Conversations with Fellini (A Harvest original) Paperback – 1 Jan 1995
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The great advantage in this book is Costanzo Constantini's unique perspective as a journalist who interviewed Fellini regularly over 40 years. Constantini has been let into Fellini's life; they became friends, and this relationship often allows very relaxed, informal and sometimes revealing responses from Fellini.
Even in interviews this man is a great storyteller, but Fellini confesses that some of the tales may be very tall. Without apology Fellini admits, "We change our accounts of events continually so as not to bore ourselves" (55). So, this non-fiction assembly of interviews soon becomes a bit of a mystery novel as one realizes s/he must sieve truth from fiction. Somehow this tendency of his isn't too distressing. One chalks it up to his innate cinematic flair or the love of, and talent for, a great story. There is no judging him harshly for this, since it makes for such delightful reading, and the truth is in there somewhere; it's just colorized, embellished and exaggerated for our enjoyment as well as his own. Even Constantini's first-hand account of a "marital-professional skirmish" between Fellini and Giuletta before a screening sounds almost scripted, a joust and good show for the audience. This climate of fibbing lends an almost comic slant to Constantini's section in which he asks this self-confessed exaggerator many, "Is it true that she said...?" and "Did you really say...?" kinds of questions. This may be Constantini's dry, playful intent, much like Fellini's sense of humor which is revealed throughout.
The film student will enjoy Fellini's thoughts on Neorealism, and Catholicism. And of course there are his perspectives on his actors, collaborators, his films and the various circulating interpretations, but less of this than one might expect. The many tasty Fellini quotes on broad ranges of topics that Constantini serves become the highlights here. It's truly wonderful to behold his talent for succinctly capturing very ethereal ideas. On the special charm of cinema that's been robbed by TV's inundation: "The cinematographic image is deprived of its most profound meaning, its magical, dreamlike, mysterious quality. It is deprived of its secret charm, which takes its nourishment from the obscure relationship that each of us has with the unconscious" (132). Further revealing another angle of his genius, is the way he beautifully and effortlessly expresses the rare, rejuvenating sanctuary and exhilaration of creativity and returning to one's element, "Once, I arrived on the set with a galloping fever, but as soon as I looked through the lens it went away. When you're filming you feel like yourself again, a director without age, outside of time, without infirmities, invulnerable" (137). Switching disciplines again, he discusses his long-held interest in psychology and states his bold views on the subject, "It's ridiculous not to believe in psychoanalysis. It's like not believing in chemistry or mathematics" (195-196).
The favorites are those in which his dry, ironic sense of humor beams through. Concerning his filmmaking offers from Iran and Saudi Arabia, "Perhaps they wanted me to make a film on the religious and mystical feelings engendered by petroleum" (98). A high point for this reader is certainly this quote with a nod to the greatness of his own influence. He was speaking about how he wished he was allowed more time when accepting his Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1993, "Had my time not been so rigorously rationed, maybe I could have made a speech that was intelligent, spirited, pleasant, detached and emotional-Felliniesque, in a word" (171).
Though a Fellini filmography is included at the end, knowing the dates of each interview might help those less familiar with its chronology. Otherwise, one needn't worry too much about how many Fellini films s/he has seen. Sure it would help to be a fan of some of his films, but the most enjoyable insights are the rich, intimate portraits of: a man; his creativity, vision and processes; his playfulness and sense of humor; and be they perfectly truthful or not, his stories well told.
Fellini was a marvelous, uniquely fascinating character, all this is clear from reading these fragmentary interviews. Unfortunately, what is sorely lacking from the questions Constantini asks is what most readers would primarily want to discover in reading this book. Yes the incidentals of his life are important, and interesting, and necessary. Yes the anecdotes about Mastroianni and Eckberg and so on are amusing. But what about the hows of his approach, the whys of his style? There is just too much missing here to really make it worth our while. Federico Fellini the filmmaker is actually under-represented!
Though he probably would not have answered those sorts of questions all that directly we would still learn a little more about, for example, why Fellini always liked to loop his dialog in such an offbeat way, or why he chose to dolly and pan through his scenes so busily, or how he came to prefer so peculiar a rhythmn to his editing. THESE are the kinds of questions I think any real admirer of his work would love to try teasing answers from him about. Too little about the way of the art, too much about the way of the career.
The maestro deserves better -- and got it! Read I, FELLINI instead. On the plus side, though: nice cover, excellent font and print size on good quality paper with some decent pictures.