Today, if you want an introduction to a filmmaker like Federico Fellini, you’ll most likely just look him up on Wikipedia. In 1969, you wouldn’t have had quite so convenient an option, though were you an NBC-watching American, you might have caught a broadcast of Fellini: A Director’s Notebook. Directed by Fellini himself at the behest of NBC producer Peter Goldfarb, the fifty-minute documentary (now added to our collection of 500 Free Movies Online) follows the Italian auteur as he peripatetically seeks out inspiration for his current and future projects. Among these, we hear about Satyricon, one of his immortal works, and about The Voyage of G. Mastoma, which stalled before it even reached mortality. Consorting with hippies in a field, taking a spirit medium down into the “catacombs” of the Rome Metro, dropping in on favorite actor/counterpart Marcello Mastroianni, and receiving a stream of visiting eccentrics in his office, Fellini narrates his own thoughts about his directorial process. It seems to come down to searching for the right atmospheres — the obscure, the foreign, the desperate, the bizarre — and taking them in.
Fellini: A Director’s Notebook provides what Fellini called a “semihumorous introduction” to the director, his work, and the environment of frowning absurdism that seemed to encircle him wherever he went. But with its frequent language-shifting, its often dark and vaguely troubling imagery, its air of simultaneous asexuality and indiscriminate louchness, and its obviously deliberate craft, the film would seem to fall into the territory between forms. But if it feels too elaborate, artificial, and studded with half-glimpsed grotesques to count as a straightforward portrait of an artist, Fellini’s films set themselves apart to this day with their thorough possession of those same qualities. Cultural history has not recorded in much detail how the average American home viewer of 1969 handled this plunge into the viscous essence of Fellini. But I’ll bet every single one who enjoyed it immediately marked their calendars, if surreptitiously, to go check out the man’s interpretation of Petronius.