8 1/2 Movie Review

If any film embodies what most film school wannabes aspire to make it's Fellini's 8 1/2. That's not to say the film is without merit -- though some complain it is self-indulgent and ultimately without meaning -- it is in fact a seminal work of cinema. In other words, those film school geeks know a good thing when they see it.

Federico Fellini (who, more or less, had directed eight features and one short before this point, hence 8 1/2) found himself at something of a crossroads at this point in his career. He had come off of La Dolce Vita, widely considered his greatest work, in 1960. Fellini, searching for something that would be a worthy follow-up, he finally settled on 8 1/2, an idea which had been languishing with him for years. The story is priceless -- and has been widely copied ever since. Marcello Mastroianni plays a famous Italian movie director named Guido Anselmi, who... get this... is coming off a big hit and is searching for his next project. He finally finds one, but due to the outrageous antics of his old cast and crew, problems with his personal life (wife and mistress, natch), and an increasingly perplexing series of dreams and waking fantasies, getting the movie underway proves challenging indeed. As the project nonetheless gets underway with no script and Guido's cluelessness about what to do next, somehow the movie gets made. The irony, of course, is that there wasn't much of a script for 8 1/2 either (the actors were given their lines for the day each morning, often verbally) -- it's art imitates life imitates art imitates life. A film within a film within a film. Genius!

Of course, let's call a spade a spade -- 8 1/2 is indeed a cryptic work full of ridiculous metaphor and overt symbolism (mother/whore imagery and the like). To truly appreciate the film it needs to be viewed on its own terms -- the outrageous work of an immortal director, experimenting with the medium, taking advantage of everyone around him, and sending up his very profession in what is probably the biggest lambasting the film industry has ever received. (The Player is a close second.)

8 1/2 has had an enormous influence on Fellini's contemporaries. Terry Gilliam, on the new Criterion DVD release (a fabulous two-disc set), offers an introduction, discussing (in part) how he's tried to replicate the opening shot, of Guido floating over a beach but tethered to his press agent below, countless times. Think about Gilliam's work and you'll immediately see how the film has affected him. Woody Allen is another obvious student.

To deconstruct the movie here would take more typing than my fingers have the energy for -- if you're interested in a real look behind the scenes, I highly recommend the Criterion disc, which provides an "audio essay" that provides an invaluable guide to the backstory of the 8 1/2 production and what Fellini had in mind. New and improved subtitles make all the difference over that old reissue you might have seen a decade or two ago. A second disc has tons of extras, including Fellini's short Fellini: A Director's Notebook, a doc about Nino Rota, Fellini's usual composer, and various other cast and crew interviews. Best of all is a 22-page booklet that you get to flip through while all of this plays on the TV.

Aka Otto e mezzo.

Comments

8 1/2 Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: NR, 1963

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