The dreams that inspired the works of Federico Fellini

By Caterina Rotunno, Tandem, April 29, 2012, p. 7.

Paolo Fabbri in Toronto: “The Italian Foundation is at a standstill due to lack of funding”

“Segnacci” (signs), hurried and grammatically incorrect notes. That’s how renowned Italian director Federico Fellini referred to the drawings and annotations which for about 30 years have represented the diary of his dreams and nightmares, a dreamlike path but also and more so a huge source of inspiration for his extraordinary artistic output and creative genius.
A very colourful voyage among secret and confidential meanderings of the man and the director Fellini – a continuous weave of reality and fantasy were the central themes of the conference “Segnacci di sogno: l’Esperienza Onirica nel Librone dei Sogni di Federico Fellini “(re: Fellini’s book of dreams) presented by professor Paolo Fabbri and held days ago at the Italian Cultural Institute of Toronto.
Internationally renowned semiologist Fabbri is a Professor at IULM (Istituto Universitario Lingue Moderne) in Milan and at LUISS (Libera Università Scienze Sociali) in Rome, has also carried on intense didactic activity in Italy and abroad, and has taken part in scientific committees of several national and international reviews and institutions.
Fabbri is also director of Federico Fellini’s Foundation that acquired the pages of the diary from the registered heirs, and in 2007 he was involved in their publication in Italian, English, and French, with Rizzoli publishing house. Last year with editor Mario Guaraldi, an electronic version of the book was published – it is now available online as an ebook. Both publications contain drawings by the director, along with his annotations, references, and contextualizations within his lengthy and important filmography.
The Foundation was built in 1995 on the expressed wishes of the director’s sister, Maddalena Fellini, and the Comune di Rimini (city of Rimini). Among the pages of the Librone dei sogni (book of dreams) is also the drawing of “his Rimini” that later becomes the inspiration for a scene in the film I vitelloni, along with many other famous personalities and actors who the Italian director drew with brushstrokes and situations that appear surreal and imaginary, accompanied by comments that attempt to describe the dream’s details.
Familiarity with drawing is acquired by the young Fellini when he starts working as a cartoonist and satirical illustrator for various magazines and publications before he began writing for cinema. At the end of the ’60s, his psychoanalyst suggests that upon awakening, he makes notes of the scenes and characters that populated his dreams. Some have wanted to read into these drawings, hidden and unresolved problems in the great director’s psyche, for example his relationship with women – always pictured large, bordering on the caricatural, like those related to Anita Ekberg, Josephine Baker, and Sophia Loren herself.
“That could be,” Fabbri comments in his presentation, “but the important thing is the value that these drawings have in the creation of his genius and fantastic cinematographic works. Fellini doesn’t write and draw his dreams to commit them to memory, but the interpretation he gives them is useful for the future, for preparing scenes on the set for the next day.” As far as his depictions of erotic dreams,” professor Fabbri explains, “the writer Milan Kundera wrote a very interesting essay where he affirms that Fellini is the only one to have discovered the comedy of sexuality, that is, its ironic and humorous side”.
“With the drawings that Fellini will continue producing to the end of August, 1990,” Fabbri continues, “the Italian director has given life to powerless visual material for the construction of that organizational labyrinth of his thoughts and fantasies that, once created, calls for inventing the manner and processes on how to escape from them.” And that’s the very manner in which the work of the great Italian master of film is articulated –he would construct the dialogues and music after having filmed the scenes of his movies.
In the drawings, the director depicts himself almost always from behind, displaying – in the early years’ sketches – a nape and a thick head of hair that, successively, leaves room for thinning hair. There is only one drawing that portrays a side view.
Fellini’s nocturnal world is populated with characters such as Kafka and Picasso who had been two inspiring figures in the life and works of the director. As far as Picasso, the director depicts him in a dream while swimming, inviting him to follow, showing his a spot with excellent fishing.
“Fellini is very pleased with this dream,” says Fabbri, “which he interprets as the necessity of bringing about changes in his life and his activities”.
The book’s drawings were screened during Fabbri’s presentation before an attentive crowd that packed the IIC hall in Toronto. Among the audience was guest of honour, writer Umberto Eco, in Toronto to participate along with Fabbri at a U of T conference.
Displayed on screen were drawings from Fellini’s books where one can recognize personalities such as Boccaccio, Luigi Pirandello, Dino Buzzati, Pierpaolo Pasolini – a dear friend of the director – along with others who appear in scenes of his films, from La città delle donne (City of Women) to Amarcord and from Vitelloni to .
We met Paolo Fabbri following his presentation to talk about Librone del sogni and the Fondazione Federico Fellini, which is experiencing a moment of impasse due to funding cuts.
Professor Fabbri, looking at these drawings by Fellini leads one to ask how much of them were a product of his dreams and how much of his fervid imagination?
“From the moment one interprets his own dreams, that interpretation is already another dream. If we tried making the distinction between dream and imagination, we wouldn’t be able to because we’d have to do two separate things. We interpret something in our lives and when we try to understand it, in reality we create another dream, but in the creating of new dreams we’re already at the level of imagination”.
What significance does the dream have for Fellini?
“We all believe that dreams are mysterious instincts that explain our past, our crises, and our angst. Fellini doesn’t care at all about any of that. The dream serves as a perspective and the perspective even motivates him to head to the movie set, and cancel everything he had prepared the day before just so he can realize that dream. Fellini would affirm that ‘the dream is the obstetrician of tomorrow’. It matters little if the representation of his dreams, of his female figures, is the result of possible trauma he had as a child. The important thing is exactly that these dreams have contributed to that miracle that is his extraordinary and genius artistic output. It’s not important where his inspiration comes from but where it goes and what it produces. From this comes my conviction that memory as such isn’t important, but the memory projected to the future. There’s an expression in the Italian language that interprets this concept very well: ‘a futura memoria’ (to future memory), that is, a memory that is useful for the future”.
Where do things stand with the activity of the Fondazione Fellini of which you are director?
“Unfortunately everything is at a standstill. The Comune di Rimini (City of Rimini), not having an adequate budget, has had to make cuts, which have affected first and foremost the cultural sector. The Foundation has created a website dedicated to Fellini, it has acquired his drawings and published them in Il libro dei sogni, edited not only into Italian, but also into French, English, and Spanish. It also created a downloadable e-book version. All in all, in the absence of public funding, the foundation was forced to place all staff on unemployment benefits and suspend activity. All this is done without in any way realizing the serious consequences not only on a national level but also and especially to the image of Italy abroad. The Fellini name, similarly for the titles of his films, are known all over the world and have by now entered into that universal dictionary of terms that immediately evoke images of the Bel Paese, such as ‘pizza’, ‘Ferrari’, and many others. I find that all this is the result of the very provincial (small town) and restricted vision of our administrators: they can’t come to realize that abroad, when Rimini is mentioned, the image of umbrellas on the beach quickly comes to mind – (and that) Federico Fellini is the name that quickly comes to mind and the most representative figure of the city”.
Beyond the funding suspension by the city of Rimini for this important foundation, has there ever been any awareness raising and involvement at the national level?
“The former president of the Foundation, professor Pierluigi Celli, recently nominated to the ENIT presidency, carried out an intense program of awareness raising in the industrial world in the hopes of obtaining funding, but without any concrete result. Unfortunately in our county this isn’t the only example of disinterest for the world of culture. Just consider Pompeii’s huge historical legacy that is progressively deteriorating without anything being done to prevent it. I must say that one of the few positive decisions by the previous government involved a tax on lotteries to finance art restoration in Italy, in addition to setting aside a significant amount. Recently this sum of money was sent to prisons. Not that this isn’t an important issue, but it doesn’t seem right to me to put two critical problems in competition with each other”.
What do you see for the future of the Fondazione?
“Everything is currently stalled. The Comune di Rimini has promised to resume funding, but this promise is being renewed every three months, as phones in our offices ring in vain, and national and international proposals continue to come in, for collaboration on publications, festivals, exhibits, and conferences, from Bilbao to Buenos Aires”.

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