Sharing Fellini's dreams: a key to understanding his films

Sharing Fellini's dreams: a key to understanding his films
Marcello Mastroianni's Roman journalist and Anita Ekberg's Hollywood goddess wade into Trevi Fountain in one of "La Dolce Vita's" most enduring scenes. (Landmark Theaters)
Dreams revolving around childhood, religion, relationships and death permeated Federico Fellini's classic films, such as "La Dolce Vita," "8 1/2 " and "Amarcord."

So it's no surprise the Oscar-winning Italian filmmaker had a vivid dream life.

From the early 1960s until 1990 -- three years before his death in 1993 at age 73 -- he kept a journal by his bedside. Every time he woke up, he quickly wrote down his dreams in prose and drawings.

Pages from two of Fellini's journals are making their U.S. premiere at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's Grand Lobby Gallery.

More than 100 reproductions of original pages are on display in the exhibition, "Fellini's Book of Dreams," along with self-portraits, celebrity caricatures and clips from his films that show the influence of his dream life on his movies.

"He was never at ease," says academy curator Ellen Harrington. "In a lot of ways, the dream notebook helped him work through all of these intense and crazy thought processes he was having."

It was Jungian analyst Ernst Bernhard who urged Fellini to write down his dreams.

"It is a real key to understanding all of his movies," says Gianluigi Rossi, a Milanese attorney who worked with the Fondazione Federico Fellini and the academy to bring the exhibition here. "He was really committed to doing it. He did it very carefully. Even during the day, he would on several occasions stop and lay down on the couch and dream with his eyes open. And if you think he did it for more than 30 years, it's incredible."

The dreams are divided into categories, such as his wife, Giulietta Masina; other women; friends; enemies; and his childhood in Rimini.

"There is a lot of imagery about women," Harrington says. "A lot of his dreams have a sexual nature to them, as do a lot of the themes in his features."

Fear is another recurring theme in his real-life and reel-life dreams. "He does dream about his own death," Harrington says. "Dead people who had a role in his life come to visit him in his dreams. He was affected by natural disasters and man-made disasters. There are dream illustrations of plane crashes."

Some of the funniest dreams, she says, revolve around his sexual encounters.

"His foibles -- soup to nuts -- are present in his dreams," Harrington says. "I don't know how he got any rest."