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F Entries
Federico Fellini
Richard Fleischer
Louise Fletcher
D.C. Fontana
Anne Francis
Joanna Frank
John Frankenheimer
Brendan Fraser
 
FELLINI, FEDERICO
(1920–1993). Italian director and writer.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Wrote and directed: La Dolce Vita (co-wrote story with Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli; co-wrote screenplay with Flaiano, Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, uncredited) (1960);  8 1/2 (co-wrote story with Flaiano; co-wrote screenplay with Flaiano, Pinelli, and Rondi) (1963);  Giulietta Degli Spiriti [Juliet of the Spirits] (co-wrote story with Pinelli; co-wrote screenplay with Pinelli, Flaiano, and Rondi) (1965); "Toby Damnit" (aka "Never Bet the Devil Your Head"), segment of Histoires Extraordinaires [Spirits of the Dead] (1968); Fellini—Satyricon (story Petronius; co-wrote with Bernardino Zapponi and Rondi) (1969); La Città della Donne [The City of Women] (co-wrote story with Zapponi; co-wrote screenplay with Rondi, Zapponi, and Paula Mitchell) (1980).
 
Federico Fellini is a figure of extraordinary importance to science fiction film, even though one can plausibly argue that he never made a science fiction film. If that seems a strange and paradoxical assertion, well, anyone discussing Fellini is ultimately driven to strange and paradoxical assertions. Still, I cannot resist attempting to explain his singular career, from the perspective of a science fiction critic, though I don't promise to get it entirely right the first time. Or ever. But never getting it quite right may be another inevitable problem whenever one writes about Fellini.

To understand Fellini at all, one must begin by closely examining his masterpiece, 8 1/2. It qualifies for discussion here not only because of its outrageous fantasy sequences but also because it is, as critics would say, a film of "associational" interest: it is a film about a noted director, Guido Anselmi, who is planning to make a science fiction film. He has assembled his crew, he has auditioned actors and actresses, and he has built one spectacular set of a huge rocketship on a launch pad which, we are told, will take characters in the film away from a doomed planet Earth into the safety of outer space. Yet for some reason the director proves unable to actually start making the film, and his exasperated producer finally pulls the plug on the project.

In analyzing this film, reviewer Phil Villarreal asserts that the director is reluctant to make this film because it "would be seen by a wider audience than Guido is used to, but at the price [of] his creative integrity." This is stuff and nonsense, a classic example of a critic projecting his own snobbish attitudes onto the work he is analyzing; for having seen the film several times, I can assure everyone that Fellini is extremely careful to avoid giving even the slightest hint as to why the director is reluctant to begin filming. Indeed, as a recurring comic motif, every time the subject comes up during the film, something happens to change the topic of conversation.

Since 8 1/2 is, as everyone acknowledges, an autobiographical film, I am driven to a conclusion that is sure to scandalize all of Fellini's learned critics: namely, that Federico Fellini throughout his career was a man who longed to make science fiction films, but somehow found himself unable to do so. Think of it: instead of seeking to compete with Michelangelo Antonioni to be recognized as Italy's most talented and sophisticated director, in actuality Fellini secretly dreamed of emulating another countryman, Antonio  MARGHERITI (better known to some Americans as Anthony Dawson), by directing inane and colorful space adventures like Battle of the Worlds (1961) and Wild, Wild Planet (1965), although he for some reason could never bring himself to do it. It is as defensible an interpretation of 8 1/2 as any other.

And, having gone this far, I might as well attempt to answer the question so scrupulously unanswered in the film—why are Guido, and his real-life counterpart Fellini, both attracted to, and unable to make, science fiction films? Consider, as a potential definition of science fiction, the idea that the genre is primarily characterized by a certain attitude, the expectation that our apparently ordinary, mundane world is actually a façade concealing all sorts of strange things, or is destined to soon be transformed into a strange new world. With such an attitude, science fiction fans are happy to speculate that underneath their contemporary environment lie ancient mysteries, conspiracies of masterminds secretly controlling the world, mad scientists creating powerful new inventions, and camouflaged aliens carefully observing our planet and preparing for an invasion; and even if none of things are actually present, aliens and brilliant scientists will surely emerge in the near future to utterly alter all of our comfortable assumptions and beliefs. Let us say that Fellini loves this attitude—this inclination to see the outré in the familiar—but cannot accept the standard science-fictional explanations for these hidden oddities, such as aliens and superscience. Indeed, he prefers to embrace the fundamental strangeness of the world without worrying about logical explanations. And this would serve to explain the one statement by Guido in the film that might apply to his inability to make his science fiction film: "I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same." That is, making a science fiction film would compel him to say something about why the world is or will be strange, but he simply doesn't want to go there.

Fellini's exhilarating resolution of his dilemma is the decision to henceforth make films that will embrace and celebrate strangeness without any explanations. Thus, it didn't make any sense at all to conclude 8 1/2 by having all its characters join Guido in a joyous dance around his abandoned rocket ship,  but Fellini thought it would be an entertaining way to end the film, and he enjoyed filming the scene, so why should anyone worry about whether it makes any sense or not? In considering Fellini's entire oeuvre, then,  8 1/2 represents the transition from the mundane dramas and comedies of his previous career (with occasional forebodings of the weirdness to come, such as the sea monster on the beach in La Dolce Vita) and the later films which almost invariably veered away from realism to offers touches of the fantastic. For purposes of classification, I have listed in the credits only those films that would provide the scrupulous categorizer of science fiction and fantasy with solid reasons to include them, but I could just as easily have chosen to list all of his post-8 1/2 films, or none of them. For Fellini by his very nature resists classification.

None of Fellini's later films quite match the brilliance of 8 1/2, but they are never boring. Highlights of special genre interest would include the extravagant fantasies of Juliet of the Spirits, as well as his only film that officially ventures near the fantastic, his segment of the film Spirits of the Dead adapting Edgar Allan Poe's story "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" (a horrific effort that Poe himself would actually enjoy, and an implicit slap in the face to the day-glo travesties of Roger CORMAN and Vincent PRICE). A personal favorite is Fellini—Satyricon, with an unforgettable scene of slaves in the background carrying an enormous statue of a head that bears absolutely no relationship to anything else happening in the film, a classic Fellini moment, though one might also consider the scene in the realistic Roma (1972) of the discovery of ancient Roman artworks in a subway tunnel as representative of this director's singular attitude. I'm generally not as excited by his later films, but Fellini never fails to surprise and entertain, and I look forward to watching the Fellini films I haven't seen for their unexpected pleasures—and surely, unexpected pleasures represent one of the reasons why people are drawn to science fiction in the first place. Federico Fellini may have never made a science fiction film, but so what? He remains a unique friend and ally to all science fiction enthusiasts, and everyone else who knows that the world is never what it seems.

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