BY Martin Stanton in Culture Digest | 01 OCT 08
Featured in
Issue 118

The Book of Dreams

Federico Fellini (Rizzoli, New York, 2008)

BY Martin Stanton in Culture Digest | 01 OCT 08

For Federico Fellini, as for Sigmund Freud, the dream is the via regia – the broad Roman road – to the unconscious. Departing from Freud, Fellini sees this dream-way not as an open thoroughfare where you stroll through the repressed thoughts of the day, later speculating on which piece of street refuse might hold hidden meaning. For Fellini the dream is the principal highway for everything. It carries fast traffic through all the twists of creative, emotional and sensual life. On dream journeys, break points only come when you wander off-track, get distracted and end up like Anita Ekberg in La dolce vita (1960), cavorting in the Trevi Fountain, lost in pleasure or pain. In this context Fellini’s The Book of Dreams (2008), containing reproductions of his dream diaries from 1960 to 1990, is truly inspirational, because it places his dreams at the very heart of the cut and thrust of living each moment. These diaries seem to have defiantly preceded everything else in Fellini’s life, including his other creations: films, paintings, cartoons and radio and theatre productions. His dream drawings typically represent swirling clusters of ideas, described in watercolour, crayon, oil pastel and ink. Particularly striking is the tension between his dreamt thoughts (which often bubble out from a small, grey, back-turned figure) and brash popular cultural cliché – billboards, chic designer products or lyrics from an Elvis Presley song. The dream is propelled by a series of thought bubbles, surrounded by random colourful scenes. As the dream accelerates, the cliché often begins to invade the lines of personal thought. Fresh colour starts to seep into the images, and the dream suddenly erupts into a full-throttle karaoke, whole chunks of ready-made popular culture freely invading the page. Dreams involving Anita Ekberg and Sandra Milo freely borrow from paintings by Sandro Botticelli; recurring ocean liners mimic and parody a motif from Fellini’s own film Amarcord (1973); and the lion that strolls in and out of numerous dreams intermittently resembles Kellogg’s cartoon character Tony the Tiger, Leonardo da Vinci’s depiction of St Jerome’s pet, and Tanner from the MGM logo. If Fellini’s dreams are indeed journeys, then they are without traffic cops. Unlike Freud, he observes no subtle censors, no speed cameras, that might defer and displace the shock of dreams. His dream imagos rather bounce off his wild desires as though in a pinball machine. For example, the woman that emerges throughout these dreams – la paciocca (the cheerful plump one) – flagrantly rejoices in her huge breasts, ample hips and dense black pubic hair, and increasingly voraciously envelops the diminutive, grey Fellini. In the thought-cop critical world she might be required to identify herself as either Lea Giacomini or Anna Giovannini (Fellini’s mistresses) – or maybe Sophia Loren or some unknown mamma puttana? But Fellini announces in his drawings that such cop-thoughts have no place in his dreams. For him they offer an open road, with no yellow line drawn between fact and fantasy, their multiple levels and references driving them forward and transforming them into something ‘vital and salutary’.