Prospectus Draft

Freeing Fellini: Cinematic Self-Discovery in La Dolce Vita and 8 ½


The opening images of Federico Fellini’s most well-known films, La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 ½ (1963), demonstrate events that are seemingly polar opposites of one another: a helicopter chopping freely through the sky as it carries a statue of Jesus over Rome; a man trapped and suffocated in his car during a traffic jam. In juxtaposing these two openers, Fellini already establishes a thematically connected spectrum in these films: of creative freedom and entrapment. In illustrating the thematic connections between these images within their own respective narratives, I aim to study the development of Fellini as a filmmaker concerned with his own artistic capability to translate his conscious and unconscious thoughts through cinema.

By the end, La Dolce Vita‘s illusion of creative freedom is deconstructed, whereas in 8 ½, that freedom finds a way to manifest itself when the artist finally identifies his internal struggle. Though narratively unrelated to each other, the dream-like, meandering structure of Marcello’s experiences in Vita, combined with 8 ½‘s Guido as an autobiographical extension of Fellini (as a director facing a creative block) form a thematically linked duology in examining Fellini as an introspective artist attempting to not only uncover the meanings of his own thoughts through his dreams and experiences, but to express them by using the cinematic image as a tool of communication between him, the spectator,  and the unconscious mind.

Throughout the history of cinema’s theoretical approach to identification, the viewer is usually placed in the center, as cinema is generally handled as an art made to serve an audience. However, I find Fellini to be a special subject in attempting to analyze his transformation from a filmmaker who started in the era of an established movement such as Italian neorealism to one more concerned with depicting his own blend of fiction and autobiography into dream-like narratives that serve as a tool for self-identification for the artist; as a spectator of their own psychological thoughts. For Fellini, La Dolce Vita and 8 ½ are therefore direct extensions of his own mind. Through these two films, I’d like to explore the ways in which film theories involving mirror identification and the mind relate to Fellini as an auteur who is perhaps less interested in black-and-white definitions of reality and fiction, and more in their combination within cinema as a means for self-discovery and artistic freedom. His evolution as a filmmaker is a journey of transformation, not unlike Marcello and Guido. In this sense, I believe Fellini took an established medium in an established movement (Italian Neorealism) and transformed its artistic capabilities into something that transcends concrete definition of genre or classical narrative.

By referring to Christian Metz’s theories on identification and the cinematic mirror, I can explore the ways in which Fellini specifically uses psychoanalysis and reflexivity within his films to hint at a larger philosophy regarding symbolism and figurative representation. My focus on this section will deal heavily on the premise that Marcello and Guido, the titular characters of both movies (who are fittingly played by the same actor, Marcello Mastroianni), are metaphorical stand-ins for Fellini himself. Gregory Currie and Rudolph Arnheim’s discussions of reality, as well as illusion, established within cinema aid in presenting foundations to explore Fellini’s authorial use of realism and fiction in unison with each other. This in turn establishes how the term “Felliniesque” directly involves the peculiarity of his unique cinematic style. I also plan to further expand on cinematic theory of the mind, which in relation deals with the combined nature of Fellini’s illusory sense of narrative progression, evident in not only the temporal and spacial disarray between dreams and reality in 8 ½, but also in the seemingly realistic, yet unsutured episodes of Marcello’s psychological detachment in La Dolce Vita.



1. Christian Metz, Critical Visions in Film Theory. “Loving the Cinema. Identification, Mirror. Disavowal, Fetishism” p. 18-33

2. Gregory Currie, Critical Visions in Film Theory. “Film, Reality, and Illusion” p. 47-60

3. Isabella Conti and William A. McCormack “Federico Fellini: Artist in Search of Self Author(s)”

4. Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener, Film Theory: Introduction Through the Senses. “Cinema as Mirror – Face and Close-Up” p. 63-90

5. Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener, Film Theory: Introduction Through the Senses. “Cinema as Brain – Mind and Body” p. 169-191

6. Rudolph Arnheim Critical Visions in Film Theory. “Film and Reality” p. 280-289


Federico Fellini. La Dolce Vita (1960)

Federico Fellini. 8 1/2 (1963)



  1. jamescirenza · April 12, 2017

    Hello John,

    Below I have provided my comments regarding your prospectus draft.

    1. From an overall construction standpoint, I think you have rather concisely outlined how you will analyze Fellini’s films with the theory we have covered in the course so far. The theorists you have cited are all apropos to your topic and provide a solid foundation for you to analyze Fellini’s work within the larger domain of auteur theory. You mentioned his evolution as a filmmaker, and I believe that this will serve as a critical point of analysis. I’m also deeply enamored with Federico Fellini and his highly personal mode of filmmaking.

    2. My main critique of your essay is that as it stands, it relies too heavily on pre-existing auteur theory. I wonder if there’s anyone you could slightly broaden the scope of your analysis to the evolution of Fellini’s style concomitant with changes in the Italian film industry. Fellini’s brand of filmmaking seems indicative of a larger shift in filmmaking of the period. I know this is a lot to ask for in a ten-page paper. I think what’s so striking about Fellini is that he started his career collaborating with Roberto Rossellini. Fellini’s later films almost serve as a rebuke to the austerity of early Neorealist filmmaking as demonstrated in Rossellini’s work. I’m also curious if it might be productive to include one more film in your analysis from his early career such as La Strada or Nights of Cabiria to demonstrate the evolution of his approach.


    • John Gaudio · April 12, 2017

      I really appreciate that you brought up Fellini’s early career, since I’m still considering if my idea might be better with the addition of another film to better illustrate his evolution as an artist; I think La Strada is a great example for that (I haven’t yet seen Nights of Cabiria). As you said, 10 pages might not suffice for such development, unless I choose to more specifically expand on auteur theory rather than focus so closely on La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2’s narratives. I’ll definitely consider your advice on dealing with auteur theory and possibly including another text though. Thanks for the helpful comments!


  2. fleapitfilm · April 12, 2017

    This sounds awesome. I am not so familiar with all of Fellini’s films and the attachment of both films narratives to your argument of Fellinis reflexive, freely artistic nature was still effectively communicated. I find it interesting that you are focusing on an auteur director and the nature of his cinematic characteristics to display connected ideas of self expression, neorealism and Metz’s cinema as mirror, compared to other peoples choice to perhaps focus on a theme and search for two effective films to display such ideas. Sitting here thinking about your prospectus, I think the two films you have chosen seem highly relevant to your argument, however I am also considering the idea that if part of your intention is to highlight his growth as an artist/filmmaker and the role of film as mirroring his conscious/unconscious self, perhaps it could be interesting to later tie in one of his later films from the 80s or 90s and how his commentary on life/artistic expression might have changed over the course of decades of filmmaking and seeking self exploration?


    • John Gaudio · April 12, 2017

      It’s interesting, since Fellini seemed to continue evolving into the late-60s and 70s with autobiographical films such as Roma and Amarcord (I admittedly haven’t seen any of his films past Amarcord, released in 1973), which are primarily concerned with representing setting via memory in an effort to present (or preserve?) the past. His evolution is a fascinating case of progression to me: neorealism, to his reflexive 60s films, to some sort of longing fascination with nostalgia and the dream-like effect it has when recalling the past. Your comment makes me curious now to see where Fellini went post-Amarcord and into the 80s, so I’ll definitely consider whether I should include a film from one of his non-60s film to better illustrate that evolution.

      I appreciate the help! Thanks!


  3. vivianying · April 12, 2017

    Hi, John,

    1. Your prospectus displays strong argument of the Fellini’s authorial peculiarity through the discussion of the blending of “real” and “dreamy” in his journey to realize his artistic potential. Bravo! I am looking forward to reading the detailed analysis of the translation from Fellini’s (un)conscious to his films, and how you incorporate the theories of psychoanalysis, discourses around reality, and theory of mind.
    I am particularly fascinated by your cinematic tropes presented in the first paragraph, which visualize the two poles in a spectrum of “creative freedom” and “creative block” and I imagine that could be impressive in the form of essay-film.

    2. There is one aspect I am concerned about. I think it is creative to replace the viewer for the author on the topic of cinematic identification, but I am confused about how directors can be viewed “as a spectator of their own psychological thoughts”. The subtle point needs more elaboration before it can be regarded as a strength. Or will it be easier if you can find theories that deal directly with the mind of the auteurs in a psychoanalytical way?


    • John Gaudio · April 12, 2017

      The way I’d like to frame this idea of Fellini, or the author, as a ‘spectator of their own psychological thoughts’ is through the possible use of a few sources I looked at where Fellini specifically mentions, through interviews as well as a couple of essays that document, himself as someone who views cinema as a means of looking at himself (pretty specific to mirror theory, I think). So in this sense, cinema is a tool for Fellini to visually project his own thoughts and inner struggles onto a physical surface, thus presenting the perceptual illusion of his thoughts and dreams as real, materialized images on a physical screen. This also relates to how I’m going to view the protagonists of each film as representational extensions of Fellini himself.

      I hope this description clarifies the idea slightly. I’m still working with it in my head, so it’s definitely an idea in development. Thanks for bringing it up in your comment, though, because it definitely helped for me to try to write and elaborate about it in a more concise manner.

      Thank you!


      • vivianying · April 14, 2017

        Thank you, John, for clarifying for me. I can understand that the process of filmmaking for Fellini is like mirroring his inner self to the outer space. I just wonder how an auteur is a spectator at the period of creation, unless you mean in a broader process, the auteur reviews his rough cut and revise. I can understand that Fellini is a reflective director, who visualizes his thoughts, but I still have difficulty figuring out how one can be an auteur and an audience simultaneously. Besides, your expression reminds me of Vivian Sobchack’s phenomenological wordplay to regard cinema as “an experience of expression by experience” (Film Theory: An Introduction Through the Senses, cinema as skin, p127). .


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