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Fellini's : Dreams, guilt, casting and 'the code of codes' of the cinematographic image

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This article argues that Guido's two dreams in Federico Fellini's reflect guilt stemming from his inability to meet his mother's expectations to remain chaste and pure. This is a faulty belief based on an early childhood memory representing Guido's mixed feelings of sexual exaltation and shame, resulting in fantasies that attempt to solve the riddle of his mother's desire. The film thus raises the question of fantasy 'what does the Other want from me?' and shows that assuming to know the answer involves guilt, stagnation and indecisiveness. This becomes evident in the screentests scene near the end of the film, when Guido cannot decide which actresses will play the roles of the characters duplicating the women in his life. The screen tests are 'textual mise en abymes', reflecting not only Guido's life but also the basic code of the medium, i.e., the cinematographic image: reproduction, which precedes the cinematic language, is composed of a denotative code (a referent ‐ the actor in front of the camera) and a connotative code (cultural, including film iconography). Film can thus materialize fantasy through casting, which involves a level of concretization, by predicting what the audience wants. Therefore, guilt is an inherent part of the cinematographic image. Where Guido fails in choosing the 'right' actresses, because of his guilt, Fellini, having worked through his own guilt, thrives. This suggests that setting free the filmmaker's imagination and creative forces depends on ridding oneself of the guilt inherent in the translation of an image from fantasy to film.
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Keywords: Federico Fellini's 8½; artistic freedom; casting; cinematographic code; desire; dream; fantasy; guilt

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: 0000000406047424 The Open University of Israel 2: 0000000419371231 Sapir Academic College

Publication date: January 1, 2020

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  • The Journal of Italian Cinema & Media Studies (JICMS) is a fully peer reviewed English language journal, which explores Italian cinema and media as sites of crossing, allowing critical discussion of the work of filmmakers, artists in the film industry and media professionals. The journal intends to revive a critical discussion on the auteurs, celebrate new directors and accented cinema, and examine Italy as a geo-cultural locus for contemporary debate on translocal cinema.
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