“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.”
“8 ½”- is my all-time favorite movie. It has remained in that position since I saw it in NYC in 1979 – sixteen years after its release in 1963. I recall sitting in the Bleecker Street Cinema – in total disbelief of what I was seeing unspool on the screen. Prior to it, I loved cinema, but here was a quantum leap. I understood that film could capture the way our brain is able to blend in fantasy – and memory and our everyday reality. The past, the present and the conditional. How we synthesize it all is the way cinema works. And here was a director articulating this in a film. Magic. Pure magic. This is a brilliant film.
On top of that, Fellini was also exploring psychology, and the film itself becomes an individuation process in which the main character liberates himself from the compromise between the individual and society’s expectations as to what he should be doing as an artist. Fellini became my hero. I have devoured his filmography ever since. Guido Anselmi is my most beloved character in cinema. I like dressing like him – black suit, white shirt, a tie and striking eyewear.
The film revolves around 43 year-old Guido, a famous movie director who has agreed to make his next movie, gotten contracts signed, sets built, even has one famous actress waiting to star in it – but there’s a caveat – he doesn’t have a script and he’s experiencing writer’s block. He’s sold everyone on a vague, science-fiction plot about a spacecraft launch being Noah’s Ark after a nuclear holocaust. In one of the most spectacular openings in history – we see the director in a traffic jam inside a tunnel. He sees that every person in every car around him is looking at him with expectation. His car stars to be filled with smoke and he’s asphyxiating. He attempts to get out of the car and after a struggle he breaks free – and starts to levitate – floating out of the tunnel into the sky – floating among the clouds. He feels a tug on his ankle and sees a rope bringing him down. It’s his film producers and they drag him back to earth. “I’ve got him,” says a lawyer.
“I don’t have nothing to say, but I still want to say it anyway,” exclaims Guido. For renewal, he decides to go to a spa where he’s followed by his cadre of reporters, producers, writers, friends and his lover Carla. Uninvited, visions of his past start visiting him as well as his dreams. He doesn’t know what is real and what is fantasy – what is part of a recollection and what is actually happening. “Forgive the early intrusion,” says one character snapping Guido out of his reverie. There’s a film critic – Daumier – who’s helping him write the script, but who’s questioning the maestro’s artistry. He becomes a manifestation of the artist’s self-doubt. He asks his long-suffering wife to join him for a few days for he needs her – and she will rail against the way he carries on with other women and the way he portrays her in his films. He also has a constant vision of an angel – an ideal woman – that appears throughout the narrative. We can all relate to his personal crisis of identity. “A man’s inner confusion,” says Daumier.
The main character may be having problems with creativity – but not Fellini. The opposite. Here’s an artist at the top of his creative powers – blending realism with impressionism and surrealism, with flashbacks. Extraordinarily rich imagery. There are some sequences that still take my breath away. Guido sees himself playing on the beach as a child with his friends and they visit Seraghina – a prostitute who resides in an abandoned bunker. She’s asked by the boys to dance the rumba. Seraghina is grotesque. She has these painted arched eyebrows and terrible wig. As she dances, she becomes this alluring creature – and we understand that she is the first introduction of sex to little Guido. Later in the film – there’s a total fantasy scene in which Guido is in a harem surrounded by all the women he’s been in love with or dreamt about. “You mix sacred and profane love too casually,” a Catholic priest chastises Guido.
Marcello Mastroianni is remarkable as Guido Alsemi – a stand in for Federico himself. He’s surrounded by some fantastic actresses – including Anook Aimee as his wife Luisa and Claudia Cardinale as Claudia the vision. The film closes with all the characters dancing in a circus-like atmosphere. “Life’s a celebration,” says Guido. “Let’s live together.”
It’s named “8 ½” because this was Fellini’s eighth feature and some shorts. It is my number one film.
Daumier: “It’s obvious that the film lacks a central conflict, or philosophical premise, if you will. – making the film a series of gratuitous episodes, perhaps even amusing due to their ambiguous realism. One wonders what the author’s point is. To make us think? To scare us? From the start, the action reveals an impoverished poetic inspiration. Forgive me but this might be the most pathetic demonstration ever that cinema is irremediably behind all other arts by 50 years. The subject matter doesn’t even have the merits of an avant-garde film while processing all its shortcomings.”
Available to stream on HBO Max, The Criterion Channel and Kanopy. Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu and Apple TV.
Screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano and Brunello Rondi
Story by Ennio Flaiano and Federico Fellini
Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée and Sandra Milo
Directed by Federico Fellini
About Director and Co-Writer Federico Fellini
The son of a traveling salesman who sold foodstuffs and a mother who believed that, in marrying beneath her, she betrayed her links to Roman nobility, Fellini grew up believing he belonged in Rome. In the late 1930s he moved there with his mother and brother. Only Federico stayed on, however, surviving by selling cartoons, gags, and stories to the humour magazine Marc’Aurelio. During World War II Fellini wrote scripts for the radio serial “Cico e Pallina,” starring Giulietta Masina, who became his wife in 1943 and who appeared in several of his films during an often troubled 50-year marriage. In 1944 Fellini met director Roberto Rossellini and became one of a team of writers for “Roma, città aperta” (1945; “Open City or Rome, Open City”), a pioneer film of Neorealism. Fellini’s contribution to the screenplay earned him his first Oscar nomination. Fellini quickly became one of Italy’s most successful screenwriters. He collaborated on screenplays for such directors as Pietro Germi (“Il cammino della speranza” [1950; “The Path of Hope”]), “Alberto Lattuada” (“Senza pietà” [1948; “Without Pity”]), and Luigi Comencini (Persiane chiuse [1951; Behind Closed Shutters]); he was uncredited on the latter film. In addition, Fellini contributed to Rossellini’s “Paisà” (1946; “Paisan”) and “Il miracolo” (1948; “The Miracle”, an episode of the film “L’amore”), in which he also acted, playing a tramp who impregnates a simple-minded peasant when she takes him for the reincarnation of St. Joseph. Fellini’s quest for a more personal style, which often verged on the fantastic, alienated Neorealist purists. His directorial debut, “Luci del varietà” (1950; “Variety Lights”), made in collaboration with Lattuada, is set in a traveling variety show. An enthusiast of the seedy side of show business, in particular vaudeville and the circus, Fellini returned to this milieu repeatedly, beginning with his first independent feature, “Lo sceicco bianco” (1952; “The White Sheik”), a satire on the fumetti (photographic comic strips) and their fanatical fans. However, his first critical and commercial success, “I vitelloni” (1953; “Spivs or The Young and the Passionate”), exhibited little fantasy. Based on his own adolescence in Rimini, it faithfully reflects the boredom of provincial life, which drove him to Rome.
With “La strada” (1954; “The Road”), Fellini returned to the world of showmen. It starred Anthony Quinn as Zampanò, a brutish but phoney itinerant “strong man,” and Masina as the waif who loves him. The film was shot on desolate locations between Viterbo and Abruzzi, mean villages and flinty roads that were intended to reflect the moral aridity of Quinn’s character, throwing into relief the sweet, forgiving nature of Masina’s Gelsomina. A commercial success, “La strada” won an Academy Award for best foreign film, and Nino Rota’s plaintive theme song became a hit. Producers offered to feature Masina as Gelsomina in a sequel, but Fellini instead gave her a small role only in… “Il bidone” (1955; “The Swindle”), which featured Broderick Crawford as the leader of a gang of con men who impersonate priests in order to rob the peasantry. Masina asserted her star quality in “Le notti di Cabiria” (1957; “Nights of Cabiria”), developing the minor character she played in “Lo sceicco bianco,” a good-natured Roman prostitute who is optimistic even when humiliated and is swindled by the man she expects to marry. One of Fellini’s most likeable films, it won an Oscar for best foreign film and inspired the 1966 Broadway musical comedy “Sweet Charity” and the 1969 movie of the same name. “La dolce vita” (1960; “The Sweet Life”) was the first of many collaborations with Marcello Mastroianni, an actor who came to represent Fellini’s alter ego. Inspired by newspaper headlines and some topical scandals, the film comprehensively indicts a Rome dominated by foreign movie stars, corrupt journalists, and decadent aristocrats. Condemned by the Roman Catholic Church but hailed by the public, “La dolce vita” contributed the word paparazzo (unscrupulous yellow-press photographer) to the English language and the adjective Felliniesque to the lexicon of film critics.
He then made his first foray in colour, directing the segment “Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio” (“The Temptation of Dr. Antonio”) for the omnibus feature “Boccaccio ’70” (1962). “Otto e mezzo” (1963; “8 ½”) is among Fellini’s most widely praised films and earned the director his third Oscar for best foreign film. Entitled “8 ½” for the number of films Fellini had made by that time (seven features and two shorts), it shows a famous director (based on Fellini and portrayed by Mastroianni) in creative paralysis. Harried by argumentative screenwriters, importunate actresses, a terse unloving wife, and his brainless giggling girlfriend, he takes refuge in fantasies of childhood and the dream of a perfect, and therefore unattainable, woman, embodied in Claudia Cardinale. In 1965 Fellini’s health failed as he prepared what would have been his most personal work, “The Journey of G. Mastorna,” a dreamlike vision of the afterlife, starring Mastroianni. Forced to abandon the project, he fortuitously found an alternative outlet for his fantasies in colour. Technology placed in Fellini’s hands the tools to realize the visions that until then existed only in his dreams: “I close my eyes,” he wrote of his nocturnal imaginings, “and the festival starts.” His notebooks recording those dreams, lavishly illustrated, became his raw material. He embraced fantasy even more enthusiastically in “Giulietta degli spiriti” (1965: “Juliet of the Spirits”), with Masina as a simple bourgeois haunted by the supernatural…Distributors incorporated Fellini’s name in the films’ titles, signifying the unique nature of his vision. Although technically inspired by Roman writers Gaius Petronius Arbiter and Lucius Apuleius, Fellini Satyricon (1969), promoted with the slogan “Before Christ. After Fellini,” actually celebrated the hippie movement, which he first encountered in the United States…In “Roma” (1972; Fellini’s “Roma”), the director applied the tools of fantasy to the national capital, alternating episodes of the modern hippie occupation of its monuments with his teenage visits to its brothels and the excavations that uncover what remains of the ancient city. An “ecclesiastical fashion show” controversially mocks the Vatican that consistently condemned his films. For “Amarcord” (1973), which won Fellini a fourth Oscar for best foreign film, he re-created wartime Rimini in Rome’s Cinecittà studios for a nostalgic remembrance of adolescence under fascism, which restored the eccentricity of his early life that had been omitted from “I Vitelloni.”…
The demands of the international audience hampered Fellini’s later films. Commercially oriented producers, in particular longtime associate Dino De Laurentiis, counseled a compromise with Hollywood. Though he wanted Mastroianni, Fellini was persuaded to cast American actor Donald Sutherland as Giacomo Casanova in “Il Casanova di Federico Fellini” (1976; “Fellini’s Casanova”)…A diminishing American market for foreign films and the rise of a young audience impatient with challenging subjects marginalized “La città delle donne” (1980; “City of Women”), “E la nave va” (1983; “And the Ship Sails On”), “Ginger e Fred” (1985; “Ginger and Fred”), “Intervista” (1987; “Interview”), and “La voce della luna” (1990; “The Voice of the Moon”), his last feature film. Unified only by his flair for the fantastic, the films reflect with typically Fellinian irony on a variety of postmodern topics: the role of the male in an increasingly feminist society, the infantilizing effects of television, the remoteness of artistic creativity from political reality, and the growing homogenization of popular culture. At the same time, Fellini, seemingly capable of convincing himself of almost anything, also directed television commercials for Barilla pasta, Campari Soda, and the Banco di Roma…Fellini also pioneered, in “Otto e mezzo,” a category of psychoanalytical cinema that inspired many and is still being explored. His films were nominated for 23 Academy Awards and won eight. Fellini also received a career achievement Oscar in 1993, the Golden Lion career award from the Venice Film Festival in 1985, and dozens of prizes from the world’s most prestigious film festivals. (britannica.com)
About Actor Marcello Mastroianni
Born on Sept. 28, 1924, at Fontana Liri, a small town 50 miles south of Rome, he grew up in a poor family, the son of a cabinetmaker who used to repair the holes in Marcello’s shoes with pieces of aluminum. His father, who went blind from diabetes, never saw his son on the screen, although he did live to hear his voice in his first two films. When he was still a boy, the family moved to Turin and then to Rome. He earned a degree as a surveyor in the hope of becoming an architect. But World War II intervened, and he was assigned to draw maps for Mussolini’s retreating armies. Later he was drafted into digging ditches in the Alps. From there, he escaped to Venice. When the war was over, he returned to Rome, got a job as a bookkeeper for a film company and joined a theatrical company. There he met both Fellini and the actress Giulietta Masina, Mr. Fellini’s wife, with whom he made his stage debut. His performance drew faint praise for its ”enthusiastic inexperience.” Mr. Mastroianni married a fellow student, Flora Carabella, in 1948. They had a daughter, Barbara, in 1950. The marriage ended after their formal separation in 1970. He had a long romance with the French actress Catherine Deneuve, with whom he had a daughter, Chiara, born in 1972…Mr. Mastroianni played the leading man to a succession of beautiful women. But his most famous partnership was with Miss Loren, who alternately married, divorced, seduced and pined after him in a total of 12 movies. Of these, the most famous were ”Marriage, Italian Style,” ”The Priest’s Wife” and ”Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Their last collaboration was in Robert Altman’s 1994 movie on the fashion industry, ”Pret-a-Porter” (”Ready-to-Wear”).
Although regarded here as the quintessential Italian actor, Mr. Mastroianni — who also spoke French and English — made many movies outside his native country with French, American and Russian directors. He won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1987 for ”Dark Eyes,” in which he played a down-at-the-heels architect whose once-glamorous life is seen in flashback. He never won an Oscar, although he was nominated several times, first for his role in Pietro Germi’s ”Divorce, Italian Style” in 1962. Mr. Mastroianni’s relationship with Fellini, who once called the actor his alter ego, was long and strongly personal. From ”La Dolce Vita,” they moved on to ”8 1/2” and, in the 1980’s, ”City of Women,” ”Ginger and Fred” and ”The Interview.”…At the height of his career, which embraced over 120 films, Mr. Mastroianni was the exemplar of modern man facing the existential void. In Fellini’s ”Dolce Vita” and ”8 1/2” and in Michelangelo Antonioni’s bleak ”La Notte,” he portrayed individuals searching for the keys to their lives. He was equally skilled at comedy, sometimes verging on slapstick, in films like ”Divorce, Italian Style.” (nytimes.com)
About Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo
Gianni Di Venanzo began his career during World War II as camera assistant to Aldo Tonti, Otello Martelli and others, working on the films of key neorealist directors such as Visconti, Rossellini, De Santis and De Sica. Given his training in…documentary style favored by these filmmakers, as well as the…approach of Tonti, it is all the more surprising that he developed in his work with Michelangelo Antonioni…Working with Antonioni, particularly on ‘Le amiche’, he also developed a capacity for filming complex and changing groupings of actors, experience that proved useful when he worked with Fellini on ‘Otto e mezzo’. Fellini’s masterpiece can also be seen as Di Venanzo’s, with its subtle gradations of light and shadow essential in helping the viewer to navigate this complex assemblage of dream, memory, imagination and reality. Di Venanzo put his early experience as a cameraman to good use also in his work with Francesco Rosi, particularly in ‘Salvatore Giuliano’ and ‘Le mani sulla città’. In these films he recreated the documentary feeling of neorealism, adding another level of chronological signification to each. He was universally lauded for his perfectionism and the variety of his photographic talents. John Gillett says these opinions were based on Di Venanzo’s “…extraordinary ability to establish a rapport with each director; a facility for sensing the particular textures they sought after; and sheer tenacity in getting those precise effects on to celluloid.” (cinematographers.nl)