Maestro Fellini, Studente Angelucci

Article excerpt

"You've helped others besides Gianfranco," I said to Fellini. He raised a questioning eyebrow, forcing me to say, "Like Lina Wertmuller." He laughed, as though I'd told him some marvelous joke. Then he threw out his arms and raised his eyes in mock despair as he looked first at my wife, seated on a couch across from us, then at Gianfranco, at whom he winked. Gianfranco smiled wryly, apparently knowing what Fellini was thinking. Then Fellini turned back to me and laughed again. "Lina Wertmuller! She tells everyone she was my assistant. She worked for me ten minutes-and with no pay!"

Lina Wertmuller may have worked for Fellini for ten minutes, which I doubted, or for ten weeks, which is more likely. The point is he obviously did not care much for Wertmuller and wanted no one to believe either that she'd ever been his assistant or that her work was influenced by his. Critics have accused Fellini of not saying enough in his films. Fellini implies that Wertmuller says too much-that she's too involved in political and social issues, that she's a cartoonist who smothers her viewers in polemics.

Gianfranco tells of his first meeting with Fellini. We, with our wives, were sipping espresso at an outside cafe in the Borghese gardens. "I was a student of literature at the University of Bologna," he said. "One of my teachers thought I might do, as my thesis, a comparative study between film and literature. I went to Rome and this teacher, who knew Fellini and was very fond of him, arranged that I should meet him. This was in the later sixties when students all over the world were in revolt. Two minutes after we met, Fellini and I began to argue and we argued throughout that first meeting."

My own first meeting with Gianfranco Angelucci was somewhat more relaxed. In the early spring of 1980 he'd come to the University of Illinois to give a talk on Fellini and to show a film he'd made on the making of Amarcord. It was an ambitious film, not merely a sixty-minute trailer for Amarcord. We saw Fellini picking out his cast, his face very expressive, amused by this performer, bored by that one, enchanted by another. We saw him in conference with composer Nino Rota, with cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, with writing collaborator Tonino Guerra; we saw him directing his players in scenes from the film and often what was in the script was changed radically for the cameras. There was so much loving attention paid to Fellini himself (a pensive Fellini, a distracted Fellini, a melancholy Fellini and, now and then, a Fellini whose face broke into a radiant smile when a scene went well) that I suddenly remembered he'd also been an actor, most notably playing the Joseph character opposite Anna Magnani in The Miracle. And I was also made aware of the fact that the maker of this film was deeply committed to both Fellini the artist and to Fellini the man.

After the film showing I attended a reception for Gianfranco at the home of a colleague. I watched, from across a table burdened with a huge punch bowl, as he talked with others. He smiled a great deal but seemed ill-at-ease. An art professor's wife, slightly tipsy, was asking him about Marcello Mastroianni (she pronounced it Mastrianni, dropping the "o"), who was starring in Fellini's latest film. She was more interested in Mastroianni the offscreen lover than in Mastroianni the actor. A graduate student, who wrote very serious, very cerebral film critiques for the campus newspaper, was obviously irritated by her frivolous questions. Like Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes he shot bullet-paced questions at Gianfranco about Fellini and "why hasn't he done anything really decent since 8??" Gianfranco smiled and seemed distraught as he turned from one to the other. "Mastroianni nearly ruined 8'h for me," said the young critic. "He's much too handsome." The art professor's wife smiled sweetly at him. "Oh really? Does that prevent him from being a good actor?" Gianfranco backed away from them and that's when I went up to him and introduced myself. …


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