“Fellini 100: The Book of Dreams” is an exhibition of high definition reproductions of pages from The Book of Dreams by the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini (1920-1993). It was inaugurated on 20 January at the Italian Cultural Institute and set up by Paolo Vanino, to celebrate the centenary of Fellini’s birth. The images represent an intimate record of Fellini’s subconscious, often rendered on film in the immortal images of his filmography.
The exhibition is organised by the Italian Cultural Institute in collaboration with the Municipality of Rimini, Cineteca (Federico Fellini Archive and Francesca Fabbri Fellini).
The Book of Dreams consists of two volumes containing over 400 pages, purchased by the Fellini Foundation in 2006, donated to the Municipality of Rimini in 2015, which holds its material property and the co-ownership of rights, and is currently exhibited at the Museum of the City of Rimini, Fellini’s birthplace.
According to the Director of the Italian Cultural Institute Davide Scalmani, “The Book of Dreams is a diary that Fellini kept, following the advice of the psychoanalyst Ernst Bernhard, from the 1960s to August 1990. The diary shows his dreams in the form of drawings, or as he called them ‘markers, hurried and ungrammatical notes’. It is a unique book, a journey through the fantastic world of a brilliant mind, an extraordinary testimony to free creativity. It is a diary but also a kind of storyboard. Fellini’s experiences as a cartoonist and humorist count a lot, but the diary is also deeply innovative and anticipates the language of the graphic novel by a few decades. It is a work born from the absolute freedom of an artist who knows he can play with himself and with the world, a collection of signs, figures, notes that grows over time to form a map of the aesthetic and symbolic universe of its author, a kind of secret book in which the formula of his creative genius could be contained. Singular also is the coincidence that the starting point of this work comes from analytical psychology, while Carl Gustav Jung himself had kept his diary, known as Liber Novus, enriched with extraordinary images and symbolic drawings, that was made public only in 2009 and of whose existence Fellini therefore knew nothing.
“As a daily exercise, each morning Fellini had become accustomed to recording the dreams of the previous night in his diary, including the figures and characters, circumstances and themes inspiring his films. There are sentences and dialogues to which comments or captions are added. It is also a narrative in progress, because Fellini reworked the sheets with additions and interventions using scissors and glue in a continuous enrichment and adjustment of a document that from a self-analysis tool ends up becoming an extraordinary artistic book.
“The reproductions on display are representative of recurrent themes in Fellini’s film production: travel, history, power, fashion, cinema, art, literature, Italian society.”
Born on 20 January 1920, Fellini was singled out as a student for his talent as a cartoonist collaborating with the illustrated magazine Domenica del Corriere and with the Florentine humorous weekly 420. Throughout his life, he never stopped using pencil and paper.
Sketches, drawings, caricatures will gather the inexhaustible desire to graphically fix external and internal reality of the observer in its countless aspects. Everything can be equally worthy of that wonder which will be the key to Fellini’s cinematographic language. After moving to Rome in January 1939, Fellini worked at the Marc’Aurelio, a satirical periodical, and his signature under the cartoons immediately became popular. He entered the artistic world of the capital, wrote texts for the comic theatre and collaborated on radio broadcasts where he met the actress Giulietta Masina (1921-1994), whom he married in 1943. In the meantime, Fellini also made his mark as a screenwriter, working on Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece Rome, Open City. Together with the playwright Tullio Pinelli, he wrote for directors such as Pietro Germi and Alberto Lattuada. The latter asked him to work alongside him in the direction of Variety Lights (1950). The first film Fellini directed alone was The White Sheikh (1952), followed by the successful I Vitelloni (1953), which took the Silver Lion in Venice. The Road (1954), featuring Giulietta, was awarded with an Oscar. Fellini is recognised among the great auteurs of international cinema, marking the turning point in Italian cinema from Neorealism to the emergence of the auteur cinema in the second half of the 20th century.
His filmography includes such masterpieces as The Nights of Cabiria (1957, another Oscar), La Dolce Vita (1960, Palme d’Or in Cannes), 8½ (1963, Oscar) Fellini Satyricon (1969), Rome (1972), Amarcord (1973, Oscar), Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (1976), Orchestra Rehearsal (1979), Ginger and Fred (1985), Interview (1987 prizes at Cannes and Moscow), and The Voice of the Moon (1990).
Federico Fellini died in 1993 shortly after receiving his fifth Oscar, this time for his lifetime’s achievement.
The exhibition is on show at the Italian Cultural Institute until 20 February.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.