Directors’ Federico Fellini and David Lynch Share More Than a Birthday

by Shannonn Kelly
02:40PM, EST, January 20, 2014

Today, January 20th is the Birthday of two very different yet somehow similar Filmmakers:

  • Living: Director, writer, David Keith Lynch born 1946 in Missoula, Montana. He’s 68.
  • Deceased: Director, writer Federico Fellini, born 1920 Rimini, Italy.
Birthday Buddies Federico Fellini and David Lynch
Birthday Buddies Federico Fellini and David Lynch

I started watching films that were age inappropriate when I was in single digits. So it was probably the same story when I saw “Blue Velvet” in 1986, as I believe it was ‘Restricted’ and I probably snuck into the movie theater. I loved the spooky premise of finding a severed ear in a farmers field, loved the character Frank Booth played by now deceased Dennis Hopper. I just completely loved that movie.

As the years passed, I went backwards into Lynch’s filmography to learn more about this quirky director. I balled my eyes out watching “The Elephant Man” (1980), was completely mystified and enthralled by “Eraserhead” (1977), completely hated Dune (1984) and wanted nothing more than to watch “Wild at Heart” (1990), “Twin Peaks” (1992) and “Mulholland Drive” (2001) on some sort of continuous loop all throughout my day-to-day living.

For Federico Fellini, I had watched a few of his films, but somehow always felt left out. He seemed to be telling a story but never really giving us the whole story. Many of his peer filmmakers thought he had an ‘artistic’ sensibility but did little with it on-screen.

Acclaimed Writer, Actor, Director Orsen Welles Said of Fellini:

“His films are a small town boy’s dream of the big city. His sophistications works because it’s the creation of someone who doesn’t have it. But, he shows dangerous signs of being a superlative artist with little to say.”

I thought maybe I was too young or didn’t possess enough film language to ‘get him’ so I left Fellini on the back burner during a self imposed ‘cooling off period’.

Then, in September, at TIFF 2013, I saw a fantastic film / docudrama on the relationship between Italian Director, writer Ettore Scola and his friendship with the enigmatic director, writer Fellini. Not a lot of people really talk about this film. But 4 months later and I still think about the story and the wonderful mix of images and archive footage and re-counted conversations and observations between the two masters. The film was called “How Strange to Be Named Federico: Scola Narrates Fellini” (2013)

According to Writer Jay Weissberg at Variety:

“Those not familiar with Fellini’s legacy won’t be quite so captivated, which makes “How Strange” a perfect incentive for (and a welcome adjunct to) Fellini retrospectives. Cineastes conversant with “Amarcord” will recognize the model for Scola’s narrator (Vittorio Viviani), who sets the stage for the various episodes beginning in 1939, with a 19-year-old Fellini (Tommaso Lazotti) arriving from Rimini at the Rome offices of the satirical biweekly “Marc’Aurelio” with a portfolio of stories and illustrations. Eight years later, Scola (Giacomo Lazotti) walked through the same doors, a boy of 16 in knickerbockers with a portfolio of his own.”

As a direct result of that film, I am now getting back into Fellini. He is the key person responsible for bringing foreign films to Britain and North America, winning 5 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, the most number of Oscars in history to a non-English speaking director.

From 1942 through 1992, Fellini directed 25 films and credited with writing 51 screenplays both shorts, features and documentaries. During that time, Fellini also did a few TV commercials for Campari Soda (1984), Barilla Pasta (1984) and 3 commercials for Banca di Roma (1992)

My favorite Fellini films are:

Besides fans of David Lynch and anything to do with him earning a spot in pop culture known as, “Lynchmania“, Fellini also has interesting ties to pop culture.

Factoid: Today’s term “Paparazzi” is derived from Fellini’s film, La Dolce Vita (1960). Fellini had a character named ‘Paparazzo‘, a photojournalist who takes pictures of celebrities.

Factoid: Fellini died on the exact same day as the brother of Joaquin Phoenix, actor River Phoenix, which was October 31st, 1993. Time Magazine ran a retrospective article last October on the 20th anniversary of Fellini’s death. To read it, please Click Here.

David Lynch wrote in this as his biography for his entry to Cannes in 1990 for his film “Wild at Heart”.

  • “David Lynch – Eagle Scout – Missoula, Montana”

When I read that, I laughed of course, then immediately fell in love with him. I ‘got him’.

Lynch Won the Palme d’Or at Cannes that year. Eleven years later he won for ‘Best Director” for Mulholland Dr. (2001). In his favorite 2nd country of France, Lynch has won two César Awards, 20 years apart. In 1982 for “The Elephant Man” (1980) and in 2002 for “Mulholland Dr.” (2001), both wins were for “Best Foreign Film”.

Lynch has an opinion on just about everything from music, to charities, to water, to weather, to politics. To read an article by him on the 2nd term for an Obama administration, please Click Here.

Whether you get them or not, both Federico Fellini and David Lynch have firmly planted their respective flags on our cinema landscape. They both embrace the ordinary and the underworld and make us sit glued to the movie screen transfixed by them all. Many of their films focus on cultural devastation and loneliness and often are utterly moving.

Both Lynch and Fellini have proved themselves as filmmakers through style and the use of film as a language, albeit not everyone is tuned into that language. Then there are those of us that get it when we we’re ready and open to receive the message. I’m just glad I can honor them both today in my blog.

Beside sharing a birthday, below is a list of similarities that I uncovered between Lynch and Federico. Enjoy 🙂

Lynch Fellini
Drew and wrote the comic strip, “The Angriest Dog in the World” that ran in the Los Angeles Reader newspaper through 1980s. Big fan of Stan Lee and Marvel Comics (Spiderman, the Hulk). One of his very early writing jobs was the Italian language script for the Flash Gordon comic strip.
References France often, the language, culture, people, and names. References Italy, the language, culture, people, and names.
Finds small-town USA fascinating Finds small town people fascinating
Movie characters are often ugly, grotesque, freaks, underworld degenerates living in a polarized world (Angels vs Demons, Madonnas vs Tarts with Hearts) often mired in Unhappiness. Extreme surrealism Movie characters are often ugly, grotesque, freaks, underworld degenerates living in a polarized world (Angels vs Demons, Madonnas vs Tarts with Hearts) often mired in Unhappiness. Extreme surrealism
Never explains the meaning of his movies Tried to explain the meaning of his movies, but he was often misleading when it cames to what is or is not autobiographical
Uses the metaphor of “The Wizard of Oz” in many of his films Uses the metaphor of a “Circus” in many of his films
Made TV Commercials Made TV Commercials
Producer Dino De Laurentiis offered him the chance to direct “Hand-Carved Coffins” based on a Truman Capote work, but Lynch turned it down. But they made box office flop “Dune” (1984) Producer Dino De Laurentiis originally hoped that Fellini would direct Flash Gordon (1980)
In the 5th edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (edited by Steven Jay Schneider), 1 of Lynch’s films is listed: “Blue Velvet” (1986). In the 5th edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (edited by Steven Jay Schneider), 7 of Fellini’s films are listed: La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957), La Dolce Vita (1960), 8½ (1963), Juliet of the Spirits (1965), Fellini Satyricon (1969) and Amarcord (1973).
Includes dream like imagery and nostalgia in many of his films Includes dream like imagery and nostalgia in many of his films
Nominated 4 times for an Oscar. Never won. Nominated 4 times for an Oscar. Won all 4 times.  “Best Foreign Language Film”. La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957), 8½ (1963) and Amarcord (1973)
Interested in drawing and painting, he eventually enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1964. He dropped out after a year. Interested in drawing, sketching and writing Fellini ‘pretended’ to go to law school to please his parents.
Cites Federico Fellini as one of his influences

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