My Fellini Epiphany
On a rainy Sunday morning, at the age of fourteen, I lay on my bed and promised myself that one day I would see every Fellini film. The occasion for the promise was a newspaper review of Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits. The reviewer used words like magical, episodic, mysterious and dreamlike. Juliet of the Spirits didn’t sound like any film I’d ever seen.
In those days, Fellini’s films were too exotic for our local movie theatre in Bridgeport, Connecticut so fulfilling my promise had to wait a year until my parents judged me old enough to take a train into New York City on my own. It was the mid-sixties and finding a Fellini film – and lots of other things – was easy in New York. Several of the city’s art house theatres regularly featured the work of the great Italian director and by the time I hit eighteen I’d caught up with Fellini’s output. Since then, I’ve lived in big cities and right up to the director’s death in 1993 I never missed a new Fellini film.
Now I reside in London and when a nearby cinema, as movie theatres are called over here, advertised a Sunday afternoon Fellini double bill: Nights of Cabiria and Amacord I knew I had to go. It had been a while since I had a Fellini fix. Oh sure, I know lots of people who watch classic films on DVD in their living rooms but even the new giant TV screens don’t do it for me. I like my movies on a truly big screen in a dark theatre. To me it’s like dreaming.
Because I believe that one of the most enjoyable parts of movie going is having some one to discuss the film with afterwards, I asked my friend Chris to come along.
We met in a pub and as the time for the film approached Chris was anxious to go but I told him to have another drink – no one was much interested in Fellini these days, especially the younger generation. “They only turn out for blockbusters that have big stars and video game tie-ins.”
Chris was sceptical. “You’re saying we’re the last generation to appreciate directors like Fellini?”
“Yes. And not only Fellini but Truffaut as well and Antonioni and Bergman.”
Our first surprise came as we neared the cinema. The queue – as a line is called here – stretched down the block. Well, it would have done if the part of London I live in had blocks. The second surprise was the age of people in the queue. We were not the only ones with grey hair and bald patches but we were in the minority.
As we joined the queue, Chris asked, “Do you know where in Italy Fellini was born?
“Ravenna, I said, ‘the city with the mosaics”.
A young woman standing in front of us turned around. She looked about 20 with long dark hair was dressed head-to-toe in black. She smiled, looked me in the eye and said, “Rimini. I think you’ll find Fellini was born in Rimini, not Ravenna.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, mildly indignant about this public rebuke. “Here, look it up yourself if you don’t believe me.”
With that she reached into her large black leather handbag and retrieved a book, Fellini: A Life by Hollis Albert. The book confirmed that Fellini was born in Rimini.
Then another young woman joined in the conversation.
“Don’t you wish that instead of Nights of Cabiria, they showed Fellini’s Roma with Amacord? You could compare Fellini’s attitude to Rome where he did most of his work and Rimini where he grew up.”
I jumped back in. “Fellini’s Roma, that’s the one based on a Latin poem.”
“No, said the woman with the book, that’s Satyricon.”
I didn’t say anything else for the next ten minutes or so that we stood in the queue.
Walking home that evening I had two thoughts. One was that you could see Fellini films over and over again and not be bored. My second thought concerned another promise I had made myself in my teenage years: when I am older I’ll never criticise the younger generation the way older people criticised my generation.