American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Graham Greene separates his works of fiction into two categories: novels and "entertainments." The first are to be taken seriously, and the rest -- the mysteries, melodramas and comedies -- are for fun, and to keep Greene occupied between major projects.
Federico Fellini seems to be up to something similar, particularly during this last decade when he has been free to make whatever films he wants. There are the major works, each one, of you have a rapport with Fellini, part of your own autobiography as well as his: "La Dolce Vita," "8 1/2," "Juliet of the Spirits" and "Fellini Satyricon."
And then, in between, there are the little five-finger exercises that exhibit Fellini's lyrical showmanship but not his soul: the Anita Ekberg episode in "Boccaccio '70," the Satanist fantasy in "Spirits of the Dead" and now a full-length film commissioned by Italian television, "The Clowns."
These three films (two of them episodes for trilogies with other directors) are not major works by Fellini and aren't intended to be. The title itself of "8 1/2" allows Fellini to make a fair enough assessment of his career through 1963; the number refers to the films he had made, and the "half" is the Ekberg short. Fellini's only major subject in recent years has been himself, and his story is always the autobiography of the artist. It seems to be necessary for him to periodically gear up and give us a report on his spiritual and artistic health, or ill-health, and when we experience one of these films, there is no doubt at all we're in the hands of a genius.