Fellini and the Revealing Art of Movie Acting

Film people, whether in Hollywood, Rome, New York, London or Paris, have one thing in common: they admire professionalism. Given a choice between two actors, professionalism will often be the deciding factor. Competence and reliability are crucial to the forming of a reputation far more treasured than erratic brilliance.

The student seeking to become a professional actor must develop and refine understanding of the extra disciplines that filming demands.

For example: you’ve got to know how to help the camera. In a close up, the camera magnifies your actions, so you have to know how to scale down the action of your performance without losing intensity as the shot gets tighter. The professional will reduce performance physically in a close up, but not mentally. In fact, the mind should work even more intensely in a close-up because in a close-up the performance is all in your eyes and facial expression, and you cannot use the rest of your body to express yourself.

Fellini often remarked that movies are a synesthetic medium. The effects on the senses from peripheral images and sounds other than the central elements in any scene. The collateral effects, such as seeing good food in a scene and having one’s appetite stimulated. A song meant for the ears but which brings visualization or evokes memories or historical periods. All these effects are referred to as synestesia.

Fellini was deeply aware of synestesia and encouraged actors to use this second layer of awareness which impacts an audience almost subliminally. 

The power of imagination that is the foundation of great acting is implicit if we are to achieve wholehearted harmonious collaboration especially from those who have digested the immense possibility that opens into our lives when we have decided to fully embrace the profession of movie acting.

The importance of alertness and the wisdom of relaxation in movie acting. « If you are knocking yourself out, you are doing it wrong, » according to Michael Caine. Therefore, one of the first things we have to learn is how to overcome nervousness. We must seek what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the « Phaedrus » when he said: « May the outward and the inward person be at one. »

It is by this « pulling oneself together » that our greatest powers and talents are helped rise to the surface. Our lives are granted periods of spontaneous grace, when we feel exceptionally well and at ease. Finding the secret for extending these periods of intrinsic happiness until almost everyday of our lives is a fulfilling joy is like finding a magic power.

Acting, by its very nature, is a moving from the world of reactions to the world of self controlled action. In life we are often like boats without direction whose captain is asleep at the wheel as our boat is tossed aimlessly toward dangerous shores. The accomplished actor learns to handle the sails of emotions and stays awake by holding the rudder of reason to take advantage of the pressure of winds and currents, and thereby sets course for safe harbor. Achieving control of your vessel gives you immense self confidence and fills you with joy.

So, as an aspiring actor, if a life storm has pushed you off course do as all good sailors do: head into the wind, reduce sail and then reset course so that by taking advantage of the energy of the storm you make great progress in the good direction where the island of fulfillment awaits you.

Fellini had all the appearance and presence of a very simpatico man of the people. He was warmhearted and simple in his daily communications with others and cordial to the constant calls of his admirers. Under his casual and normalizing Romanesque presence Fellini manifested a world of profundity and understanding of the human condition and — least known to most in spite of its appearing in brilliant flashes and in grotesque symbols in many of his films — he had an astounding intellectual intuition of esoteric realities and a vast, refreshing spiritual vision.

His understanding of the magical power to be evoked in the synergy of a cast of actors supported by film technicians all collaborating in the art of making a movie was key to his free directing style and his teaching actors to think and become immersed in the reality of roles. He understood that it was energy and enthusiasm generated by sharing a collective creative process that made motion pictures the principal and most powerful art of the Modern Age.

The artist, whether a poet, singer, dancer, actor, musician, writer, or craftsman, invests first in himself/herself and follows his/her love for his/her chosen art. In many cases more than one art fills the life of the artist. Dedicated artists soon intuitively discover that as they perfect their art, after much work and even pain propelled by love of it, gradually and sometimes suddenly a luminous quality, an inner well being, enters their life and with it a profound understanding of life itself. This understanding becomes the very wine the artist produces and feels compelled to offer others so they may become « inebriated, » even if for a moment only in a theater, while reading a book, by hearing a song, and share the artist’s vision of life’s potential for perfection.

Learning to act frees our power for self expression. By gradually learning to express feelings in the interpretation of a role, a power is developed inside of us that can unleash joyful enthusiasm not only for this great art but for the infinite dimensions of life itself.

Part of the actor’s work is to train the will so that the personality can break out of all self imposed limitations born of fear and illusion about the human condition. Only in a fearless state do we become fully empowered to manifest what is best in ourselves. That is when we can fully share and enjoy life with others.

We hear often the question: « What’s new? » and life responds, « I am always new! Haven’t you noticed? »

Acting is the art of conscious renewal. Some of the greatest actors are known to have experienced the sudden « awareness of awareness,  » what in the traditional Japanese « No » and « Kabuki » theatre is known as the « Zen of acting. »

The profound transformation called « renewal » is best grasped by those who, facing the shock of imminent death, are suddenly reprieved and literally given a new lease on life. That is when human awareness fully awakes and experiences a rebirth and a full restoration of a sense of proportions: eyes see better, ears hear more sharply, and all sensations become deeply real as they were when we first entered life and had no questions yet.

We tend to forget the cyclic aspects of life, even though we are taught the lesson of cyclical repetition daily with the rise and setting of the sun and with each season, and by the four directions rotating around the axis of high and low.