Listening to Fellini: Music and Meaning in Black and White

Listening to Fellini: Music and Meaning in Black and White

Listening to Fellini: Music and Meaning in Black and White

Listening to Fellini: Music and Meaning in Black and White

Synopsis

This study reveals the singularly important role played by music in the construction of meaning in Fellini's black and white feature-length films, and presents a substantial re-reading of the films made during the most creative period of Fellini's artistic development.

Excerpt

Nino Rota's music for Federico Fellini's films is so remarkably consistent and coherent in its development from film to film that listening to a compilation of this musical corpus one can imagine a single, ideal film extending in time from their first collaboration in 1952, Lo sceicco bianco, to La città delle donne in 1979. Why does Rota’s music fit so well with Fellini’s images? One reason might be that an overarching theme in Fellini’s cinema is the confusion between seeming and being and, as do Fellini’s images, Rota’s music reflects a certain ambivalence because it acts as a cultural gobetween in its obsessive referencing of visual popular culture: the circus, variety theater, melodrama, cartoons, cinema, and musicals. But this answer is not entirely satisfactory because he composed music for dozens of other directors, including Luchino Visconti, Mario Monicelli, Luigi Comencini, Lina Wertmüller, Francis Ford Coppola, and Franco Zeffirelli, and yet his compositions seem more profound in Fellini’s hands. Could it be that Rota composed better music for Fellini? Probably not—in fact if one were to separate the music from the context of the visual image, many would argue that some of Rota’s compositions for Visconti and Coppola are artistically superior to anything that he composed for Fellini. the strange truth of the matter is that the beauty of Rota’s music in Fellini originates in the editing room: it is not the music itself, but rather the magical encounter between image and sound.

The importance of music in Fellini’s films is often mentioned but rarely methodically studied, and the many critics who refer to the sound tracks of the great Italian director’s films do so almost always in passing. This is not surprising: film music is often overlooked or undervalued in film criticism, considered lightly as a peripheral accessory to image and dialogue. in the case of Fellini, however, music functions as an important signifier that orders and classifies the visual images, thereby offering an important interpretive tool for . . .

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