Essay from Federico Wardal

Promotional poster for the Hollywood Fellini event

Italian Historical Film Archive/ UNESCO Italian Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina presented a homage to famed director Federico Fellini on January 19th at Hollywood’s Ruby Theater on what would have been Fellini’s 100th birthday.

At this event, Fellini’s last muse, actor and director Count Federico Wardal, screened for the first time his 2020 movie “Federico and Fellini” that reveals the details of the intense and unusual friendship between Federico Fellini and Count Federico Wardal. They met for the first time in Rome at Cinecittà in April of 1975. Fellini was 55 years old and Wardal, 16 years old.

The connection between them was strong despite the significant difference in age and background. Fellini’s youth had been influenced by the devastating misery generated by the Second World War, and Wardal’s youth, on the contrary, by the economic boom and the sexual revolution of the 70s. Fellini had worked to reach economic well-being and the full freedom to express himself artistically and Wardal had taken advantage of the permissive customs prevailing in his time. He left his family at the age of 14 and performed for large audiences, first as an eccentric singer-character who broke the traditional expectations for the bourgeois middle class at the time and then as an interpreter of the theater of the absurd acting roles from leading playwrights Borchert, Becket, Pirandello, Genet, Mrozek and a great leader of the Soviet theater, Vladimir Mayakovsky. Fellini in 1975 was already a living legend and one of the most spectacular icons for Wardal’s generation.

Fellini was drawn in, not only by the spectacular and attractive appearance of Wardal, but also by his personality that knew no barriers to artistic freedom in every area of life. Fellini’s entourage was beginning to age, while Wardal was totally ahead of his time, a volcano of creativity, and this aspect interested Fellini very much. For Wardal, Fellini was the great magical father, living his dream and immersed in the art he aimed to create. These are the main elements that drove the deep partnership between Fellini and Wardal.  

Fellini entrusted Wardal with the symbolic role of the adolescent Casanova in his film by that name. But a shocking event which had never happened in the history of cinema took place:  a high percentage of the footage of the film Casanova was stolen, including the scenes with Wardal and a short recited monologue by him.  For economic reasons, Fellini was forced to change the script of the film.  Fellini invited Wardal to recite some scenes of his role again, but, in the meantime, a strong depression had grabbed the young Wardal, who gradually disappeared from his mentor Fellini who in vain called him back for his films The City of Women and Rehearsals of the Orchestra.  This great broken friendship was, however, destined to resume its journey and here we stop, so as not to reveal the plot of the film Federico e Fellini presented in Hollywood.

But in Hollywood, during the screening of “Federico and Fellini” there was
an amazing surprise: at the 22nd minute of the screening, Wardal came out from behind the screen and performed Federico Fellini’s role live. This totally broke the ‘fourth wall’ and shattered the imaginary and dreamy dimension of the film, making it seem to the audience that the ghost of Fellini materialized on the day of his 100th birthday. Jennifer Glee, the creator of San Francisco’s local TV program Planet Glee and a multifaceted artist, intentionally kept secret the surprise of the live performance during the screening.

Hollywood’s Fellini 100 event gave in that way new life to the legend of Fellini, imprinted in the Walk of Fame and in the Wax Museum. Federico and Fellini is one of five episodes of film entitled La vita che fu Dolce ( The life that was sweet) written by Gabriele Luca Fava. The eminent Italian film critic Graziano Marraffa wrote about Wardal’s movie on December 27th, 2019: “Fellini and the alter ego, a game of mirrors … reality, the author Fellini has often had the need to express himself as an individual and an artist by seeking an alter ego in some of his interpreters to create new meta-narrative characters…. Now the internal and public confrontation between the last Fellini muse Federico Wardal and the director Federico Fellini, is represented in a filmic story implemented by a live performance that stratifies and diversifies the various narrative plans, analyzing the reflection on a reality that has become myth, on an unchangeable actuality: “THE SCREEN IS EMPTY”, long live Fellini!”

Marraffa continues: “The spiritual and professional alchemy between the two “Federicos” took place in 1975, during the preparation of the film IL CASANOVA DI FEDERICO FELLINI. Fellini says: “I made up my mind to tell the story of Casanova, a man who was never born, a funeral puppet without personal ideas, feelings, points of view;  an unreal Italian imprisoned in the mother’s womb… The unexpected and dazzling meeting with the actor Federico Wardal in the offices of the production company P.E.A., suggested to the Maestro the idea to entrust him with the role of the adolescent Casanova, but a short distance from the filming carried out…the theft of various original negative rolls on film in the Technicolor laboratory of development and printing in Rome. The mystery was not immediately cleared up, however the author’s attempt to re-shoot the scenes starring Wardal was in vain. If it is true that nothing happens by chance, can it be considered that the non-inclusion of this part of the work should be considered consistent with Fellini’s initial sentiment?”

The circumstances around the Fellini-Wardal friendship were so intriguing that now Susanna Mitchell Egan, a well-known UK writer, is writing a book about it. A submerged Fellini emerges from all this. Wardal says: “An unfinished work of art is an eternal drama.  A finished work of art only comes to life when someone remembers it … ” So both Fellini and Wardal wanted to leave their work unfinished, as an “empty screen” that desperately wants to come alive.  

As Jennifer Glee remembers in her presentation about the Hollywood tribute to Fellini, Mario Fratti, the famous Italian American playwright and author of the musical Nine, about Fellini’s movie 8 1/2, decorated with five Tony awards, told Wardal to reveal his story with Fellini because it is irresistible.  Finally, on January 19th, 2020,  after 45 years, that story came to life again.

The Fellini tribute will tour many countries. The event’s poster of the two F’s (Federico Fellini, Federico Wardal) was created by the well-known designer Armando Milani. The movie had the cooperation of Antonello Altamura and Javan Jiles.

View the performance and Wardal’s surprise live appearance here.

Graziano Marraffa’s review of the film.

L.A. Weekly’s description of the Fellini centennial tribute