Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions Fillets the Maestro's Soul
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Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions Fillets the Maestro’s Soul

The entrance to TIFF’s new Fellini exhibition.

Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions
June 30–September 18
$12.00 regular admission or $9.25 for students

Fellini / Felliniesque: “Dream” Double Bills
Showtimes throughout the summer
$12.00 regular admission or $9.50 for students

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

At a media preview of TIFF’s new Federico Fellini exhibition, Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions, a gaggle of film-beat reporters was greeted at the entrance by the flickering flashbulbs of a huddled mass of paparazzi, installed in the Lightbox’s lobby.
Noah Cowan, TIFF’s artistic director and the guy charged with bringing in these rotating exhibitions (and for knowledgeably guiding everyone at this sneak peek through them), says that, when it opens to the public, the now-random epileptic flutter will be hooked up to a motion sensor. So when you show up to see Spectacular Obsessions, one of these mock bulbs will light up just for you. It’s a cutesy little intervention, bound to ensnare the kind of people who simultaneously look up to catch the reverse-image of themselves on a CCTV screen as they walk into a Zellers. But it’s appropriate, setting a tone for the glamour and flashy celebrity-focus that courses through Spectacular Obsessions.

Magazines, and their dissemination of celebrity culture, constitute a large part of the exhibit.

The exhibition itself has been lifted and rejiggered (“heavily adapted,” says Cowan) from one that toured across Europe, originating at Jeu de Paume in Paris and stopping over in Italy (appropriately), Spain, and Russia. Its stop at the Lightbox marks its one-and-only North American layover. After pushing through the painted-on paparazzi with your suit jacket pulled over your head, and entering Spectacular Obsessions proper, you’re belted back by a bit of fittingly Felliniesque over-stimulation. Near the exhibition’s entrance, projected videos play against each other while some bee-boppie rock music skiffles underneath, sets of neon lights demarcating the show’s major points of interest shimmering in the distance. Plyboard and exposed aluminum piping frame the exhibit, intended to evoke, says Cowan, the perpetually “under construction” feel of Rome.
Spectacular Obsessions, though ostensibly a Fellini exhibit, is really more a La Dolce Vita (1960) exhibit. As Cowan noted, La Dolce Vita marks a “very important pivot point” in Fellini’s career, standing at the intersect of his earlier neo-realist films like La Strada (1954) and his launch into the pseudo-surrealist celluloid landscapes of Juliet of the Spirits (1965) and Satyricon (1969).

The “under construction” look of the exhibit imbues it with a lot of character.

Suffused at once with melancholy (in the character of Marcello Mastroianni’s listless journalist) and glamour (in the voluptuous, free-spirited Anita Ekbgerg), La Dolce serves as the most hermetic, singular articulation of the Maestro’s sensibility before it drifted more totally into the ether of dreams and naval-gazing Jungian analysis. It’s in La Dolce Vita that many of Fellini’s fixations—let’s call them, for the sake of consistency, “obsessions”—like sex, scandal, religion, and the function of filmmaking (and photography) itself commingle most comfortably. And given that Fellini, in one of his most oft-quoted quips, once remarked, “Even if I set out to make a film about a fillet of sole, it would be about me,” a Dolce Vita exhibition will always be a Fellini exhibition anyways.
Hinging Spectacular Obsessions largely on one film gives it a focus that TIFF’s previous exhibitions lacked. Where Tim Burton felt a bit like sifting through an overstuffed storage locker its namesake filmmaker rented at the edge of Burbank, and Essential Cinema resembled the poster-papered bedroom of a teenage cinephile (albeit one with exquisite taste), Spectacular Obsessions, despite the initial sensory attack and work-in-progress feel, is very, very clean. A blown-up photograph by Marcello Geppetii of Rome’s Via Veneto (where most of La Dolce Vita unfolds) stretches across a large swath of the gallery’s west wall, serving as a focus point for the rest of the exhibition. And that Spectacular Obsessions is essentially a photo show—chock-o-block with magazine covers, production stills, broadsheet tabloids, and candid party photos—streamlines the experience further.

Fellini’s Book of Dreams has all the aura and heft of the Necronomicon. Except, you know, less evil.

That said, anyone looking for Fellini ephemera will find plenty: posters from Roma (1972), a prop from The Voice of the Moon (1990), and, most spectacularly of all, Fellini’s Book of Dreams—a diary of scribbles and cartoons he kept while undergoing psychoanalysis during the production of 8 ½ (1963). While it has toured the globe, the Book of Dreams has never popped up in Toronto. (Well, until now.) “We take you as deep as we can get into Fellini’s interior life,” said Cowan of the show. And considering the Maestro wore his heart, as well as his dick, and his entire subconscious, right out there on his sleeve, Spectacular Obsessions takes us very deep indeed.
It’s really a fine exhibit: easily the best TIFF has mounted since opening the gallery space. And as the show slated to greet visitors to the Lightbox during this year’s film festival, Cowan also hopes that it will speak to TIFF’s larger curatorial purview. For Cowan, Spectacular Obsessions marks an “opportunity to come and participate in the festival while the building’s hopping.” It’s also a chance to prove to locals and visitors alike that TIFF’s mandate includes not just the dissemination of new cinema but also the preservation of its history.
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.