Federico Fellini, Maestro of Inventiveness

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FEDERICO FELLINI, who died Oct. 31 in Italy, is fondly remembered as a filmmaker who refused to recognize boundaries between art, entertainment, and life.

His greatest early film, ``8 1/2,'' and his liveliest late film, ``Intervista,'' are both about characters who resemble Fellini himself, trying to navigate their way through the movie world without losing their peace of mind or their sense of humanity. Both pictures leap between fiction, autobiography, and fantasy with an ease that only cinema allows - and that few directors mastered as thoroughly as Fellini did in his most successful works.

He made other memorable films on his way to ``8 1/2,'' in a striking variety of styles. ``The White Sheik'' is an amiable comedy. ``I Vitelloni'' is a sensitive essay in then-fashionable neo-realism. ``La Strada'' is a vividly original drama, starring the director's gifted wife (Giuletta Massina) in a tour de force of Chaplinesque tragicomedy. ``La Dolce Vita'' elicited both mountains of praise and clouds of controversy with its epic-length look at lifestyles of the rich and decadent.

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I interviewed Fellini in 1974, when his nostalgic ``Amarcord'' took moviegoers on a voyage into his provincial childhood through images of dreamlike power. He spoke of his career, his past, and his artistic philosophy with equal energy, illuminating his ideas while cheerfully declining self-importance in his talk or his demeanor. Manhattan delighted him for the same reason that certain movies did - it seemed too crazy and flamboyant to be true.

Fellini made documentaries like ``The Clowns'' and ``Roma'' as well as the ambitious, often rollicking fictions that are his most imposing legacy. Although his later work frequently seemed less rich and consistent than his earlier achievements, he remained a vigorous and hard-working artist. For examples of his widespread influence, see moments in any number of Woody Allen pictures, especially ``Stardust Memories'' and ``Shadows and Fog,'' which couldn't have been made without the Italian master's inspiration. He was one of a kind, and world cinema won't see his like for a long while.

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