YES, La Dolce Vita has been very successful. But I hope people will not think it presumptuous of me if I say that happy as I am that the film has been a success, even if it hadn’t been, I would still have got my satisfaction out of it. My passion is in the making of a film. Afterwards, it’s largely a matter that doesn’t concern me.
I have this detached attitude, which I assure you is absolutely sincere, to thank if, as I hope, I am able to resist the lure of suecess. One has to be strong or just unconscious. I don’t want to think about it. Indeed it worries me that everybody has their own interpretation of La Dolce Vita. It takes away my freedom if everyone wants me on their pedestal. However, don’t think me too much of a cynic if I add that they want me after I have made my films. I had to try fifteen producers before I found one willing to make La Strada. After Cabiria and a second Oscar, I still had great difficulty finding a producer for La Dolce Vita.
Now I won’t have to look for producers any more because I have at last got my own film company. I have got at least that out of La Dolce Vita. Many people think that this film has made me rich; but I didn’t have a percentage of the profits it is making all over the world. And my salary went to pay back the producer who had first backed the film but who wanted an American actor to play Marcello [i.e., Mastroianni’s rôle]!
My new company, Federiz, might be called a gift, or bonus, from Angelo Rizzoli, who put up the money for La Dolce Vita. I have always had trouble with producers, you see. After my early successes, they always wanted me to make the same film again. After the Vitelloni they wanted the Vitellini! They’d have paid me anything I asked. (But they hadn’t the courage to let me make the Vitelloni in the first place.) After La Strada I had scores of offers. To make the Bidone, which I was then planning? No. To make Gelsomina on a Bicycle or anything with Gelsomina in the title. They didn’t realize that in La Strada I had already said all I wanted to say about Gelsomina. They all wanted Gelsomina. I could have earned a fortune selling her name to doll manufacturers, to sweet firms; even Walt Disney wanted to make an animated cartoon about her. I could have lived on Gelsomina for twenty years!
Why this insistence on sequels? Have they so little imagination? Of course, they wanted a sequel to Cabiria. Now, I ask you, what could that be? And now? Oh, yes, they’d all like a sequel to La Dolce Vita. They’ve even tried to make one of the typical Italian pot-boiler comedies with Toto. I have a great admiration for Toto but I don’t see why I should let the Dolce Vita become a vehicle for a rubbishy parody.
Certainly the Vitelloni was the one film which could have had a sequel in the idealistic sense. At one time, I did plan to make Moraldo in the City. But in the end, even that idea didn’t appeal to me any more. And though some may think La Dolce Vita a sort of sequel to Vitelloni, insofar as it is the story of a young man from the provinces who has been in Rome for ten years, there is really no connection between Moraldo and Marcello. The only connection is the autobiographical vein that is in all my work.
My new offices in Rome just off the Piazza di Spagna are not intended to be just the headquarters of a production company. When we are working, be it on a film of mine or of one of the young directors that I intend to help, there will be room for the production managers and assistant directors. But all the year round, it will be a “workshop” where my friends can gather to exchange ideas. Our conversation will not be the usual gossip of the cafés with no practical object. Our dreams will be realized; anyway let’s hope so. I want to surround myself with saltimbanks, storytellers and jesters, as in a medieval court. But there will be no despotism.
I know what it means for a young director to fight against the despotism of the producers. Maybe I survived myself because I created a fakir’s wall around me. For others it is not so easy. They don’t all have my fanaticism and they let themselves be browbeaten. If I had to give a definition of the policy of my company, I would say that it is one that will never make its directors change the endings of their films. Producers always want to change the endings. I shall leave the director to do as he wishes. Rizzoli has had faith in me. I shall have faith in my directors.
Money doesn’t count any more. The other day, I saw a man with a briefcase going out of the office. I asked my production manager, Clemente Fracassi, who the man was. “Oh, he is from the Bank,” he said. I was worried because usually when men from banks come to see me they want to take away my furniture or my car. “What the devil did he want?” I asked. “Oh, he wanted to invest eight hundred million lire in Federiz, but I told him we didn’t want it,” said Fracassi. He knew he didn’t have to ask me. On the Via Veneto that evening, I confessed I got quite a kick out of telling people we had refused half a million pounds!
Even in Italy, nobody quite understands how I can refuse the fabulous sums that are offered me. In the article I wrote for the last special issue of Films And Filming, I told you how I had turned down a quarter of a million dollars offered me by an American company to make a film about horses with an Italian star. I hear it made some people incredulous in England. Perhaps they thought it facetious of me. But, honestly, I can’t take these offers seriously.
When I went to the United States, I was given a public relations man to look after me during the month I was there. When he met me at the airport, the first thing he told me was that he had “layed on” a television interview for that evening. “Twenty million people will be watching you,” he told me proudly. I looked in the paper and saw it was already announced that at a certain hour, somebody would be telling the American public how to cook spaghetti alla napoletana and the famous Italian film director Federico Fellini would show gentlemen how to kiss a lady’s hand!
That poor publicity man had a terrible time with me. He just couldn’t understand my attitude. He thought I was kidding or else trying to be smart. How could anyone in his senses turn down a quarter of a million dollars? I was left alone in the film producer’s oifice to meditate on that check, with the contract and pen beside it. After ten minutes, when they came back and found I hadn’t signed, they couldn’t believe their eyes. In the end, the publicity man said, with a hurt look in his eyes, “Maybe in Italy it’s being a poet to turn down this sort of money but if you do it in the States you’re a –– .” He didn’t know how to justify it to his boss who was convinced that I was holding out for more money. The publicity man begged me to say that I was ill; that my liver troubled me; and I wanted to get back to Italy as soon as possible. The producer immediately offered me his private plane to take me to some place in Texas where he knew there was a wonderful clinic for curing liver complaints.
When I was leaving New York, the publicity man was by then resigned. I think he was even beginning to sympathize. Certainly he didn’t have any more resentment. He just looked at me sorrowfully and said, “You’re a strange guy.”
I was interested in the idea of making a film about the relationship between a European and just such an American as that publicity man I had known on my previous visit. The idea appealed to me. And I had many other ideas too. But how could I make a film in America without knowing the country backwards? I wouldn’t feel ready to make a film in America unless I knew what colored tie was worn by a lawyer in Boston or how a prostitute talks in Cincinnati. Language, for me, is essential.
How do I know the difference between the speech of a Negro in the South and an emancipated Negro of the North?
How could I start shooting a scene in a New York restaurant at 4:30 in the afternoon if I have to rebuild the atmosphere in a studio? I can’t depend on others.
From Films and Filming, January 1961, pp. 13, 38.