Obituary: Federico Fellini

Click to follow
The Independent Online
NOT for nothing did his old protege Pier Paolo Pasolini christen Federico Fellini 'The Great Mystifier', writes John Baxter. By his proud admission a fantasist who liked to 'make himself new every day', Fellini never told the truth when he could think of a better lie. Some of them turned up in Gilbert Adair's obituary (1 November).

Fellini never went to a boarding school where he was bullied by strict Salesian brothers. His younger brother Riccardo did, however, and Federico simply co-opted the story, as he co-opted the more colourful life and family of his boyhood friend Luigi 'Titta' Bensi for Amarcord.

Though it's likely he saw the Pierino circus when it came through Rimini in 1927 and may have helped a roustabout wash a zebra, this was the extent of his circus career. He never ran away with it or any other travelling show.

Fellini didn't spend six months in Florence as a comic-book artist, or study law in either Florence or Rome. In 1939 he enrolled in the University of Rome, but only to gain a student draft exemption. He never attended classes. When he moved to Rome at 19 it wasn't as the handsome and independent young journalist shown in Fellini Roma but in the demeaning company of his mother, who had run away from her philandering husband, taking Federico and his baby sister Maria Maddalena with her.

The music-hall star Aldo Fabrizi did befriend the young Federico but the story of his having toured as resident 'poet', wardrobe master and occasional performer with his company is a fantasy, and one that Fabrizi came increasingly to resent. When Fellini filmed it as his first co-directed feature, Luci del Varieta, Fabrizi, infuriated, lent his efforts to a rival production, Vita da Cani, with an almost identical plot but a bigger budget. As Fabrizi meant it to, Vita da Cani wiped out Fellini's effort.

I had coffee with Fellini at Caffe Canova in Rome just before the heart surgery that brought on his first stroke. We discussed his birth, about which he was as evasive as everything else, even to claiming he had been born in a train (first-class, of course). 'I don't know where I was born,' he told me. 'Perhaps I wasn't born at all.' We watched a 747 out-bound from Da Vinci Airport describe a white line against the sky. 'Perhaps in a plane . . .' he said idly. Lying to the end.