Chris Meets Federico Fellini

Chris Haile at work

by Jon Snow

Chris was comfortable making his art pretty much anywhere. That was his most natural form of expression, much more so than conversing. When he wished to distinguish a place or a moment in time, he would begin a narrative there, with what ever material was at his disposal. I remember when we decided to visit the Italian Director, Federico Fellini, during the year we were sharing an apartment in Rome. We hopped the bus out to Cine Citta, the Italian version of Hollywood back in 1970. On the way we decided that we needed something to present, like the 8×10 glossy photos that hopeful actors used to get noticed and maybe land a part as an extra in his productions. I can see now, 35 years later, the rapt intent on Chris’s face as he began one of his surreal caricatures of the human condition while we rode the bumpy bus out of the city. A contorted body, caught in the warp of fractured light that Chris could create with the swipe of a cloth, like his shirt cuff, and a little spit. It jumped from his hand to the paper in his sketch book. Passengers around us watched with avid curiosity, but they weren’t there for Chris. He was in his world, where the phantoms and phantasms could appear at a moments notice. He rubbed and scratched furiously and worked and reworked the edges of the forms he was bringing out of the shadows. He held the book away and brought it back close. A cloud crossed his face and he began again, consumed. And soon it was away again and he looked at his animations again and I looked too, unable to resist the compulsion, free from the constraints the other passengers felt. In Chris’ drawing, beside the compelling, headless buffoon of a human, a three legged dog looked on, a curious concern registering on his face. On this human body, theoretically himself, Chris placed an old black and white contact sized photo, like one takes in a train station photo booth. It was completely out of scale, and the result was a circus like effect. In the short ride to the entrance where we had now arrived, Chris had made something intriguing. I made one too, nothing so convincing as Chris’, but also in the spirit of freakishness.

We were turned away by the guard at the entrance, and told that visiting hours were about to end, so we should come back another time. This seemed arbitrary to us, so we gave our standard nod, connoting “Yeah, right.”, and began to look for another way in. Chris found a loophole in a New York minute, and we were in through a chicken coop in a neighboring backyard that had a hole in the fence. We felt right at home strolling through all the sets, with nuns in starched, winged hats and medieval soldiers. When we arrived at Fellini’s office, the secretary came down to say that Signore Fellini was through interviewing for the day, but she would be happy to take our glossies up to him. We gave her the strange drawings with the tiny photos attached and the standard nod, and sat down on the stoop, our sketchbooks out again, the fascinating vista of Cine Citta before us. It was clear to me that we weren’t leaving until they threw us out. But it didn’t take long for the secretary to return. She smiled and said “Signore Fellini wishes to see you.”

Fellini gave us a casual but studious once over. “Clearly you are not actors.” He delivered this remark with a nod and a smile creased on his face. It was a nod of respect, perhaps relief, and some gratitude for a moment of levity offered humbly to a man besieged by would be starlets. We were rumpled and the amount of graphite smudged on Chris’s fingers, shirt and corduroy jacket were prodigious. We smiled “students at the Belli Arte” we answered. “ah, yes” from Signore. We talked a bit, of meeting Di Chirico, of the ambulatory delights of Rome’s’ streets. “Would you like to be in my new film, Roma? I can always use extras. It might be divertento, visually suggestive, poco soldi, ma divertento.” We agreed that we would come back after Christmas and check in for details on the shooting schedule. Another warm smile from the director and we were soon back on the bus to Rome. I wanted to talk about the encounter, but Chris was already memorializing it in his own way. He really got Fellini’s hat on the nose.Federico_Fellini

Chris went on to work for and spend time in Federico’s company – John took a job in a sculpture foundry in Rome.  Chris was somehow involved in the scene with the cows on the road. Chris’s friend Susan Manca (from CT) would later meet Federico who gave her two roles in Roma.  She played  the beautiful heroine in the Movie shown at the Cinema and the young girl with a missing tooth in the family dinner scene in the early part of the movie.