Ginger & Fred

Gasser

Ginger & Fred (1986)

     I’m not sure why I keep returning to Fellini films thinking the result will be different. I’ve seen more of the director’s films than any other Italian actor or director and yet I continually dislike what I see. I know I keep trying to enjoy them because Federico Fellini has more well-regarded/known flicks than most Italian director and TCM shows them with deference, so I have access.

     A Primer on Fellini and Me: Through my Italian film class we watched 8 1/2, which I did not enjoy nor fully understand. Next I embarked on a quarter-long independent study/research project on Fellini that did not involve watching any films but instead reading about them. Since that time I have seen La Dolce Vita, Giulietta degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits), and I Vitelloni, and the the latter was the only I could tolerate. Fellini began Jungian analysis in 1960 after filming La Dolce Vita and before 8 1/2, and that semi-biographical work would be dripping with the influence. Jung placed much importance on dreams, which is an aspect apparent in much of the director’s work after 1960. Unfortunately, the approach also made his films, in my opinion, strange, creepy and difficult to understand.

    Thankfully, by 1986 the surreal approach Fellini took toward many of his films seemed to wear off, so Ginger and Fred is among his more accessible films. I should note that although I give this film a middle-of-the-road rating, I did not enjoy it. I do, however, acknowledge the creative use of themes to convey a message.

     Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife and standard female lead, plays Amelia, stage name Ginger. Marcello Mastroianni, the director’s stand-by male protagonist, is Pippo, or Fred. The two had a tap dancing (called “tip tap” in Italian) act in the 1940s that imitated Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, so they called themselves Ginger and Fred. The duo has been separated for 20-25 years now and are reuniting to do a television special for Xmas. We do not meet Fred until about 30 minutes in, so we stick with Ginger as she discovers that this TV special is a seeming freak show that will feature celebrity look-alikes, an admiral, a transvestite on trial for conjugal visits with male prisoners and others with strange stories to tell. Ginger is veritably out of place in her classic style of dress and disinterest in television. Once Fred arrives, the two stumble through rather unimportant events leading up to the show, during which they find little time to rehearse a routine they have not performed in decades. We question whether they will go through with it, but they pull it off.

     Ginger and Fred offers numerous themes: sex, commercialism, garbage and television. Televisions are in every scene, even on a bus, as it is apparent the Italian people cannot do without them (the TV special even features a woman they paid to go a month without TV, and who suffers a breakdown and describes the experience as akin to torture). Similarly the sound emitted by the televisions is so loud and the music so bizarrely modern that Ginger seems to be on another planet. The streets of whatever city in which this takes place is littered with piles of steaming black garbage bags, and one’s every view is equally blocked by a smattering of oversized billboards. Sex is overly present as well in the form of a topless woman peddling sausages on a billboard, the story of the transvestite lending “her buns” to the inmates, a cow with 18 teats to be featured on the freak show, or Fred’s frequent talk of arousal. Fellini certainly goes a long way to criticize and make fun of the Italian people’s apparent obsession with television and sex.

     Both Astaire and Rogers were alive when the film was released and Rogers threw a fit about it. She was offended that the film’s title was used without permission and was concerned the public would take it as a biography. It is unclear whether the dancer-actress ever saw the movie, however. The concept for the story was not based on the dancing partners, but instead was one that Fellini had developed for a television series (similar to the Screen Director’s Playhouse) that would feature Masina in short stories directed by a variety of people. Fellini was working on a story that seemed too grand an idea to keep short and so morphed into the feature film. Ginger and Fred is apparently considered the director’s last great work, but again, I’m not swayed.

Source: Robert Osborne;  Federico Fellini as Auteur: Seven Aspects of His Films by John C. Stubbs

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