I’ve brought up Federico Fellini several times in previous posts. Deservedly so, he’s one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. I’ve enjoyed every one of his films, and would recommend any one of them to just about anyone. My personal favorite film of his is 1969’s Satyricon. If I would have to pick a runner up, then I would choose 8 1/2, released in 1963. The short explanation, is that it’s a film about filmmaking. However, there’s so much more to it than just that.
The film is the story of an Italian filmmaker named Guido Anselmi, played by Marcello Mastroianni. He’s currently struggling through a severe case of writers block, while working on his latest film. Art imitates life, as his personal life is currently in a state of disrepair. Within the first few minutes of the film, Fellini establishes the themes that this masterwork contains.
Guido is stuck in a traffic jam, on a busy Roman street. Out of nowhere, he begins to suffocate, while trapped within the confines of his automobile. While he kicks, and struggles to get free, other motorists all stare at the spectacle unfolding next to them. A director, who has been the voyeur, is trapped and becomes a victim of voyeurism. Establishing somewhat of a bizarre role reversal, the automobile takes the place of the movie screen. Guido escapes, and floats up into the air, like a kite. This is where fantasy and reality become blurred and boundaries almost cease to exist. Giodo soars, guided by a string held by his producers. He is than abruptly brought brought down to earth, symbolizing the return to reality.
Guido is not a stable individual, he’s a mass of personal problems. An adulterer, a masochist, an alcoholic, and a man who’s completely self absorbed within his own mind. Through dreams and flashback, we’re slowly made aware of the experiences that have shaped him. From childhood trauma, Catholic guilt, and an inability to remain faithful to his wife. In a sense, these are also the necessary elements to being a good filmmaker. Applying ones personal experiences onto celluloid, as well as there’ dreams and nightmares. Anyone who has been behind a camera will tell you; the most powerful moments caught on film, are ones that are of self expression. Perhaps, Fellini was living through Guido, using a fictional character to tell his own autobiography. Case in point: Guido’s muse is a mysterious actress named Claudia, played by Claudia Cardinale. Who, as you might have known, was Fellini’s muse in real life.
Aside from the “Fellini-esque” dream sequences, another element is very present. The Roman nightlife, and the daily struggles of Guido’s troubled production. These all have a strong tie to the famous Italian neorealism movement. Much like he did in films such as La Dulce Vida, Fellini gives the world at the highly stylish world of modern Rome. From the colorful nightclubs, to the sharp fashions that were popular at the time, we’re treated to the sights and sounds of European chic.
8 1/2 remains an almost perfect work. Stylish, surreal, hypnotic and intoxicating. It can easily hold the title of one of the greatest films of all time. Always worth a watch, as a matter of fact several. Truly, one of the masterpieces of Italian cinema.