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Just in time for the Oscars: reading Fellini

February 22, 2009 |  8:04 am


For much of his life, Federico Fellini did not want to be seen as bookish or intellectual, which adds interest to the first exhibition of his library. There is added piquancy in the fact that it takes place while Fellini’s “Book of Dreams” is on display during the Academy Awards

The well-mounted exhibition of more than 2,000 books is on the ground floor of a three-story 20th century apartment building, where his parents lived and some relatives still reside, in Fellini’s hometown of Rimini, Italy. The exhibition does not consist of serried book spines but of many open volumes, books in suspended, tinted plastic cubes as well as in bookcases, where the volumes alternate with reproductions of Fellini’s textual notations, film scripts and videos of his films.

The first section, set against a huge blowup of Fellini filming a circus scene, consists of childhood books, the second of books about the occult and the arcane, while the remaining sections concern the visual arts and literature.

(More after the jump)      

Fellinimuseum2 From his early years, Fellini was interested in comic books and adventure tales, notably those about Ulysses, whom he admired as a great liar, and those by Jules Verne. The interest in comic books carried over into his adult years with collections including "Dick Tracy," "Popeye," "Little Nemo" and Jules Feiffer’s "Great Comic Book Heroes."

The second section has Fellini’s guidebooks to the arcane, which he described as “everything from Jung to crystal balls.” His curiosity led him to medically guided experiments with LSD inspired by Timothy Leary.

Fellini believed that cinema has more to do with painting than with literature. His books on visual art, displayed against a blowup of a Douanier Rousseau painting, include those on Bosch and Brueghel -- some of whose work has affinities with his comic books. But Fellini said he learned from paintings what not to do in his films.

The thread from his childhood comics to the arcane leads on to surreal rather than realistic fiction. In fact, the literature section reflects Fellini's interest in wildly imaginative authors such as Kakfa, Borges and Lovecraft. There is a pile of books by his friend Georges Simenon, a few books with dedications ("Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "The Martian Chronicles") by Ray Bradbury, novels by Patricia Highsmith, whom Fellini admired although describing her as a "poisonous witch," and books on Buster Keaton, whom he preferred to Charlie Chaplin (criticized for his "rodent teeth").

An excellent catalog accompanies the exhibition, which was organized by the Fellini Foundation. The books are on display until Easter but will be displayed again when a Fellini museum is opened in Rimini, probably in 2010.

"My Home Library" at Via Oberdan 1, Rimini. Open daily except Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays open also 10 a.m. to noon. Free entry. Or visit the Fellini website for more information.

-- Desmond O’Grady

Photos: Fellini library. Credit: Desmond O'Grady