved, look forward happily to a festive evening meal but, to their dismay, they learn that only one of the chaplains is Catholic--the others being a Protestant and a Jew. At mealtime, the chaplains find only three places laid out. The monks are praying for the two souls not yet converted to the true faith. The Catholic chaplain is unable to change their minds, but he tells them that they have given him a lesson in "humility, simplicity, and pure faith."
Of the six episodes, this one drew the most mixed reactions. To a British critic, it had "a purity and beauty of which the film, at this stage, is badly in need." In the United States, the distinguished critic Robert Warshow complained that the Americans were made to look like simpletons, "with the monks superior in their humbleness." Peter Bondanella was able to pinpoint the flaw in the reactions of Warshow, and other non-Italians. "The irony was completely intentional," he wrote. "Are the monks providing a lesson in pure faith or, rather, one of religious intolerance and bigotry? Most non-Italian viewers will undoubtedly overlook Rossellini's characteristic belief that true religious feeling cannot be explained by the rules of logic."
More about Fellini's film Paisan, from: Baxter, page 74:
Fellini also scripted the monastery episode. Mann had written about an American padre who, having killed two Germans at Anzio, deserts and hides out with the monks, from whom he gets the courage to return to the front, but Fellini suggested a different plot in which three American chaplains visiting a monastery scandalise their pious but simple hosts by revealing that only one is Catholic, the others being Protestant and Jewish. They politely chide the Catholic for having failed to convert his friends and, though they've starved through the war and the Americans have provided a sumptuous meal, elect to fast that night, hoping the pagans will be converted. Puzzlingly, the American priest announces that he's been given a lesson in 'humility, simplicity and pure faith' -- when, if anything, the act seems emblematic of arrogance and bigotry. Fellini obviously liked the story, derived distantly from Boccaccio, but was unequal to providing the sting in the tail it demanded. As a result the episode falls flat. Despite this, Fellini and the other writers shared another Oscar nomination.
About Catholic censorship and Fellini's strongly Catholic-themed film The Miracle, From: Alpert, pages 66-68:
It took Fellini and Pinelli only a few days to outline Il miracolo (The Miracle), and Rossellini scheduled its production.
The source of the story, as Fellini tells it, came from the time when he spent summers at his grandmother's farm in Gambettola. The small village was surrounded by a woody area in which gypsies camped during the summer. Toward the end of the season a man named Gaetanaccio would visit the gypsies to geld their pigs. One of the gypsies, a simple-minded young woman, conceived a passion for the wanderer, much to the alarm of the other gypsy women, who regarrded the forbidding-looking man as a manifestation of the devil. When the youn woman gave birth to a boy, the women of the camp claimed that the child was the son of Satan. Both that story, which he heard about, and the man, Gaetanaccio, remained in Fellini's memory bank. In his version of the story, Fellini changed the man (in the deluded woman's mind) to St. Joseph, so that the woman imagines she is having an immaculate conception. Ready to give birth, she attempts to reach a little mountaintop sanctuary. After her struggle to get there, she finds the chapel closed, with only the door to the bell tower open.
Here is how Fellini and Pinelli, in their outline, described the final moments: "The big bell now begins to sway, moved by an exultant and desperate force. It swings back and forth, again and again, and more violently, until a deep, sonorous, solemn note falls upon the valley. . . . And other notes of the bel follow the first . . . more and more urgent, joyous, triumphant, announcing to the world that the child of the miracle, the new savior is born."
The simple-minded woman was to be played, of course, by Anna Magnani, but for the "St. Joseph" character Rossellini searched no further than Fellini himself. After som epesuasion, he agreed to play the part...
The two films were released together in Italy and France, as L'amore, but the first part of the bill, The Human Voice, was not shown in the United States... A censorship furor attended the showing of The Miracle at Manhattan's prestigious Paris Cinema. It was at first passed by the then active New York State Board of Censors, but pressure by the city's Catholic Cardinal, and a condemned rating by the Catholic Legion of Decensy, caused the New York State Board of Regents to overrule its censorship body and suppress the film. The main Catholic complaint was that the film was sacrilegious in content, although in Italy the religious authorities had taken the story as that of a simple woman's pious delusion. Burstyn courageously precipitated a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the film's exhibition. As a result, film censorship in the United States was dealt a body blow from which it never recovered.
Baxter, pages 81-83:
At Venice, the first mutterings of scandal were heard when Catholic critics suggested Il miracolo [The Miracle, written by Fellini and released as a segment of a larger work: L' Amore (1948)] might be blasphemous. It's never been clear if Rossellini [the director] meant the film to be anti-religious. In the outline, Fellini and Pinelli say unequivocally that a miracle has taken place, but in the film it's just as likely that the bells are imagined -- the interpretation Pinelli himself prefers today.
Rossellini almost certainly, in this Communist/atheist phase of his career, saw the story as ambiguous and ironic. All 'miracles', he immplies, exist, just like Ninna's, only in deluded, childlike minds. In 1956, for the film's re-release in paris, he cut its final shot so that the episode ends as Ninna grasps the bell rope. No responding chimes are heard and the film climaxes on a humanist note. Ninna has triumphed over the narrow-mindedness of her village and the Church, even delivering her baby on its premises, led there by that most pagan of animals, the goat. Fellini was certainly sympathetic to this view. In both Le notti di Cabiria and La dolce vita he would show miracles as fantasies generated by a cynical Church playing on public credulity.
The charge of blasphemy didn't take root in Europe, because Pius XII, unexpectedly, was reported in October as having found 'marvellous' this 'modern version of a miracle of the Virgin directed by a Communist'. Since it's hardly likely the Pope saw the film, the announcement probably came from the Church's censors, heartened to see even so vaguely spiritual a subject embraced by the godless Rossellini.
In the United States, however, Amore became enmeshed in one of the great scandals of post-war cinema. Rossellini sold the film to Burstyn and Mayer, who'd handled Open City and Paisa. They discovered almost immediately that La Voix humaine couldn't be shown. This may have been because Rossellini, not for the first time, had sold the rights to more than one company -- both Burstyn/Mayer and Ilya Lopert claimed US rights to Paisa -- but it's more probable that he'd failed to clear copyright on Cocteau's play, since Il miracolo was also shown without La Voix humaine in Britain. Resourcefully Burstyn and Mayer joined it with two more short films, Renoir's Un partie de campagne and Marcel Pagnol's Joffroi, and released the result as Ways of Love... The New York State Board of Regents passed the film and it opened to modest critical approval at the Paris Theater on 12 December 1950, but the next day Edward T. McCaffrey, Commissioner for Licenses (and a prominent Catholic) illegally over-rode the Boards's decision and banned it, claiming to find the film 'personally and officially blasphemous'. To emphasize that the Paris risked losing its license if it continued to show Ways of Love, fire inspectors pointedly visited the newly built cinema searching for infringements.
Burstyn had McCaffrey's decision reversed in court, but by now the hand of New York's Cardinal Francis Spellman was evident. Though Church influence in Hollywood was nearly absolute in 1950, the Church exercised little control over imported films. Spellman chose Il miracolo as a vehicle to correct that. At his urging the Catholic League of Decency condemned it. McCaffrey mobilised old friends in the Catholic War Veterans, of whose New York branch he'd been commander, and a thousand pickets descended on the Paris, where they denounced the film as 'Communist blasphemy'. Panicked, the Board of Regents reversed its decision and on 16 February 1951 revoked the license of Ways of Love. Burstyn took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled in May 1952 that 'sacrilegious' was a term unacceptable in law, and that Il miracolo was protected by First Amendment guarantees of free speech. A serious dent was put in film censorship, and especially that part of it exercised without legal mandate by the Catholic Church.
Alpert, pages 98-99:
Fellini found himself and his film in the middle of a battle between conservative and church forces on the one hand, and the ideological (Marxist) left on the other. Catholics saw La Strada as a parable of Christian love, grace, and salvation, while leftist critics deplored it as a departure from orthodox neorealism.
The most authoritative Marxist view was put forward by Guido Aristarco, the editor of an influential film journal, Cinema Nuovo, who accused Fellini of nothing less than bourgeois individualism. "He has gathered up and jealously preserved," Aristarco wrote, "the subtlest poisons of the prewar literature. . . . He seeks out his own emotions along the treacherous paths of suggestivism and autobiographism, and mistakes agitation for an intense need for poetic expression."
Fellini, finally, had enough of this sort of verbiage. He responded publicly with a Letter to a Marxist Critic, published in Il Contemporaneo, and a credo of his own. The film, he wrote, "seeks to realize the experience which is the most basic for opening up any social prospect: the joint experience between man and man. . . . Our trouble, as modern men, is loneliness, and this begins in the very depth of our being. Only between man and man, I think, can this solitude be broken, only through individual people can a kind of message be passed, making them understand--almost discover--the profound link between one person and the next.
"La Strada. expresses something like this with the means available to the cinema. Because it tries to show the supernatural and personal communication between a man and a woman who would seem by nature to be the least likely people to understand each other, it has, I believe, been attacked by those who believe only in natural and political communication."
In this letter Fellini made clear his disassociation from neorealist doctrine as defined by the Marxist critics. "I do not believe in 'objectivity,' at least in the way you people believe in it, and cannot accept your ideas of neorealism which I feel do not fully capture, or really even impinge upon, the essence of the movement to which I have had the honor, since Rome, Open City, to belong."
Alpert, pages 114-115:
Prior to the release of The Nights of Cabiria in it shome country, the rumblings of censorship became loud enough to cause a stir in film circles and to reach the press. Powerful elements in the Vatican, word had it, were attempting to bring influence on Italy's censorship board to deny the film approval for exhibition. There were complaints, too, about Fellini's showing prostitutes frequenting the famed and tourist-trodden archeological quarter of the Via Appia.
"I didn't want the negative to be burned," Fellini recalled, "so followin the advice of a friend, Padre [Angelo] Arpa [a Jesuit Father], I went to Genoa, to the home of a famous cardinal [Cardinal Siri] to show him the film in a little projection room. He had set up a couch, a kind of throne, with a huge red cushion, on which to view the film."
The showing was set for midnight, and Fellini was not permitted to be in the room during the projection. "I don't know if the great prelate saw the film or fell asleep," Fellini said. "Probably Father Arpa woke him up at the proper moments--when there were holy processions or scenes--and at the end he said, 'Poor Cabiria, we must do something for her.'"
The cardinal made a phone call, apparently signifying his approval of the film, and the threat of censorship was ended, but not without one strange condition. Fellini must remove the sequence that dealt with Cabiria and the "man with the sack."
Fellini's explanation of this demand was that "evidently it bothered certain Catholic circles that there would be this kind of homage paid to an anomalous kind of philanthropy, free from ecclesiastical mediation..."
...French critic, Andre Bazin, who wrote a lengthy, searching, and highly laudatory essay on the film... His admiration of Fellini was such that he now decided the cut had occurred because Fellini regarded it as useless within the structure of the film.
Italian critics and intellectuals were less kind. Alberto Moravia attacked the Catholic hierarchy for its sometimes devious ways of censorship, and the government for setting up a censorship commission that operated on the principle "that they were Catholics first, and citizens second."
Alpert, page 119:
When Fellini returned from America in November 1957, he decided that Journey with Anita would be his next film project, and immediately began negotiations with Sophia Loren to play Anita... Negotiations with Loren ground to a halt, mainly because she was far from preoccupied with the problems resulting from her marriage to Carlo Poni, which was regarded in Italy as illegal. (Ponti's divorce had not been recognized by the church.)
Baxter, page 185:
The spa's guests are an anthology of coded personal references. Mezzabotta and his mistress, waiting out an annulment (since divorce was still illegal in 1963), are based on Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren, often seen moping around Italy at the time while they struggled with the law and the Church to marry.
The response to Fellini's film La Dolce Vita from Italians generally, and from the Catholic Church specifically, is discussed. From: Alpert, pages 4-5:
Yet, in the theater in Milan, many were unprepared for what they saw. Ostensibly the story of a thirty-five-year-old journalist whose work puts him in the midst of Roman high life, it was also a nearly three-hour, unremitting display of amorality and hedonism--the sweet life gone sour and rancid. Those who saw truth and powerful film-making in the series of vivid episodes broke out in applause, but they were soon outnumbered by the majority, who took the film as an assault on their own moral integrity, and a bitter attack on the new freedom and prosperity of their country. There were murmurs of dismay, then shouts of disapproval, and barrages of hisses. Toward the end, an orgiastic party at a seaside villa invoked cries of basta!
Fellini, seated with his wife Giulietta Masina, was shaken by the response. The film had occupied his mind, thoughts, and energy for two years, allowing him few hours of sleep at night. As he and Guilietta made their way to the lobby, they were met by a sea of hate-filled faces. A bejeweled, mink-coated elderly woman shook a fist at him and shouted, "You are putting Italy into the hands of the Bolsheviks!" A dinner-jacketed man with a florette in his buttonhole came up to Fellini and spat in his face. In effect, Fellini later realized, he had been challenged to a duel.
This was only a prelude. When the film was released widely in Italy it caused a near civil war that was fought in the media, the pulpits, in public debates, in parliament, and sometimes with fists in theater lobbies. More than once, the police had to be called to control angry members of the audience.
Before the film's general release, church authorities had apparently given it their approval. Father Angelo Arpa, a Jesuit friend of Fellini's, had reviewed Le Dolce Vita [sic] favorably in the Catholic Il Quotidiano; he saw the sinful behavior in it as illustrated with moral values. But he was soon squelched by the more authoritative L'Osservatore Romano that, with Vatican approval, blasted the film as disgusting, obscene, indecent, and sacrilegious. Il Quotidiano then reversed itself and declared that the film should be retitled "The Disgusting Life." A priest advertised a mass that would offer "expiation and atonement" for the sins committed by the many people who saw the film.
During the furor in the political arena, a shocked Christian Democrat deputy asked, "What would Mazzini and Cavour have said if they had seen Le Dolce Vita?" In a newspaper, an editorialist warned, "If Italy is to become communist, this film will rank high in the place of honor of any revolutionary awakening."
The Italian parliament took up the matter. During an angry debate, several deputies proposed a measure that would prevent the continued circulation of the film, even suggesting an outright ban. Meanwhile, the Catholic Cinematographic Center listed it as a forbidden work, unsafe for all to see.
Elio Vittorini, a prominent writer, joined the fray on the other side, scolding "Catholics who understand nothing, who do not recognize their own children. . . . These Catholics speak only as fascists and not as Catholics."
The novelist Alberto Moravia chaired a public debate on the questions raised by La Dolce Vita, but made his own position perfectly clear by declaring it the greatest motion picture ever made in Italy. The poet and film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini saw in it a truly Catholic spirit, and a Jesuit priest spoke for its "subtle merits of constructive criticism."
Fellini was moved finally to make a public statement, that read, in part: "We are making a national case out of La Dolce Vita. We Italians are always ready to tear each other apart. We are creating a morbid psychosis that gives viewers an unhealthy sense of curiosity. Let's quit this. As for myself, I only wanted to tell about something that concerns me."
More about La Dolce Vita, from: Alpert, pages 144-145:
Many saw spiritual and religious implications. Fellini's friend, Father Angelo Arpa, a professor of theology at the University of Rome and one of the few clerics in Italy to approve the film, said, "Never has cinema included in sin such a profound sense of bitterness and weariness, or misfortune and desolation."
If discussion about La Dolce Vita made anything perfectly clear, it was that its meaning lay in the mind of the beholder. There was no doubt in the mind of reviewer Moira Walsh, writing in the Catholic magazine America, that "Fellini intends this film as a salutary moral warning." But she worried, rather immodestly: "What will the effect of this film be on someone without my advantages of intelligence and training?"
If John J. Navone in Commonweal regarded it as "the most Christian film in years," Michael Roemer in the Reporter saw it in secular terms: "Implicit in the film is the suggestion that if most of us had money, and therefore time, we would stand face to face with the unresolved emptiness in which we live; that it is only the strait jacket of the daily struggle that saves many of us from a continuous experience of chaos."
More about La Dolce Vita, from: Alpert, page 147:
[Robert Richardson] finds that both the film and the poem are "twentieth-century versions of Ecclesistes, visions of the hollowness of contemporary life...
Quite wrong, Charles B. Ketcham, a professor of religion, would seem to be saying when he claims that "Fellini uses the sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church as the theological format [Ecclesiastes having made his lament long before there was a Catholic Church]. . . . It is the belief of the Church that the sacraments spiritually cover or provide for each impmortant stage or phase of life--from birth to death. In La Dolce Vita the spiritual life of the protagonist covers just such a progression, but in this case, because of the choices and lifestyle of Marcello, each 'sacrament'--each devisive action--moves Marcello toward his spiritual death rather than salvation. . . . It is this theological mythology which bind the seven main episodes of the film together into a meaningful whole."
Baxter, pages 162-164:
Those who saw the rough version [of La dolce vita were delighted. Nobody warned Fellini that it might give offence. Amato scheduled it to open in sixty-four theatres across Italy between 6 and 14 February, but in deference to Rizzoli a premiere was held in Milan on 5 February. The Milanese public was admitted free. That morning, at the Cinema Fiamma, Rome's blase critics had given the film twenty seconds of applause, so Fellini was optimistic. Rizzoli was less so. His people had forecast that it would never recoup his investment.
The premiere seemed to confirm the gloomiest advice. The audience in Milan's Capitol Cinema guessed little of the explosion to come. The discreet credits promised only restraint, though Rota's theme music, with its brass flourishes and stuttering echo of a circus march, scored for chimes and gongs, subversively suggested parallels between modern Rome and its pagan past. Indignation grew as the film went on. People muttered during the screening. Gray's strip-tease drew cries of "Ugly!', "Enough!' and 'Shame!' As they left the theatre, Fellini, Giulietta and Mastroianni were jostled and someone spat on the director. Friends clustered round and hustled them out. In the next morning's papers, Milan police announced they'd broken a 100,000 lire a night call-girl ring. "Do you know what the Milan upper bourgeoisie could not tolerate?' Fellini says. "The orgy. It upset them; they were in agony at seeing themselves in the mirror.' The discontent, however, was not simply Milanese. Italians everywhere were shocked and offended.
Despite the enthusiasm of the Jesuit intellectuals of Catholic Action, who'd seen the film. Cardinal Siri, Fellini's champion on Cabiria, refused to give his seal of approval. The Church's old guard was under pressure from Pope John XXIII, whose Second Vatican Council was then busily reforming the Church, and Siri had been warned that, in this case, the hierarchy would make a stand. Any priest who reviewed the film favourably was disciplined, demoted or transferred to a new parish. Il quotidiano, the newspaper of Catholic Action, initially printed a good review, then recanted, deciding it was blasphemous, pornographic, bestial and un-Italian, opinions reinforced in two long articles in La civilta cattolica. Milanese priest Nazzareno Taddei led the campaign, pointing out that Fellini had breached the Pope's guidelines on morality in cinema. The Vatican's Osservatore romano was quick to agree, condemning it as l obscene' and 'disgusting' and demanding its withdrawal.
The Centre Cattolico Cinematografico, the Church's mouthpiece on movies, rated it E (for 'Escluso'), damning any Catholic who saw it. When an association of Rome's parish priests called for a ban, novelist Alberto Moravia convened a public meeting of intellectuals to endorse Fellini and his film, but from pulpits all over Italy priests continued to condemn both.
Fellini's more pious supporters pointed out that the Church didn't lack pretexts for anger. To cut in the first few minutes from the face of Christ to a pagan mask looked gratuitously offensive. Fellini had gone on to mock miracles, condone promiscuity and, if not endorse suicide, at least show it with compassion. Anita Ekberg visiting St Peter's in a travesty of clerical uniform was all the more resented because the Vatican had approved the film in outline and given permission to shoot there, though Fellini never did so; the St Peter's on which Marcello looks down from the helicopter and which he views with Sylvia is back-projected.
Within twenty-four hours of the opening Fellini received 400 telegrams, mostly accusing him of treason, atheism and Communism. In scores of editorials the Montesi scandal was raked up, to the delight of the left, whose papers backed Fellini. Ironically, Communist critics who'd harried him for abandoning Neorealism found themselves forced to praise La dolce vita in the name of the party line. Faced with such solidarity on the left, some political journalists charged that Fellini had hastened the long-feared apertura della sinistra, the 'opening to the left' which would admit Communists to the government. There were calls to withdraw his passport.
On 9 February, right-wing deputies forced a debate in parliament. On 17 February, Domenico Magri, Under-Secretary for Entertainment, announced, for the record: "The government is not disposed to accept the request of the many people who have asked that the film be withdrawn from circulation, since fears that it may harm the good name of our country and of Rome are quite unfounded.' Privately, however, Magri sympathised with the critics. Parliament had no statutory power of censorship, but he urged the speedy introduction of new laws which would protect the Italian people from films capable of 'arousing disgust by scenes of a raw and ruthless realism'.
For Fellini, the assaults were painfully personal. 'In Rimini, my mother is still known as the mother of the man who made La dolce vita.' When Maddalena [Fellini's sister] gave birth to her daughter in April 1964, Fellini made a rare visit to his home town for the christening, only to hve Ida chide him: 'Why did you make such a picture?' His decision to go on the road in March and April, screening the film to intellectuals and opinion-makers, looked less a promotional device than a penance for having offended, if not God, then at least his own family.
Neither Church nor state could, however, stem La dolce vita's enormous success. Two big Roman cinemas ran four packed shows a day for months. Despite the extraordinary cost of 1,000 lire a seat, cars were parked three deep outside. So huge were the queues in both Rome and Milan that people drove hundreds of kilometres out of town to see it. Within three months it grossed $1.5 million, smashing records set by The Ten Commandments and Gone with the Wind. By the time it opened in New York in April 1961, the film had made $10 million... La dolce vita took $8 million [in U.S. ticket sales], outrossing the two biggest foreign successes to that time, Never on Sunday and Et Dieu crea la femme.
Alpert, pages 156-157:
In his contribution to the multi-part Boccaccio '70 Fellini found an opportunity to vent his spleen against censorship. A Jesuit magazine had made a violent attack on him, going so far as to suggest he ought to be jailed, so he mounted an attack in return. Early in 1961, with his usual collaborators, eh wrote the script for Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio (The Temptations of Doctor Antonio). The story dealt with a crusader against vice (Doctor Antonio Mazzuolo) whose targets included enticing displays of the female form in periodicals... Eventually the doctor is placed in a strait jacket and taken off to an asylum.
...In the United States, the Catholic Legion of Decency gave Boccaccio '70 a "C," or "condemned," rating.
Alpert, page 198:
The search for the proper embodiment of this Fellinian version of the devil involved advertisements in the Rome newspapers. From the crowds that responded, Fellini was unable to find the girl he wanted. In the end, he solved the problem by making two into one: the face of the ashen hair belonged to a twenty-two-year-old Russiam woman; the body to a tiny dance student.
The film [Histoires extraordinaires] that emerged after twenty-six days of shooting in January 1968 at the experimental film center... places the actor in Rome where he has come to work in an Italian "western," made under the guidance of the Catholic priesthood. Fellini was in his anticlerical mood again. The actor sees the Roman film world through the distorted eyes of a man on LSD; the denizens resemble a "dolce vita" crowd that has become crazed and outlandish... When the actor manages to finish the film, the grateful producer presents him with a Ferrari. Eventually, near a high, broken bridge he bets a little girl playing with a ball that his Ferrari is fast enough to sail over the gap. The final scene shows the girl playing with the actor's head. When the film went into release, more than one viewer noted that the angelic girl of La Dolce Vita had been replaced by one with the impudent eyes of a devil.
Alpert, page 218:
Fellini did not stay idle for long. In January 1970 he made a trip to the United States with Giulietta and his producer, Grimaldi, to promote Fellini Satyricon, which was already doing well in Italy and France but needed the lucrative American market to justify United Artists' investment. The Universal deal having fallen apart, he was seriously considering a continuing invitation from NEC to make a series of specials that would deal with contemporary subjects. Around the same time as Mazursky's visit, Peter Goldmark, an NEC executive, visited him and put forth some suggestions, which included doing a portrait of Mao Tse-tung; another of Pope John XXIII; a look at Rimini on the order of his essay. My Rimini; a tour through an American factory (Fellini style); and a visit to a Tibetan monastery.
Fellini had enjoyed doing A Director's Notebook, his first experience with television, and though he had strong doubts about its being a proper medium for a film artist, he was attracted by the size and the immediacy of the audience. A Director's Notebook had been shown twice and had been seen by many millions.
He agreed to make two of the specials during 1970 for NBC--one would be on Mao and the other on the Tibetan monastery. NBC, he said, reacted with enthusiasm, although the executives who came to see him kept changing. It was agreed that NBC would pay expenses for his travel and research into the subjects, but only after the trips would he decide whether or not to make the films. All was agreeable until Fellini came upon a clause in the contract that gave NBC the right to broadcast the films or to shelve them. At this, Fellini balked.
Baxter, page 258:
...Peter Goldfarb now approached Fellini to make more NBC specials... They discussed a profile of Pope John XXIII, who had died in 1963. Fellini suspended his anti-clericalism for the chubby and amiable prelate who presided over the Church's partial and belated liberalisation. He'd once briefly been stuck in traffic next to the papal limo. The Pope recognised him and smiled. 'The innocence of his face! Like a baby. It was like an apparition in a fairy tale.'
Other and more grandiose topics discussed included a Tibetan monastery, an American factory, the car giant Fiat and Mao Tse-tung.
Even in the context of making a film such as Satyricon, which conservative Catholics and other religious people considered overly scandalous and morally inappropriate, Fellini still referred to himself as a Catholic. From: Baxter, page 252:
Pressed about the gay element of Satyricon, Fellini could be evasive and irritable. 'Why don't you show the homosexuality more?' asked Charles Thomas Samuels in 1971. Clearly astonished that the academic missed the film's most prominent theme, Fellini said: 'I do.' 'All you see is one man kissing another's wrist,' Samuels complained, at which Fellini, irritated as usual by critical thick-headedness, demanded: 'What, do you want to see the prick going in? I wasn't making a film about homosexuality as seen by a prurient Catholic. I wanted everything to appear as if on a frsco.' Samuels tried to abandon what was obviously a sensitive subject but Fellini wouldn't have it. 'What did you want' he exploded.'Men kissing on the mouth?'
Other critics were not so obtuse... Parker Tyler's history of gay films labels it 'the most profoundly homosexual movie in all hitory'.
A response to Fellini's film Roma, from: Alpert, page 231:
"Fellini's city," writes Peter Bondanella, "is a city of illusions and myths--it is the center of Italian cinema, the headquartes of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as of thte Italian government, and Fellini seems to veiw religion, politics, and cinema as human institutions all relying on the manipulation of images and myths."
For Fellini, there is no single Rome, "but a number of images, all of which interpenetrate and enrich the connotations of the others." Clearly, Fellini was bent on deflating many of those myths and, particularly regard to the church, employing the weapon of ridicule.
Baxter, page 57:
Also beginning his career at Cinecitta in 1940 was a man who would become Fellini's greatest rival. Fourteen years older, Luchino Visconti had the aquiline glare of the natural aristocrat...
In 1940 Renoir was invited by Mussolini to make a film at the Centro Sperimentale. Visconti, by then his assistant, returned to Italy to work on Renoir's versio of Tosca. He'd gone to Paris a dilettante, a ladies' man and Fascist. He returned a film-maker, a bisexual moving towards full homosexuality but also, more improbably than either of these, given his heritage, a convinced Communist.
It would be hard to think of two men with less in common than Fellini and Visconti, and until the latter's death their rivalry, nourished by acolytes, would flourish. For all his success, Fellini never earned the respect Visconti accepted as his right.
Baxter, page 69:
By the time Fellini met Roberto Rossellini, the charismatic Roman was approaching forty and already outgrown two or three personalities... Though Rossellini directed for Vittorio Mussolini he no more believed in Fascism than in the Communism and Catholicism he embraced later. He'd exploited it to build a career. He just as skilfully extricated himself as the war ended. By 1944, politically born again courtesy of Cesare Zavattini, the ideologue of film naturalism, he was a 'Neorealist,' committed to a vernacular cinema dealing with the living world.
Baxter, page 154:
Advising on the French casting was Dominique Delouche's last task on a Fellini film. The young Frenchman had been his closest assistant and an intimate member of the court. 'But on La dolce vita everything changed,' he says. 'The climate of that film was very different. Il bidone and Le notti di Cabiria were a little spiritual, more or less impregnatated with Christianity, a little Dostoevskian, a little like Chekhov. And since I knew about this world I think Fellini was interested in whether I would approve or disapprove. But La dolce vita was like the entry into a sort of hell. And I was no longer useful to him...'
Webpage created 9 July 2005. Last modified 2 September 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: email@example.com.