It is more than appropriate that the entrance to the latest film related art installation at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions (running now through September 18), is adorned with a wall that flashes camera bulbs at unsuspecting passerby. The wall, designed by famed production designer and frequent Fellini collaborator Dante Ferretti (who most recently won Acadamy Awards for his work on The Aviator and former TIFF gallery occupant Tim Burton’s Sweeny Todd), features paparazzi snapping their cameras more rapidly as people approach it. It serves as a wonderful introduction to Fellini, who essentially gave the world the term paparazzi, and the dreamlike wonder and glamour of the world that awaits inside.
Organized by TIFF artistic director Noah Cowan, this examination of one of history’s most interesting and engaging filmmakers comes to Toronto (for its only North American appearance), by way of Paris’ Jeu de Paume. The exhibit serves as an interactive collection of films, photographs, art, newsreels, and ephemera that takes visitors though the vices and virtues of Fellini and the subjects that would serve as his muses.
The installation is largely constructed out of incredibly smooth plywood scaffolding and is based around the often true joke that everything a tourist would want to see in Rome is always covered in scaffolding; a sentiment shared by Fellini and depicted in several of his films. The exhibit is divided up into several tiny rooms based around different aspects of Fellini’s life and filmmaking process.
The exhibit takes a look at where the sacred and the profane intersect with an examination of Fellini’s sequence from La Dolce Vita where a statue of Jesus is moved by a helicopter. The scene in the film was based on a real incident that the exhibit depicts in great detail. The exhibit also delves very deeply into Fellini’s muse Anita Ekberg, arguably the first supermodel and one of the paparazzo’s biggest darlings, and the many ways her life found its way into his work.
In the particularly interesting room titled “The Construction of a Myth” visitors get to see in detail the construction of La Dolce Vita’s famed Trevi Fountain sequence from its real life inception, to the actual film, to the manipulation of an image by producers looking to market the film in an interesting bit of bait and switch that Felliniactually approved of. In a somewhat unrelated and unintentional bit of side information, attentive visitors can look through a tiny crack in the wall of this room to catch a peek at the Lightbox’s workshop that oddly adds to the construction theme of the room itself.
Other major aspects of the exhibit showcase Fellini’s relationship with three major styles of music (rock, jazz, and the more vaudevillian style of the Music House), his relationship with his actors (especially Marcello Mastroianni, Ekberg, and Giuletta Masina), and the casting process. It also looks very closely at the obsessions, fetishes, and dreams that drove his work.
In addition to the primary exhibit, there is also a separate annex gallery devoted to a companion exhibit titled The Dolce Vita Years, featuring photography from Marcello Geppetti, one of the first and best known members of the original paparazzi, and Fellini’s long time director of photography Arturo Zavattini. This exhibit features numerous artfully captured candid pictures of famous celebrities from John Wayne to The Beatles. It also has one of the most famous paparazzi photographs of all time featuring Richard Burton and a then married Elizabeth Taylor making out furiously atop a yacht. This exhibit is co-presented by Toronto’s Columbus Centre where even more of Geppetti’s work can be seen on display.
The exhibit runs not only concurrently with the Fellini Dream Double Bill series at the Lightbox, but also with a series titled Days of Glory: Masterworks of Italian Neorealism (running from July 28 to August 28). This series will offer an examination of a movement in European cinema that Fellini was very much a part of and includes films from other Italian luminaries like Pier Paolo Pasolini and Roberto Rossellini, amongst many others. The Spectacular Obsessions exhibit is a fun and beautiful adjunct to anyone going to the Lightbox to see any of these historic films that is also thoroughly engrossing and informative on its own.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit tiff.net/fellini.
All photos from the Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions exhibit courtesy the TIFF Bell Lightbox.