Saturday, January 2, 2010

8 1/2 (1963)

8 1/2

While working on his latest film famous director, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) finds himself suffering from a case of director's block. Desiring to make something important, marketable, and explaining his life thus far, Guido's caught in a mix mash of bad relationships with the women around him.

When I selected 8 1/2 for the 1001 movie club, I did so not thinking Nine would be the struggling bomb it is slowly becoming. Having only seen one other Fellini film, and enjoying it thoroughly (La Strada), I thought this would be a solid selection for everyone. What I found most striking while watching Fellini's classic 8 1/2 is just how self-aware it really is. Meant to be part comedy, part analysis of the life of director, 8 1/2 is a striking combination of visuals, and an eccentric, surreal sense of the world.

Fellini spends much of 8 1/2 inside the mind of Guido, his youth, dreams, and wants out of life. At one point we go into a 20 minute brothel scene taking place in the mind of Guido, in which all the women in his life worship his every move. That's good and all, but what does it really tell us about our main characters? Simply put: he's a sexist male incapable of handling the horrid women decisions he's made throughout his life. Guido has a mistress, a wife (a good one at that), and his desires for his feature starlet, Claudia (the ever beautiful Claudia Cardinale). Though Guido has no idea how to manage each of them, his relations with them seem entirely built on self desires, and what he needs at any particular time. This does not create a very relatable character.

Of course to top off Guido's women issues, the film he's starting, his massive big budget spectacle, he doesn't even know where he wants to go. With only a basic idea, Guido is avoiding his producers and fellow workers, for fear of they're finding out. Yet as I said before, 8 1/2 is a very self-aware film. At times hinting at Fellini's own personal angst, certain sections of dialogue striked me as the director realizing his movie was ultimately about a very unlikable character. Unlikable, indeed. Much of 8 1/2 I spent admiring the visuals while boringly wandering from scene to scene. I felt no emotional, or intellectual, connection with the film, often pausing to check email, or other such events. I couldn't keep myself focused on such an unfocused film. Hopping throughout Guido's life felt more like a chore than an act of intrigue. Ultimately 8 1/2 will be notched up to a film I greatly respect for its cinematic importance, but would not watch again for entertainment purposes.

With striking visuals, unique perspective, and an intriguing narrative Fellini's 8 1/2 has inspired countless films, all the while stuck in the minefield of an inaccessible main character, few will like, or care about.

4 better thoughts:

Alfindeol said...

I figured this would be right up your ally, sad to see it isn't.

I'm not sure I totally agree with your interpretation of Guido though. While a womanizer, he spends much of the movie struggling to come to terms with his mistakes and their source. The film is about him putting his demons to rest and making a good decision for once. I wouldn't call him a "sexist male incapable of handling the horrid women decisions he's made throughout his life" because he's trying desperately to fix himself. Sure, he starts that way, but his explorations go a long way in fixing his problems.

It's a tough movie to dig into, but it just seems to get better the more I think about it.

Chase Kahn said...

I love "8 1/2," and I think Alfindeol is right when he says that it gets better the more you think about it (or the more you watch it.)

I guess I just love that Fellini, in a time of confusion and artistic futility, turned out his most artistic, personal and grand achievement.

While watching "Nine," all I wanted to do was go home and watch the real thing.

Univarn said...

@Alfindeol I honestly don't think he ever "fixes" his problems in the least. I think his final action is more of a only logical decision left after months of bad ones (downward domino effect), not a life changing one. Perhaps there's more too it, but I didn't care enough.

@Chase There's an old gag that 8 1/2 actually refers to the number of times needed to watch this movie before it's ever appreciated fully. Honestly I feel my next viewing will be because it's on TCM and I'm feeling intellectual.

I loved Fellini's La Strada and was convinced this would match equally, alas I could barely feign interest throughout. I admired it visually, but not its narrative. There's always a fine line between admiring art and enjoying it. I admire Pollock, I would never own one his works. To be honest the more I think of this film the more I yearn to rewatch The Seventh Seal, which I would put on similar ground as this, only more interesting :).

Alfindeol said...

The Seventh Seal is a damn fine flick!

I've been meaning to see La Strada. I might watch it as one of my extra films off the 1001 list. Been watching a personal selection off the list for each one that is chosen by the club.

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