Fellini Back in Stride
A CINEMATIC VIEW
When in the 1960s I first became interested in film as a serious art form, three author/directors symbolized for me the power of film: Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, and Federico Fellini. The work of these extraordinarily skilled filmmakers was exceptional. When a new film by one of them appeared, it was a “must-see.” But I wonder if in the last 20 years the nihilistic view of Antonioni has worked against his own creativity. His cinematic output has dwindled, and since The Passenger (1973) Antonioni has not created anything significant. Bergman, who may be the greatest screen artist of all times, recently announced that he had made his last film. That leaves the Italian neo-realist.
The hopeful humanism of Fellini has created a marvelous corpus of film. I think of I Vitelloni (1953), Nights of Cabiria (1956), La Strada (1954), La Dolce Vita (1959), 8½ (1963), The Clowns (1970). Within Fellini’s body of work there are brilliant scenes that have dazzled moviegoers, and touching moments that have deepened their sense of the human mystery. Among my favorite Fellini moments I think of Zampano (Anthony Quinn), in La Strada, washing himself at the beach in a symbolic baptism after he recognizes his sins; of the clown (Richard Basehart) in La Strada telling Gelsomina (Giuletta Masina) that her role in life may be to help Zampano; of the joyous ring of friendship at the end of 8½; and of the two clowns descending the stairs at the end of The Clowns. In 8½, which I think is a masterpiece, Fellini tried the nearly impossible — capturing a person’s psyche on celluloid, and to some extend he succeeded.
In recent years I have been disappointed with Fellini. Films such as Casanova (1977), Orchestra Rehearsal (1979), and City of Women (1981), made me wonder if the genius was on the decline.
Ginger and Fred, while not a masterpiece, reveals that the master can still create exceptional cinema. An artist who apparently works very much from his feelings and intentions, Fellini turns his camera on people and lovingly watches their foibles and failures. There is nothing even remotely resembling a judgmental stance in a Fellini film. Obviously in love with his characters, Fellini years ago made a comment that can only apply to Ginger and Fred: “Concerning my characters who are always so unhappy, the only thing that I could therefore offer them would be my solidarity.” That is what comes across beautifully in the best Fellini films, and it comes across beautifully in Ginger and Fred.
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