Grade: A+ Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963)

Director: Federico Fellini

Stars: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale

Release Company: The Criterion Collection

MPAA Rating: NR

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Fellini's 8 1/2


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It 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 Fellini's 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.

Fellini obtained 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 Strada, The 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!

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