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Federico Fellini,

Commencing with the nightmarish traffic shot of silent, hemmed-in despair, and ever after that open to dream, suggestion and imagination, this is the culmination of a kind of cinema we’ll never see again. The era of Cinecitta, of oligarchic producers and fabulous set pieces and swirling arrays of extras, littered with personal recollection, wish fulfilments and fear. And total dubbing. And wholly personal, boyish, poetically inventive direction. I love that his critic character, besides spouting an endless bilge of intellectual clichés (all of their time), states early on that his film is nothing more than a sequence of disconnected scenes; a film about filmmaking must employ self-criticism at some point, and when he talks about the failure of a scene with the dream-girl at the therapeutic springs, which we’ve just seen, well, it’s significant that it doesn’t deflate the narrative at all. And of course the critic hangs later on (how could he not see that coming).

The strong mover of the film is the sense of being carried along by large events one is complicit in creating, yet losing all willed responsibility for; the alienating fear of losing the thread, to get off the moving train and admit to not knowing. The endless circus of faces asking for their parts or opinion, always a circular chaos of distractions crossing the line of sight or sweeping up from the corners. The continual demands. The unspoken fear of failure, hungrily grasping at every (feminine) distraction. One of the great films about failure, fact. Fellini has a gift for controlling very large studio spaces, making them buzz and thrive with visual activity and eclectic peoples; contrasted of course with Guido’s unflappable calmness at the centre, the quiet heart of adriftness.

Along with childish masculinity, the distractions of feminine beauty, the injection of personal drama (the wife, the musical director, and of course the producer) and ceaseless directorial invention. In a film that is ever erupting into dream and fancy, or rather, which is more dream than real (hence honest about the illusions of cinema). The scenes in the steam baths, the profound nocturnality of the film contrasted with the washed out, over-exposed daylight scenes, the sheer improbable cohesiveness of it all… again, one has to resort to lists to distil the breadth of the scope, and avoid wanting to analyse everything (fear of women, Catholicism etc).

This is filmmaking on the genius side of Italian cinema: the Fellini method. Renown, production excess, cartoon humour, gorgeous dolls, a frenetic chaos externalised yet humanised by uncertainty and a search for clarity, or simple, useful and effective filmmaking; and still to be able to say Yes, this is my (mad) method but there’s more to it than that… there are lies, begged indulgences, cover-ups and denials, tawdry lovers, common gossip, domestic despairs, staged resolutions and uneven or badly-paced ambiguities in life, and producers bearing gifts… So much personal free reign will never be given in a studio environment again.

posted by rino breebaart  # 9:51 pm
Rino, thanks for your review. 8 1/2 is probably my favourite film, but when I take women along to see it they are usually less than impressed. The problem may be that it's too successful in portraying the ego of its protagonist - a white Italian male film director from the '60s. It's Fellini himself, of course, but one who can't escape his own social context and times. The women in the film, who Fellini and his alter-ego worship, are nevertheless actively "kept in their place". The reason the film avoids sheer narcissism, however, is that in projecting his own ego onto the big screen Fellini also acknowledges this fact and its aesthetic limitations. The film's self-reference even makes its way into the title - Fellini's eighth film (plus one short film). But an artist who can only talk about him or herself, no matter how brilliantly, is ultimately a failure. Fellini's film isn't a failure because (as you say) it is about this failure, but that's about as far as you can go with this topic in art. His film represents not only the end of an era, but also of a certain modernism.

Also the influence of this one film on subsequent cinema is massive - far greater, in my opinion, than Citizen Kane. Just one example: the ending of the film, in which all the characters are gathered together, becomes a recurring motif. You can find it in films as diverse as Deconstructing Harry, Rushmore and All the Jazz - just to name a few off the top of my head. (And I just realised, the protagonists in these films too are directors of one sort or another.)
right, though I think the drama of the wife especially is played for realism; women would identify the obvious selfishness of the hero and resent him for it, because the women in the film cannot escape from it... the wife is spurned, humiliated somewhat (and very well played by anouk amée) and the resolution at end doesn't provide much validity... the wife's complaint is very real, legitimate. The boyish, lying, dreaming director doesn't exactly inspire appreciation in turn (a film of failure with an unsympathetic lead given artistic validity), he sidesteps drama and conflict for flighty inspiration... making it difficult to believe in his personal revival at end. (which reminds me, how fitting it is to equate selfish, referential filmmaking with the ducking of responsibility and the dream of suicide... maybe that's what holds 8.5 together so well... the right tension of a modernist end-argument dealt within the safe bubble of an (occasionally comic) ego-experiment).
Also, there's a feeling I get that Fellini makes films to talk to other men (and boyishly at that) about his fear of women. He's the kinda director Paglia could really sink her teeth/tooth into, appreciatively. Not just because his ego-concerns are obvious, but also because his films are so rich in levels, or creative rays, or interpretive angles, yet still holding coherent thematic sweep.
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