One of the 50 original drawings by Fellini in the show © Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

On the theme “Fellini, Dreams of Venice and other Reveries” an exhibition in the lakeside town of Morges sets out to illustrate the origin of some of the most outlandish and unforgettable scenes in cinema. The Italian film maker of La Dolce Vita was not only a master story-teller, he was an amazing draughtsman as well.

The choice of Friday the 13th of March for the inauguration of an exhibition dedicated to Fellini’s fantasies would no doubt have amused the artist. The show is made up of 150 originals works, including about 50 drawings that he produced to tell his dreams or brush a powerful caricature. It is completed with behind-the-scenes photographs taken on the sets of most of his other films, including 8½, Amarcord, Satyricon and Roma, as well as of many of the legendary actors who played in them like Anna Magnani, Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale.

Anita Ekberg with Fellini on the set of La Dolce Vita, 1960, © Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

All the documents are on loan from the Fellini Film Foundation which is unexpectedly based in Sion in the Valais. When a young Swiss film aficionado was taken on as Fellini’s personal assistant and secretary in 1970, a position that Gérald Morin held for seven years, he became his accidental archivist. Over the years he has obsessively collected over 13,000 documents, photos, posters, scenarios, drawings, props and costumes related to Fellini or to works about him by other film producers, including Robert Altman and Jean-Luc Godard.

The foundation has recently signed a partnership with the Swiss Film Archive in Lausanne where the originals, available to researchers, will be kept.

The purpose of the exhibition says Yvan Schwab, the Director of the Forel Museum in Morges, is to “show a Fellini that we do not know”, a man who was an artist not only in his films. Ever since his museum exposed the preliminary sketches and scenery designs of the clown, Dimitri, five years ago, Schwab wanted to organize another show connecting performance and the fine arts. A man of theatre himself, he knows what he is looking for.

The Forel Museum is housed in a delightful 16th Century Italian-style house in the center of Morges. The contrast with the extravagance and sexual jubilation of Fellini’s works could not be greater, although the giant portrait of Casanova, of Donald Sutherland fame, appears wonderfully in context.

Donald Sutherland on the set of Casanova, 1976,© Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

Casanova in old age as drawn by Fellini,© Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

Dreams, or what Yvon Schwab calls “the esthetic of dreams” is the theme that runs through the exhibition. It is meant to illustrate the origin of the powerful images that are the hallmark of Fellini’s art. “My visual imagination is the greatest gift that I ever received. It is the source of my dreams. It allows me to draw. It shapes my films” said Fellini.

We learn that many of the wild scenes that inhabit Fellini’s films were remembered from his dreams and scribbled onto a paper immediately when he woke up. He also used his formidable drawing skills to communicate to his decorator or make-up artist what he expected from them. Fellini rarely signed his sketches, or facetiously signed them in the name of another artist, for example Matisse, saying to the autograph seeker “You wanted the signature of a famous artist, well now you have it!

The exhibition also offers insight into Fellini’s way of working with the actors, which could not have been more different from the Actor’s Studio approach in vogue during his time. Instead of memorable emotions, he wanted memorable images. A priest on roller-skates or Anita Ekberg in the Trevis Fountain were some of them.

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, was an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London, before moving to Switzerland and becoming an arts journalist.

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