Music and Meaning in Fellini's "La Strada"

Thomas Van Order
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Nino Rota composed music for dozens of directors, including Luchino Visconti, Mario Monicelli, Luigi Comencini, Lina Wertmüller, Francis Ford Coppola and Franco Zeffirelli, and yet his music seems more profound in Fellini’s hands. Could it be that Rota composed better music for Fellini? Probably not -- in fact if one were to separate the music from the context of the visual image Rota’s compositions for the first two “Godfather” films would be artistically superior to anything that he composed for Fellini. The beauty of Rota’s compositions for Fellini lies not the music, but rather the magical encounter between sound and image. The English language version of Federico Fellini’s La strada offers an objective tool for demonstrating Fellini’s brilliance in the editing of Rota’s music. Fellini had no control over the English audio track, which was completely re-edited under the supervision of Carol and Peter Riethof at Titra Sound Studios in New York. The English language version, although identical to the Italian visual track, re-edited all sound in the film: dialogue, ambient sound, and music. There are dozens of instances in which the newer audio track alters or “corrects” the Italian version, and these changes, which tend to follow more conventional uses of sound, offer fascinating contrasts to Fellini’s sound editing. Some of the differences between the two versions include: 1. lower volume of music relative to dialogue in the English version; 2. new musical selections and different editing of music in many scenes; 3. different ambient sound in some scenes, as well as changes in the editing of ambient sound; 4. elimination of some dialogue. A comparison of the editing of sound in these two versions of La strada will reveal the fundamental role of music in Fellini’s films.

Keywords: Fellini, Italian Cinema, Music
Stream: Media, Film Studies, Theatre, Communication
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Thomas Van Order

Assistant Professor, Italian Department, Middlebury College

Thomas Van Order is a Assistant Professor in Italian at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. He has also taught at Skidmore College and at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He received his Ph.D. from the Italian Department at Rutgers University in 1995. He has published articles on Cesare Pavese, Italian Futurism, Massimo Troisi, and Federico Fellini. He is currently working on a book-length project that examines the uses of music and sound in Federico Fellini’s seven full-length black and white films made in collaboration with Nino Rota (“Lo sceicco bianco”, “I vitelloni”, “La strada”, “Il bidone”, “Le notti di Cabiria”, “La dolce vita”, “8 1/2”). A detailed analysis of the editing of music with image in these films reveals how music is an integral part of the construction of meaning in Fellini’s cinema. Unlike the majority of Fellini criticism that eschews formal analysis of the films, this project objectively examines the relationships between filmmaking as craft and the themes of the final artistic product.

Ref: H06P0249