had been many years since I first watched Fellini's
8 1/2—too many. From the opening
dream sequence to the final dance on the beach I
am reminded that no one paints surrealistic black
and white imagery as effectively as Fellini, and
this film must stand as his supreme masterpiece
among many other legendary Fellini
films. Other directors have used similar concepts
and blatantly imitated this film (Woody Allen's
Stardust Memories, for example), but
no one has matched its original brilliance.
8 1/2 remains the most
autobiographical film that Fellini
has done. Marcello Mastroianni brilliantly plays
alter ego--a self-critical and -analytical filmmaker
who is trying to develop a new film project. Fellini's
film often probes Mastroianni's mind to show the
visual artist at work. Imagine going inside the
mind of a genius and seeing its inner workings.
That's what Fellini
treats us to here, pre-dating Being John Malkovich
by some 30 years.
One of the more humorous sequences is one in which
the various women in his life all operate as a "harem"
to serve his needs and then stage a revolution against
the tyrant. When the whips come out, I find myself
laughing uncontrollably! No matter how serious the
core theme of a Fellini
film may be, he knows how to break it up with large
doses of humor.
the financial backing for 8 1/2
after his great La Dolce Vita,
and the Italian director allows us to see him thoroughly
analyze his creative process and expose it nakedly
on the screen, using the "film within a film" conceit.
During the chaotic production, the highly regarded
filmmaker has doubts about his film and about his
abilities, wondering if he has anything to say.
One of the women asks "Why piece together the
tatters of your life--the vague memories, the faces--the
people you never knew how to love?"
The question gets to the core of creativity. And
it exposes where Fellini
stood at the time. What new ground can you possibly
cover when you have created such fine works as La
Nights of Cabiria, and La Dolce
Vita? Now that the film world regarded him
as a genius and a celebrity, what could he do to
equal or surpass his past work?
Fortunately the visual artist does piece together
his most personal film with 8 1/2
and continues a new direction with his films, getting
ever farther away from realism to venture into the
surreal. A number of abstract films follow, including:
Juliet of the Spirits, Fellini's
Satyricon, and Amarcord.
The fact that Fellini
works out his creative self-doubts right on celluloid
as his film persona dances on the beach in the end
makes this a required film for serious film students,
for foreign-film fans, and for people who enjoy
creative film work. But just because it's one of
the greatest films ever created doesn't guarantee
that it will be pleasurable. Fellini takes care
of that with his tremendous sense of humor, so non-serious
film lovers can enjoy the ride as well.
Note: Criterion has recently released a dynamite
copy of Fellini's
masterpiece. Not only is it a much cleaner copy
with vastly improved subtitles, but it has a wonderful
documentary on longtime music collaborator, Nino
Roto along with insightful commentaries. Another
special treat is a film notebook composed by Fellini--very
surreal, but definitely Felliniesque!