Fellini: The Sixties


By Manoah Bowman

Foreword by Anita Ekberg

By Turner Classic Movies

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Style. Beauty. Passion. Vision.

These are just a few of the words often used to describe the films of the single most celebrated director in Italy, and one of the most important directors the world has ever known — Federico Fellini. Fifty years since their initial releases, his films of the 1960s still inspire, shock, and delight. More than just encapsulating the ’60s, these films also helped define the style of the decade. With a staggering twelve Academy Award nominations between his four feature films during this period, Fellini reached the heights of fame, film artistry, and worldwide prominence. Studied, analyzed, and re-released over the years, these films continue to amaze each new generation that discovers them. Their impeccable style makes them timeless. Their images make them unforgettable. Their passion brings them to life. And their singular vision makes them unique in all of cinema.

Fellini: The Sixties is a stunning photographic journey through the director’s most iconic classics: La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits, and Fellini Satyricon. Carefully selected imagery from the Independent Visions photographic archive, many published here for the first time, illuminate these films as they have never been seen before, and reveal fascinating details of the director’s working style and ebullient personality. With more than 150 photographs struck from original negatives, these images spring to life from the page with the depth and quality of the films themselves. Complemented with insightful essays from contemporary writers, Fellini: The Sixties is a true testament to the man and his work, a remarkable compendium of the legendary filmmaker’s greatest achievements.

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“The best part of the day is when I go to bed. I go to sleep and the fête begins.”

—Federico Fellini

A man is trapped in his car in motionless, suffocating traffic. Other drivers and passengers stare as he desperately tries to escape, but the windows won’t open or break and smoke begins to fill the tight space. The man is on the verge of panic when a sunroof suddenly appears and he rises through the roof, floating above the snarl and flying over the city to the shore, his coattails wafting like wings . . . but one foot is tethered below, and a stranger on the sand yanks the dreamer down to the sea. Cut.

This dream, foreboding, cautionary, and intensely personal, is the nearly silent opening of Federico Fellini’s Otto e mezzo, the first haunting minutes that transport us into .

The world of dreams, that very private realm where the subconscious roams free, is a place Fellini called home. His dreams inhabited his work, and were essential from inception to final cut. His contributions to film history were not only intensely cinematic but deeply personal as well.

Playful, carnal, troubled, fantastic—those dreams were launched from a lively imagination and potent memories. Fellini believed that “dreams are fairy tales that we tell ourselves. They are the small and big myths that help people to understand.” He embraced the substantive nature of dreams as well as the power of dreaming, and even kept a log of his subconscious travels. His Dream Book contained black ink and color illustrations, cartoons, comic strips, and caricatures that he borrowed from frequently, enhancing the already seductive ideas and visuals in his filmmaking.

Fellini’s memories charged and even authenticated his vision. As a child, he ran away from boarding school to join a traveling circus—not a small task in rural Italy circa 1927. He was returned to his parents after only a few days, but the experience, though brief, had its impact: the theatricality, the physicality, the flashy thrills, and the showmanship would all find expression in his repertoire. The carnality and exoticism of the carnival fueled his fantasies, some of which would find a permanent home in the fabulist tales he felt compelled to film. Fellini brought to the screen a distinctive lexicon: dreamlike storytelling where reality, fantasy, and desire were on equal footing, and all just beyond his characters’ reach. The Fellini aesthetic is recognizable by its stylization of a loosely structured narrative, its players living in the spaces between words. It connotes a quick-cut juxtaposition between conscious and subconscious, involving showbiz glitz, sideshow grotesqueries, shopworn circus troupes, and passing parades of uniformed officials, clerics, and children. Fellini’s world is a surrealistic venue. Nothing lingers and yet his imagery is unforgettable. Logic and reason are set aside in favor of posture and insinuation. “It’s a language made of image,” Fellini once said. “And in the real cinema, every object and every light means something, as in a dream.”1

Early on, young Federico demonstrated a gift for whimsical caricature and cartooning that would take him far from his middle-class upbringing in Rimini, a small town on Italy’s Adriatic coast. In 1939, at age nineteen, Fellini enrolled in law school to please his parents but never attended a class.2 Instead, he scrambled to make a living as a self-employed sketcher of portraits, a freelance cartoonist, a columnist at a biweekly magazine, and a comedy writer for Italian public radio. It was there that he met Giulietta Masina, a radio actress, in 1942. Fellini avoided the WWII draft and went into hiding with Masina, whom he married after Mussolini’s fall a year later. By that time, Fellini’s success writing for radio, and the occasional publication of his stories in magazines, eventually segued into screenwriting. He would collaborate on scripts for others, most notably Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946). Fellini would receive his first Academy Award nomination, shared with Sergio Amidei for Rome, Open City’s screenplay.

Rome, Open City was not only the first major picture produced in Italy after the war, but also the first international success in a genre typically associated with Italian cinema itself almost worldwide: Neorealism. The term was coined in 1943 by two critics reviewing Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione. Generally considered the first of the genre, Ossessione established its hallmarks: location shooting in poor, war-ravaged cities or villages; the use of local nonprofessional actors, often children; and a decidedly un-romanticized depiction of the everyday lower-class struggle. Vittorio De Sica’s landmark The Bicycle Thief (1948) is generally considered a definitive example of Neorealism. As Fellini began to direct his own screenplays, he inserted a lighter touch, at times even sentimentality, into his brand of Neorealism. He told provincial stories of street life, always with an insider’s perspective and a humanist’s compassion: the wayward young pranksters of I Vitelloni (1953), the abusive traveling strongman and his waiflike companion in La Strada (1954), and the indomitably hopeful ghetto streetwalker of Nights of Cabiria (1957). La Strada and Cabiria were both Academy Award winners for Best Foreign Language Film in addition to being international successes. Fellini had landed, and by 1960, he would embark on his most personal and creatively fertile period, one that would forever enshrine his name to fellow artists, cinephiles, and general audiences the world over.

For his next project, Fellini turned his camera towards the more privileged strata of Roman life, this time taking a critical stance, unsympathetic and unsentimental. He wasn’t looking to tell a story in Rome; this time, Rome was the story. Accordingly, he fashioned a narrative structure more episodic than linear, and used the occasion to experiment with technique and character development. It was his reporter’s eye that focused on Rome and observed, the eye that was attuned to taking in events and encounters as they happen, on the fly, and connecting the dots between seemingly random events and elusive details. La Dolce Vita (1960) is like a sketch artist’s mural of the city, one he loves for all its faults and contradictions. Fellini painted a broad but fascinating canvas, combining social critique with a visually seductive style.

Here, Fellini goes modern, dealing with the demimonde of all-night drink and dance, smoke and sex, as seen through the eyes of a jaded tabloid reporter on autopilot prowl. Marcello Rubini is adrift in head and heart, a passenger to his profession as much as in his mistress Maddalena’s big convertible. This is postwar Rome, an unsettling cityscape of ancient ruin and hasty construction. This Rome is provisional, in a perpetual state of disrepair (even underwater, as in the prostitute’s basement apartment where Marcello and Maddalena retreat for their perfunctory affair).

The film’s loose structure is episodic; the incidents between the first and final scenes could almost be re-ordered and have the same cumulative effect. The sense of spiritual breakdown is jokingly suggested by the first image: a statue of Christ, arms outstretched, flies over the city, carried by helicopter on its way to the Vatican. Marcello, covering the event in another helicopter, is unmoved, more interested in scoring phone numbers from suntanning beauties below. The film’s final scene involves another Christ metaphor, this time a monster fish beached on the sand, eyes open, breathing its last. This Marcello, hung over, played-out, and unreliable, is drawn to the gathering crowd but is as unmoved as in the film’s opening. So much so, in fact, that he fails to recognize or understand a young girl he met earlier who now strives to get his attention from a short distance away.

Along the way, Marcello has been exploitive and opportunistic, “just doing his job,” like his friend Paparazzo, the photographer, perpetually armed with his camera in hot pursuit of the day’s money shot. Fellini once explained the origin of the name: “Paparazzo . . . suggests to me a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging. . . .”3 His co-screenwriter Ennio Flaiano added that, in the Abruzzo dialect, “paparazzo” refers to a clam found in local waters, the sound of its shell’s opening and closing reminiscent of the sound of a camera lens.4 The moniker struck a chord with the press and the public; “paparazzi” became a generic reference for the unruly snappers, unrelentingly stalking their prey.

Paparazzo and his fellow buzzers speed around the city on their Lambrettas and Vespas (Marcello in his Triumph roadster), their greedy eyes on the sensuous prize: Sylvia Rank, blonde Hollywood goddess, famous for being her voluptuous self. Sylvia arrives in Rome in jet-set style, primed for the press, responding to questions while saying nothing (“. . . love, love, and love . . .), her playful quips to the journalists an obvious nod to then-reigning sex kitten Brigitte Bardot (who once answered the question, “What was the best day of your life?” with “It was a night,” well before it was fed to Sylvia). She takes a liking to Marcello, and that evening leads him on a tour in her strapless gown through the streets of his own city.

Sylvia moves through the ancient causeways, a contemporary illusion with Marcello in thrall. She happens upon the Fountain of Trevi and doesn’t hesitate to wade in, the train of her gown becoming an island in the ripples. The fountain’s arcs of cool water splash her strapless shoulders and she calls to Marcello to join her. He reaches her, overwhelmed, barely touching her before the fountain’s rushing waterfall slows to a trickle and day breaks, as if dawn’s light conspired to keep the two apart.

Fellini didn’t have a clear idea who his Hollywood bombshell would be until he encountered the former Miss Sweden Anita Ekberg in London, and changed the name of his character to “Anita.” Ekberg felt the alias a bit too on the mark; Fellini obliged and his goddess became “Sylvia.” Fellini liked the name Marcello Rubini, as it linked his character to Moraldo Rubini from I Vitelloni, the only one of the gang who escapes to the “big city.” The on-screen chemistry between the stars is palpable, but there it remained; off-set the two were professional but cool. Their duet for the camera is an all-time movie touchstone, so iconic a scene that when Mastroianni died in 1996, the city of Rome turned the fountain off and covered it in black as a tribute.

Another star presence can’t be ignored: Anouk Aimée as Maddalena, a stark contrast to Anita. Alluring in simple black, her oversized pointed sunglasses on at all hours set just above the highest of cheekbones, Maddalena lounges tensely in clubs and cafés, veiling sadness with chic. Other episodes in the film include the supposed visitation of the Virgin to two children; the suicide of Marcello’s old friend; and a listless orgy featuring a cool-as-ice striptease, courtesy of Nadia Gray.

The “sweet life” of the film’s title is ironic as a misguided aspiration, which Fellini denounces in theme and deconstructs in narrative. In their organized chaos, random order, and sense of alienation, Fellini’s works exhibit his admiration for the films of surrealist pioneer Luis Buñuel, who, had it been possible, could have been his mentor.

La Dolce Vita was an international sensation, provoking scandal in Italy over its content, and generating many proposals to repeat its success, in which, naturally, Fellini had no interest. All eyes were on Italy at that moment in time: Michelangelo Antonioni was at his peak with L’Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961); Pier Paolo Pasolini debuted with Accattone (1961); Vittorio De Sica delivered Two Women (1960); Luchino Visconti presented his masterpiece Rocco and His Brothers (1960); and Mario Bava burst on the scene with his shocking horror gothic Black Sunday (1960). All were internationally acclaimed, and generated excitement as reprieves from the steady Italian diet of sword and sandal epics and romantic comedies.

Under pressure to ride the wave, Fellini put aside his own ideas for a feature and signed on to contribute a short film for inclusion in an anthology film inspired by the work of Giovanni Boccaccio. With Boccaccio ‘70 (1962), producer Carlo Ponti presented short projections into the near future in the style of the early Renaissance writer and humanist from four of Italy’s leading directors: Luchino Visconti supplied The Job with Romy Schneider; Vittorio De Sica presented The Raffle starring Sophia Loren; Renzo e Luciana came from Mario Monicelli; and Fellini delivered The Temptation of Dr. Antonio starring Anita Ekberg.

This would be Fellini’s first venture into color, but he felt stifled by its technical limitations at the time. The camera had to move more slowly, as color film back then was more sensitive to light. Care had to be taken to keep colors true—green, for example, could register anywhere between blue and yellow if lit improperly. Makeup required more delicacy, facial expressions more subtlety, and background lighting a great deal more finesse. Fellini proceeded with caution, inserting bright hues sparingly, as with the red of a Campari umbrella or the yellow of a Shell gas station. He even gowned his leading lady in black once again, relying on Ekberg’s canary-yellow hair, rose-pink lips, and creamy flesh tones to colorize her star quality.

Ekberg excitedly agreed to play herself for Fellini, but had second thoughts as she worried again that she would be perceived to be as one-dimensional as the billboard that serves as the instigating factor in the story. Her fears subsided as Fellini convinced “Anitona” (his pet name for her) that the role was a star part, equal to Loren’s in the De Sica segment.

The billboard in question features Ekberg in superb thirty-foot recline promoting the virtues of milk. We see the billboard “erected” in tandem with the libidos of a general cross-section of male society: onlooking boy scouts, musicians, construction workers, and even clergymen. The vacant lot housing the billboard is highly visible from the office window of Dr. Antonio, a self-proclaimed arbiter of public morality. The personal repression at the heart of his outrage is immediately illustrated in the opening credits, when we see him superimposed over an inferno of flames, a metaphor Fellini would use again in Juliet of the Spirits.


  • “Italy's most celebrated filmmaker gets a royal salute in Fellini: the Sixties, a lavishly illustrated tribute to director Federico Fellini and his iconic, often shocking movies of that era, including La Dolce Vita, 8½ and Fellini Satyricon.”

    “For Federico Fellini aficionados, the lavishly illustrated new book Fellini: The Sixties is the equivalent of a mouthwatering plate of spaghetti and a glass of the best Chianti. It's a fantastic voyage into the magical world of one of cinema's greatest masters…”
    -LA Times

On Sale
Oct 27, 2015
Page Count
304 pages
Running Press

Manoah Bowman

About the Author

Manoah Bowman is the author of Fellini: The Sixties. He maintains the Independent Visions photographic archives, a collection featuring more than a million unique images that details the history of cinema and television. He has contributed material to many publications, movie studios, and museums, including Eastman House, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Paramount, and Disney. His work as a photo editor includes the books Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema and Buster Keaton Remembered. He resides in Los Angeles, CA.

Natasha Gregson Wagner has led an unorthodox career for the descendent of Hollywood royalty. Since making her film debut in 1992’s Fathers and Sons, the actress established her place in the indie film world with titles such as Another Day in Paradise, High Fidelity, Two Girls and a Guy, and David Lynch’s Lost Highway, and she has received acclaim for her stage work and television appearances in Ally McBeal, House MD, and Chicago Hope. She recently completed work on the independent film Anesthesia. Wagner resides in Los Angeles.Turner Classic Movies is the definitive resource for the greatest movies of all time. We entertain and enlighten to show how the entire spectrum of classic movies, movie history, and movie-making touches us all and influences how we think and live today.

Learn more about this author