Sunday, September 25, 2011

8 1/2

(June 1963, U.S.)

If you're at the point in your life of film appreciation where you have yet to experience to world of Italian film maker Federico Fellini, then let me tell you that you'll be required to switch your brain into a mode of patience, tolerance and understanding that you may have never used before (and, frankly, a mode that most Friday night multiplex moviegoers NEVER use!). To experience the world of Fellini is to enter a level of fantasy and reality that can only best be described as pure artistic self-indulgence.

The title of 8 1/2 refers to Fellini's eighth and a half film as a director. His previous directorial work consisted of six features, two short segments, and a collaboration with another director, Alberto Lattuada, the latter three productions accounting for a "half" film each. By this point in his career, he'd reached a point where his ability for the proper inspiration and storytelling had reached a block. Solution? Make a black and white film about an Italian director named Guido Anselmi (played by long-time collaborator Marcello Mastroianni) who's reached a point where his ability for the proper inspiration and storytelling has reached a block. Get it? Stalled on his new science fiction film that includes veiled autobiographical references, Guido has lost all interest amid artistic and marital difficulties. As he struggles half-heartedly to work on his film, a series of flashbacks and dreams delve into his vivid memories and fantasies; however they are frequently interwoven with the reality he must contend with everyday. It's a film about the struggles involved in the creative process, both technical and personal, and the problems artists must face when expected to deliver something personal and profound with intense public scrutiny, on a constricted schedule, while simultaneously having to deal with their own personal demons. It is also, in a much larger sense, about finding true personal happiness in a difficult, fragmented life; something all of us probably deal with at one time or another.

All of these complex elements add up to, frankly, one of the most incomprehensible films you are ever likely to see in your life. But don't give up too quickly! Stay with it to fully absorb it's extraordinary black and white cinematography and to understand the above-mentioned themes. Let me tell you that when I first saw Fellini's 8 1/2, my initial reaction to its style and structure was, "Are you fucking kidding me??" Now I'm proud to actually call it my favorite foreign subtitled film of all time. How's THAT for improving one's maturity level when it comes to film? Let me also tell you that when my wife and I were dating back in 1999, I took her to see a special screening of 8 1/2 at the Paris Theatre in New York City. While being a very intelligent woman, let's just say she didn't exactly appreciate the film the way I did. As a matter of fact, she had this look on her face that suggested, "Are you fucking kidding me??"

This film, by the way, was inspiration to many other types of films, including American titles like ALL THAT JAZZ (1979), Woody Allen's STARDUST MEMORIES (1980) and most recently the musical NINE (2009).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Guido Anselmi: "I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say. Something useful to everybody. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves. Instead, I'm the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same."

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