Federico Fellini

November 03, 1993

Italian director Federico Fellini once told an interviewer, "When I am not making movies, I feel I am not alive." For Mr. Fellini, who died this week at age 73, filmmaking was the center of his life and a vocation through which he defined himself as one of the most original artists of the 20th century.

To American audiences of the 1960s and '70s, Mr. Fellini's works were the quintessential "foreign films," complex psychological studies that documented the ambiguity of the human condition and straddled the line between the real and the surreal.

Mr. Fellini, who often compared a movie director's job to being the ringmaster of a three-ring circus, harbored a lifelong fascination with clowns and masks as metaphors for all that was unusual, hidden and bizarre in the world of everyday life. He made pictures of probing intensity that mocked the morally four-square films churned out by Hollywood, with their pat solutions to life's eternal mysteries. In a Fellini film, there often was no solution, and the mystery itself was apt to be presented in such visually unsettling terms that it was sometimes impossible to know whether the director intended to make a joke or provoke a scandal.

In "La Dolce Vita," Mr. Fellini explored the corrupt and decadent "sweet life" of Roman cafe society through the character of a young journalist caught up in its droll attractions. In "Amarcord," he recalled provincial Italian life during the rise of fascism in the 1930s as seen through the eyes of a still-innocent child. Other films invited viewers to glimpse the moral depravity of ancient Rome, the loneliness of a neglected housewife and the ironic position of the creative artist, who must improvise both his life and his art from one day to the next.

"I'd like very much to make a confident picture," Mr. Fellini told an interviewer. "I would like to be as good as nature, which with a shower produces flowers and grass to cover the destruction. But we are surrounded by human fragmentation, by pessimism, and it is difficult to talk of other things."

The director gave the English language a new word, "Fellini-esque," to describe the unconventional but compelling vision that was his trademark. Over a career that spanned four decades, he created a unique body of work that enormously enriched the possibilities of film.

In doing so he made his art a source of wonder that has delighted and enlightened audiences the world over.

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