In my book, the group of all the greatest film directors comes up to barely more than a handful of people. Federico Fellini is one of them. Seeing The City of Women (La Città delle donne, 1980) a little while ago was therefore something of a shock and surprize. I didn’t like it; it had way too much of a “message” (for a conservative Italian society, it may have been a provocative one: male reaction to feminist culture, and the subsequent fear and difficulties caused by such liberated women), and this message was delivered way too forcefully and loudly. While the film had its proper share of signature Felliniesque characters, they looked too much like shrill, overdrawn caricatures.
It was therefore with great relief and delight that I discovered that Fellini had returned to his former excellence and genius, when I watched Intervista (1987) the other day. It is filled with the typical symbolism one expects to see in his movies — circus, carnival, women, bizarre characters, nostalgic autobiographical snippets, dreams, magic, etc. — but unlike the harsh lens of ‘City of Women’, here we see it all through the eyes of affection, even love. Although Fellini collects the extraordinary, grotesque, absurd, foolish, silly, even freakish — the strange bunch of people that populate his films are not at all exploited by a cynical, voyeuristic director. On the contrary, he looks at them lovingly, as maybe a father or husband would.
‘Intervista’ has no plot line; instead, we experience a world which moves and flows between different realities, memories, historical time periods. The mock documentary is cleverly nestled and interwoven: a Japanese television crew interviews Fellini in 1987 while he’s working on a film about a journalist interviewing a famous movie star in the 1940’s — who happens to be Fellini himself, at the beginning of his career. We glide seamlessly between the shooting of the movie and the movie itself, between memories and present time, between phantasy and reality. It’s a joyous and sometimes nostalgic dance, almost like a ride on a roller coaster or merry-go-round. As always, the cinematography and the colors are exquisite.
It’s too bad that the generation of my daughter shows little interest in Fellini, it seems, or in Godart, Fassbinder, Tarkovsky, Truffaut, Louis Malle, Kieslowski, or Wenders for that matter… Great American directors of the past such as Elia Kazan, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Nicholas Ray, or John Sturges may not fare much better; I tried to watch On the Waterfront with my daughter when she came for a visit over the Holidays, but we never got around to it.
However, she may be able to catch the movie on tv — if she gets up really early. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has a new feature: it lists date, time, channel, etc. of movies being shown on tv. So, if you can get TCM and don’t mind getting up at 6:30 am on Saturday, 2/24, you can watch On the Waterfront… Downright strange timing, though.