Television is the literature of the illiterate, the culture of the low-brow; the wealth of the poor, the privilege of the underprivileged, the exclusive club of the excluded masses.
Lee Loevinger, former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission
Ginger & Fred is Federico Fellini's twenty-first feature film, and although it stars Giulietta Masina and Marcello Mastroianni as a retired tap dance team who are reunited after thirty years apart, the real star of the drama is television. For this Itailan director, the tube is an omnipresent force in the lives of people spewing out an endless stream of images and pseudo-events. It is "the exclusive club" of everyday people who watch it to become part of "the big picture of life." And everyone who watches dreams of becoming a TV celebrity if only for a few minutes of time.
Ginger and Fred have been chosen to appear on "We are Proud to Present," Italy's top television variety show. The two were famous years ago for miming the dance routines of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Ginger, a widow and grandmother, is apprehensive about her reunion with Fred, an anarchist of sorts who has been institutionalized for a mental breakdown. Time has take its toll on their bodies, but their spirits remain youthful.
The young director of the variety show doesn't view them as anything special. They are just part of a lineup of unusual guests, including a transvestite who has made a name for himself visiting men in prisons, a plastic surgery wizard, an extraterrestrial lover, a priest who miraculously cures people, a troupe of dancing midgets, and a cow with fifteen teats.
Fellini offers us a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations for and actual airing of this variety show, which pokes fun at the mendacity and absurdity of the human yearning for the bizarre. The Italian director's critique of television is not as excoriating as Paddy Chayefsky's Network, but then Felini has always had a special place in his heart for strange things. Ginger and Fred, besides boasting an affecting performance by Giulietta Masina, meanders its way to a bittersweet finale. A quotation by Ann Landers could have been appended to the closing scene: "Television has proved that people will look at anything rather than each other."