Sunday, July 11, 2010

8 ½ (1963) ****

Watching “8 ½” is a little like having sex for the first time. It takes a while to figure out how everything works. This classic by Federico Fellini uses a stream-of-consciousness style, interspersing and blending reality, memories, and fantasies. The story behind the movie is that Fellini wanted to make a film about a man suffering writer’s block. As he assembled his filmmaking team, including actors and financing, he found that the movie wasn’t coming together for him; he still hadn’t even decided what the protagonist’s profession would be. On the verge of cancelling the project, he hit upon the idea to just tell his own story of trying to make the film. Thus, “8 ½” is about a semi-fictitious director named Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) who finds himself creatively stumped while trying to make a movie. Fellini named it “8 ½” because it was his ninth film, but he didn’t think it counted as a fully realized movie. Little did he know that it would come to be seen by many as one of the great films.

The real-time part of the film is actually pretty mundane, as it follows Anselmi’s interactions with his film crew, his wife and his mistress. Blended into this narrative are bizarre and erotic elements from his memory as well as pure fantasy sequences, the best of which is a scene in which all the women he has loved or desired live together in a big house waiting to tend to all his needs. The movie is meant to reflect the actual mental processes that a person goes through on a daily basis as they shift their attention back and forth between reality and their inner life.

I can see why this is considered one of the great films. Fellini boldly uses the film medium in a completely new way. He doesn’t so much tell a story as expose his own soul frame by frame. I would absolutely recommend “8 ½” for anyone who is interested in art films, but be warned, this movie is long. Thinking about this film after the fact, I like it more and more, but while watching it, I found that it seemed to go on forever. Not only did I find myself bored at times, I found the frequent shifts between fantasy and reality to be off-putting. I once tried to read James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” I didn’t get very far, but I think there may be similarities between that book and “8 ½.”

In short, “8 ½” can be challenging to watch, but it is worth it if you are into this sort of thing.

4 stars

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