Situated along Emilia-Romagna’s eastern shores, the town of Rimini draws huge summer crowds eager to populate the modest coastal town’s seaside promenades and capacious beaches. Villas and resorts erected to accommodate the seasonal swell of imported beachgoers occupy the skylines that lie both to the north and south. But the summertime, and the profitable reverie that the city hosts, must come to an end. Who, or what, remains during the hibernal months that lock the sea under gray horizons?
Unbeknownst to many of its summer inhabitants, Rimini was the birthplace of Italy’s most celebrated director, the larger-than-life Federico Fellini, whose prolific career earned him international acclaim. His slice-of-life realism articulated incisive critiques of post-war Italy’s social conditions, and the grandiose forays into the phantasmagorical and carnivalesque that defined the latter half of his oeuvre captured the circulating values, desires, and collective fictions of the Italian imagination. In the off-months, the legacy of Fellini has made the town of Rimini a coveted destination among devoted admirers who seek to understand the landscape that produced such a beautifully singular and singularly beautiful artist.
With the support of Emilia-Romagna’s Ministry of Culture, Rimini has mobilized a considerable amount of money and effort to monumentalize Fellini and his work, much in the same vein as Bergman’s Fårö or Elvis’ Graceland. The recently inaugurated Federico Fellini Park skirts the sandy edges of Rimini’s northern beaches, a statue casts a shadow of Fellini’s likeness during the right time of day along the Marecchia, and throughout the town bakeries, hotels, and cafes all bear the namesake of the now-deceased maestro. His ghost permeates the town itself: the beaches bear an uncanny resemblance to the seaside abode where we first meet Gelsomina in La Strada, the gloomy mist that drapes over the water in the late evening is indistinguishable from the blanketing fogs of Amarcord and I Vitelloni, and so on. But the mere implication of Fellini does not suffice. Surely one of cinema’s greatest contributors and pioneers deserves of a more ceremonious commemoration.
The most appropriate elegy is of course the viewing of the filmography itself. But such an undertaking cannot be demanded of the weekend sightseers who, perhaps unfamiliar with Fellini and his work, may require some inertial nudge. Furthermore, there is a rapacity among those who are familiar with Fellini to cultivate a deeper understanding of the spiritual and cultural underpinnings of Fellini’s life that were in turn prismatically refracted through his films. But how does one represent the animus of such a resonant and epiphanic body of work or the life of its enigmatic creator? The opening of the Fellini Museum in August of 2021 is the latest and boldest attempt to do so.
The Fellini Museum is not a single location but is instead an entire environment spread across several buildings and public spaces. The 15th century Castel Sismondo has been reoutfitted as an interactive and immersive exhibit that functions as a cinematic cornucopia, containing fifteen rooms that each engage with different dimensions of Fellini, his films, and his legacy. It is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the Fellini Museum. La Piazza dei Sogni (Plaza of Dreams), shrouded in a fog that recalls the transatlantic voyage of Amarcord, is bordered by a veil of water that reflects the edifice of Castel Sismondo and Teatro Amintore Galli. Further along the plaza is an illuminated 17m circular golden bench reminiscent of the circus rings at the end of 8½, a convivial public space that, much like the film, celebrates a communal solidarity and equanimity. One can stroll from Castel Sismondo across the Piazza dei Sogni to the other major indoor exhibition space, Palazzo del Fulgor, along a pathway of sound that weaves voices and music contained within (and inspired by) the films of Fellini. Palazzo del Fulgor is a historic movie theater immortalized in the film Amarcord but more importantly was the theater Fellini himself attended in his youth. It has recently been restored and screens a rotation of Fellini’s filmography as well as other contemporary releases. Palazzo del Fulgor is the most recent addition to the Fellini Museum, utilizing three floors to conjure a perennial interpretation of Fellini, locating where his legacy fits in the wider landscape of film art. Next to the entrance of the Palazza is a jesmonite statue of a rhinoceros on a small boat, a reference to the film E La Nave Va and the main symbol of the Fellini Museum.
The exhibitions in Castel Sismondo employ material installation pieces, projectors that fill the walls with various video excerpts, and text elements that help contextualize the spaces. Immersive soundscapes cohere the disparate elements and gestalt in a multimedia and multisensory exploration of Fellini. The contents of the fifteen rooms are as follows:
- As a homage to Fellini’s early work as a comic artist and screenwriter, threaded sheets of a script cascading from a skylight are held in stasis as a hanging installation, and the walls are decorated with the comic characters drawn by Fellini what satirize elements of Italian popular culture.
- A shrine to the inimitable Giulietta Masina, with the motorcar of La Strada’s Zampano being flanked on either side by projected images of Masina’s radiant countenance across several films and several decades, accompanied by audio clips of performances from selected works. Fellini’s wife was one of his deepest muses, and her performances are a centerpiece to many of Fellini’s finest films.
- A replica of a dolly truck, which is a kind of film equipment that allowed for the camera to push in towards the subject steadily (a technique used frequently by Fellini) is in the center of the room. The walls are illuminated with images and videos of Marcello Mastroianni both on and off set of Fellini’s films. Mastroianni was an essential figure for Fellini’s stories: For many of Fellini’s masterworks, the critical acclaim of the director is inseparable from the presence and performance of Mastroianni.
- Atop wooden planks styled to look like a harbor pier, several screen pillars project a thick fog that enshroud the viewer, a Fellinian motif capitulating to the uncertainty of memory, reality, and one’s own morality. A diaphanous sheet is billowed up by vented air to create rolling ripples in the fabric that creates what the museum deems a ‘Fellini-style sea’. Also upon the wood slats is a director’s chair and megaphone, and one can overhear the shouting of Fellini himself giving directives to his cast and crew from overhead speakers. Three large screens occupy one wall to emulate looking off towards the monochromatic ocean horizon of Fellini’s Rimini.
- The most startling exhibit is a paean to the exquisite beauty of Anita Ekberg, who played Sylvia Rank, the unattainable dream woman of Mastroianni’s Marcello Rubini in La Dolce Vita. The installation titled La Sognante (The Dreaming Lady) is an enormous, roughly 8m long sleeping giantess in the likeness of Ekberg, a literalization of her role in La Dolce Vita as a deified emblem of sexuality and femininity. On a shimmering curtain of silvery streamers, the infamous Trevi Fountain scene of La Dolce Vita is played on a loop. Other screens elsewhere in the room project scenes of Ekberg as Sylvia
- The threshold between the different floors, playing various newsreels of Fellini at work in various regions of Italy and the rapidly expanding media frenzy that would swarm each successive project. It is worthwhile to note that the term ‘paparazzi’ was authored by Fellini himself
- The most traditional museum-fare, this room contains several of the original costumes used in Fellini’s Casanova which are backlit by the scenes that feature them. Those familiar with the film Roma will recognize the ostentatious papal outfits that were used in the ecclestial parade scene, also accompanied by screens showing the segments of the scene in which they were displayed.
- Fellini’s modernist sensibilities are demonstrated in the room that focused on the presence of brands and advertising in his films. The encroachment of private enterprises in Post-War Italy manifests itself in the billboards and advertisements that clutter dilapidated urban spaces and adorn the homes of Fellini’s characters. Various screens that highlight this pattern line the walls.
- A voracious reader, Fellini explored many literary realms, from the psychoanalysis of Jung to the satire of Kafka to the tomes of occult thaumaturges. In a loose recreation of Fellini’s own library, this room allows its visitors to better understand some of the sources of Fellini’s fascination and inspiration.
- While suffering from serious psychological issues, Fellini’s psychiatrist suggested he begin recording and sketching the content of his dreams. Already trained as a comic artist, Fellini drew fantastical oneiric scenes in his Book of Dreams. This book and selected pages that were significant in the development of some of his films are displayed, including a blonde giantess that became the inspiration for La Dolce Vita’s Sylvia.
- The first digression from the retinal pleasures of the preceding rooms, this space is lined with wooden benches where one can enjoy the scores of Nino Rota, who wrote music for almost every single one of Fellini’s films. Bursting through the ceiling is a wrecking ball, a homage to Prova d’Orchestra.
- A room that steps back from the immediacy of Fellini’s individual existence to appreciate the incredible matrix of passionate professionals, artisans, artists, and actors that surrounded him and helped actualize his films. A screen plays confessionals of those within his social and professional proximity that recall their relationship with Fellini.
- In a large chamber of hanging screens film excerpts, news reels, documentaries and period footage construct a portrait of Fellini’s epoch that inspired his work. Mythology and modernity interweave as the construction of twentieth century Italian social organization are challenged.
- The photo archive is a vast collection of photographs documenting Fellini both on and off set. The images of Fellini at work are of course intriguing, but the photographs taken in between projects, be it intimate moments with his friends and family or touristic excursions across Europe, create a portrait of a man who led a lush and exuberant life away from his work. This exhibit, which has photos lining the walls and a slide projector, is among the most humanizing spaces in the museum.
- A compendium of all the literary and documentarian critical work about Fellini’s filmography, a testament to the illustrious career of a master filmmaker. A summary of every critical publication focused on Fellini’s work as well as excerpts of video essays and documentaries regarding the same topic and displayed.
Palazzo del Fulgor’s exhibits provide contemporary reflections on Fellini, and more abstract ruminations on the significance of his films. The Cinemino is a small theater programmed with interviews with celebrated directors and film scholars that reinterpret his themes on diegetic, critical, and discursive levels, as well as other vignettes that frame the scope and magnitude of Fellini’s career. The Room of Words is a soundproof standing space with overhead speakers that project the voice of Fellini contemplating himself and his work. This abstract exhibit interlaces several audio excerpts of Fellini grappling with the meaning of his life and the significance of his efforts as a filmmaker. The House of the Magician reveals the mystical aspects of Fellini’s work, and his propensity to expand his poetic range through studies of esoteric, occult, and mythic texts. The Moviole allows its attendees to inter-splice excerpts of Fellini films, underscoring the continuity of his craft across several decades. Attendees also have the opportunity to explore the museum’s repertoire of letters, posters, testimonies, and drawings of Fellini via the digital archives.
The Fellini Museum beckons its visitors to enmesh themselves within the inestimable work of Federico Fellini and recognize that these films have unraveled the antinomies of our reality. These works bridge the divides between realism and fantasy, between the sacred and the profane, between tradition and contemporaneity. As such, Fellini, and this magisterial space crafted to celebrate him, proffer more than intellectual or spectatorial stimulation—rather, an apprenticeship to finding one’s lust for life.