With references to his work in recent films by Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Todd Haynes, and Gus Van Sant, Federico Fellini is, perhaps, making a comeback. On its face that would seem to be a ludicrous statement: due to tireless self-promotion and on the strength of a wholly unique body of work, Fellini is still one of the most famous names in the history of cinema. And yet, since his death in 1993 Fellini’s importance has been downgraded to relatively minor status (the same can be said for recently departed Antonioni and Bergman). Despite the fact that Fellini was one of the leading European art cinema imports of the Fifties and Sixties, his influence has waned in the United States, where he has been derided by some of the best and the brightest—Kael, Farber, and Thomson all hate him—culminating in an increasing intellectual backlash against the director and his artistic celebrity.
The growing antipathy may be universal—David Lynch spoke of his outrage upon seeing Fellini getting booed at Cannes for the screening of his last movie, The Voice of the Moon. Yet Fellini seems to particularly rankle a tough, rational strain of the American sensibility. Romantic, mystical, tender, and grotesque among a plethora of contradictory qualities, Fellini’s cinema has consistently resisted categorization—is he a showman, an ironist, a bleeding heart?—along with any solid claim to either high art (he’s one of the few canonical directors who can revel in a fart joke) or, from 8 ½ onward, audience-pleasing accessibility. Even Orson Welles paid Fellini a backhanded compliment by calling him a small-town boy ceaselessly agog at the big city—compared to the sophisticates, as he would have it, Fellini is just a creative bumpkin, more naively intuitive than intellectually deep.
Welles’s description is superficially proven accurate by Amarcord, Fellini’s 1973 cinematic return to his seaside hometown of Rimini—we’re back in the artist’s formative womb—after the study of Italy’s capital in Roma just a year earlier. Rimini figures in a number of Fellini’s films, most notably in 1953’s I vitelloni, his quasi-neorealist breakthrough. The Fellini of 1973 was a fully formed auteur whose approach toward the same autobiographical subject matter, that of small-town life and adolescent sexuality, had remarkably changed. But matured? Well, that’s an interesting question, because though Amarcord is on one hand a work of characters as caricatures, body-obsessed ribald humor, and nostalgic whimsy (a mood buttressed by longtime collaborator Nino Rota’s beautiful carnivalesque score), it’s also the most deceiving of Fellini’s later films, a bittersweet remembrance of the vanished world of pre-WWII Italy serving as a Trojan horse for a disarming, understated critique of the fascist mentality. Click here to read the rest of Michael Joshua Rowin's review of Amarcord.
Click here for Amarcord's showtimes at New York's Film Forum, where it's now playing, and and here for a list of cities and theaters this new 35 mm print will be traveling to.