Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema is an inventive and very influential masterpiece from Federico Fellini. It's quite something to turn your mental block, your creative block into one of the all-time great films.Having trouble viewing? Go here.
Fresh off of the international success of La Dolce Vita, master director Federico Fellini moved into the realm of self-reflexive autobiography with what is widely believed to be his finest and most personal work. Marcello Mastroianni delivers a brilliant performance as Fellini's alter ego Guido Anselmi, a film director overwhelmed by the large-scale production he has undertaken. He finds himself harangued by producers, his wife, and his mistress while he struggles to find the inspiration to finish his film. The stress plunges Guido into an interior world where fantasy and memory impinge on reality. Fellini jumbles narrative logic by freely cutting from flashbacks to dream sequences to the present until it becomes impossible to pry them apart, creating both a psychological portrait of Guido's interior world and the surrealistic, circus-like exterior world that came to be known as "Felliniesque." 8 1/2 won an Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, as well as the grand prize at the Moscow Film Festival, and was one of the most influential and commercially successful European art movies of the 1960s, inspiring such later films as Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (1979), Woody Allen's Stardust Memories (1980), and even Lucio Fulci's Italian splatter film Un Gatto nel Cervello (1990). ~ Jonathan Crow, Rovi
Bosley Crowther of the NY Times wrote in his 1963 film review:
Here is a piece of entertainment that will really make you sit up straight and think, a movie endowed with the challenge of a fascinating intellectual game. It has no more plot than a horse race, no more order than a pinball machine, and it bounces around on several levels of consciousness, dreams, and memories as it details a man's rather casual psychoanalysis of himself. But it sets up a labyrinthine ego for the daring and thoughtful to explore, and it harbors some elegant treasures of wit and satire along the way.
Cannily, Mr. Fellini has chosen a character he knows as the subject of his introspection. He has chosen a director of films. A person familiar with his nature might even suspect it is Mr. Fellini himself. And he has planted this character in a milieu of luxury and toil he knows so well that you sense that every detail of the canvas must be wrenched from his own experience.
The picture begins with this fellow sitting trapped in his car in a traffic jam, immobilized among a crowd of zombies that might be dead souls crossing the River Styx. Suddenly suffocating, he struggles wildly to be released. And the next thing—he's floating upward, out of the traffic jam and above a beach, where he is magically hauled back earthward by a kite-string tied to his leg.
Thus does Mr. Fellini notify us right away that he has embarked on a fanciful excursion with a man who has barely escaped death. By the obvious implications of his pictorial imagery this would be the only release from the stagnation and deadness he feels himself to be in.
Now the fellow comes to in bed in a luxurious health-resort hotel, attended by truculent physicians, needled by a nurse (who asks if she may borrow his typewriter), and watched by a hawk-like little man who turns out to be a scriptwriter waiting to go to work with him. Reality is reestablished. We are among the living now.
But not for long. And, indeed, there is some question as to whether Mr. Fellini sees the old and antiquated people he parades at this health resort as actually living creatures. May not they, too, be dead and decayed, the relics and shells of a society that is struggling feebly and ironically to regain its health?
Anyhow, it is in this environment that the fellow, who is now identified as a famous movie director, tries to apply himself to preparing a new movie, while his mistress comes to stay nearby and swarms of idlers and job hunters persistently keep after him.
But, alas, he cannot get going. He is full of anxieties, doubts, and disbelief in the value of movies. And, in this uncertain state, his mind takes to wandering off in memories and building fantasies.
He sees himself in his childhood. He visions painful experiences with priests. He goes from actual encounters with his mistress to recollections of his education in sex. The present, the past, and wishful thinking are wryly and poignantly blurred. (Last year we were at Marienbad, remember? Well, we're at Montecatini or some such place this year!)
However, Mr. Fellini does give us sufficient clues to the nature and problems of his fellow to lead us to understand—that is, if we have the patience and the prescience. And what we discover (at least, I do) is an outrageous egotist, a man of supreme romantic notions with a charmingly casual conceit who has been attended and spoiled by women ever since he was a tot.
One of the most delightful fabrications is a wild and robust fantasy in which the director sees himself as the master of a harem of all the women he has known (or desired) ordering them to do his bidding, slapping them with a whip, receiving their utter adulation in a state of complete harmony. And this is an adult variation of one of his cozy childhood memories.
Mr. Fellini has managed to compress so much drollery and wit, so much satire on social aberrations, so much sardonic comment on sex, and, indeed, when you come right down to it, even a bit of a travesty of Freud, that it pains me to note that he hasn't thought his film through to a valid end.
He has his erratic hero, whom Marcello Mastroianni plays in a beautifully bored and baffled fashion, suddenly become aware that the trouble with him is that he has always taken but never given love. And when he grasps this, he is able to get all the people he knows to join hands and get ready to make a fine movie on the set of a rocket launching pad.
This is a romantic sidestep—as romantic as the whole film, the title of which, incidentally, means simply Mr. Fellini's Opus 81Ú2. (This is his seventh full-length film; he has also made three shorts.) And it leaves an uncomfortable feeling of letdown at the end.
But this is, in large part, compensated by much that is wonderful—by Mr. Fellini's tremendous pictorial poetry, his intimations of pathos and longing, his skill with the silly and grotesque; by some splendid and charming performing—Sandra Milo as the mistress (she's a doll!), Guido Alberti as a producer, Anouk Aimée as the director's jealous wife, Claudia Cardinale as a "dream girl," and many, many more. There is also another delicious Nino Rota musical score.
So if Mr. Fellini has not produced another masterpiece—another all-powerful exposure of Italy's ironic sweet life—he has made a stimulating contemplation of what might be called, with equal irony, a sweet guy.
The English subtitles are good ones, but they miss the total substance of the Italian dialogue.
8 1/2 (MOVIE)
Directed by Federico Fellini; written (in Italian, with English subtitles) by Mr. Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi, based on a story by Mr. Fellini and Mr. Flaiano; cinematographer, Gianni Di Venanzo; edited by Leo Catozzo; music by Nino Rota; art designer, Piero Gherardi; produced by Angelo Rizzoli; released by Embassy Pictures. Black and white. Running time: 140 minutes.
With: Marcello Mastroianni (Guido Anselmi), Claudia Cardinale (Claudia/The Dream Girl), Anouk Aimée (Luisa Anselmi), Sandra Milo (Carla), Rosella Falk (Gloria Morin), Guido Alberti (The Producer), Barbara Steele (An Actress), and Jean Rougeul (The Writer).