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Valentine’s Day – A Love Letter to Fellini

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February 14, 2015



It is Valentine’s Day today. Rain is coming down the way it does most of the time in Paris, which is to say at a melancholic pace and intensity, almost like Chinese water torture. Rarely does it rain here in a manly Texas fashion, with gusto and conviction. I can hear the fine mist hitting the diagonal window pane to my left in a staccato manner, and I am making a mental note right now that the next blog should be about the stunning sunsets that I witnessed and photographed last November from my window. I will need these dramatic colorful scenes to help me get through what remains of Parisian winter.

Cinecitta entrance, Rome 1999

So back to Valentine’s Day. I found out recently that one of my favorite films of all time, Federico Fellini’s “8 ½”, was released on this day in Italy and in France in 1963. It is curious that the producers at the time had decided to release this highly personal cinematic confessional by Fellini on a Valentine’s Day. But now I am thinking that Valentine’s Day had not yet been imported into Europe from the United States back in 1963. It may have been a fortuitous coincidence, for “8 ½” is such a grand declaration of love from Fellini to his wife, to his mistress, to his friends and colleagues, to the very creative process that an artist goes through.

If my memory serves me well, the first time I saw “8 ½” was at Film Forum on Houston Street in Manhattan when I was 21 or 22. I walked out of the movie theater utterly shaken to the core. The film had given me an entirely new perspective on what and how an artist can express in his work, and that he can stand naked in front of the world baring all his warts and innards without embarrassing himself nor his audience. This film, and the extraordinary images photographed by the cinematographer, Gianni Di Venanzo, influenced my photography just as much as the works of Robert Frank, Bill Brandt, or Josef Koudelka.

Self-portrait of Fellini in his office in Cinecitta, Rome 1999

So when I found myself in Rome in August of 1999, and my friend Anna Bruna told me that she knew a man who was a friend of the director of the movie studio, Cinecitta, (where Fellini had made most if not all of his movies) and that he could get me in to spend a day there, I was, needless to say, euphoric. On a scorching hot day, I walked around Cinecittà like an Elvis fanatic with a day pass at Graceland, overwhelmed by the thoughts of the footsteps of all the bigger than life actors and actresses and genius directors that had graced the very grounds that my feet were now touching.

I spent the last couple of hours in the offices of Fellini. The studio had preserved them just as they were the day that he died in October of 1993. The clock on his desk showed 4:30. The clock must have wound down to the end of its cycle and no one since Fellini’s death had rewound it, I presumed. Even clocks arrive at a death. I wondered when was the last day that Fellini had been in these rooms. Who was the last person that he had spoken to on the phone? Did his mistress come by for a long lunch? In my musings, I preferred that it was his wife, Giulietta Masina, who had been there instead of the mistress. How could it be any other way? How many women throughout history have loved her man as much as Giulietta loved Federico?

Jehsong Baak, black and white photography, fine art photography, photographie d'auteur, Rome, Federico Fellini, Cinecitta

Phallocerus in Fellini’s office, Rome 1999

Fellini’s office in Cinecitta, Rome 1999

I sat in Fellini’s black leather chair and placed my palms on his desk. I closed my eyes and said a prayer to the great man for whom I had limitless admiration. I told him that I had traveled from afar on a pilgrimage to seek his benediction and asked him to share with me with some of his creative energy so that I may create works of great and enduring beauty and poetry so that my work would touch some people one day as his work had touched me.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Federico.