The off-the-wall irony is, might you guess, that I’d actually rate this picture 8 and 1/2.
It’s a shame though, that The Joyce Review is prejudiced against fractions. Their bourgeois nature offends me and so, we’ll round it off at a solid and majestic 8.
Hailed by Roger Ebert as “the best film ever made about filmmaking” 8 1/2 features Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) as a famed director working on his latest masterpiece. It is to be an epic picture, part science fiction and part commentary on Catholicism. [Damn you fractions!] The worst part is that he has completely lost his artistic vision and is constantly pestered by producers, writers and would-be actors to make the needed directorial decisions. He shirks and flees to the realms of memory, dream and fantasy to search for answers.
Just like the story’s hero (Guido), Fellini was riding the high-wave of success from his previous film, La Dolce Vita (1961), when he is thrown into a common artistic conundrum of how to top the last. In a Seinfeld-esque move (“I’ve got an idea for a show.” What’s the show about? says the other person. “Nothing!”), Fellini takes his actual feelings towards the artistic struggle and places it on the head of our hero, like a sacrificial goat, and sets him loose to create a picture that “Is what it is”… as aimless and scattered as reality but as cerebral and poignant as a dream.
8 1/2 is a highly visual picture that intends to evoke through the use of style and imagination. It’s an inner-space odyssey in which the story begins with the main character (Guido) as he is trapped in traffic, becomes asphyxiated, and (in one of my favorite scenes of the film) floats into the clouds only to notice that he is not free; in fact, he is a human kite being reeled in by his peers at the shore. They tug at his kite strings, he loses flight and plummets towards the surf. He awakens suddenly to find himself in a spa in Rome.
With this strong opening scene, 8 1/2 begins a journey through the mind of the director (and of Fellini) and his interactions between his sultry and materialistic mistress (Sandra Milo) and his intellectual wife (Anouk Aimee); those that obnoxiously clamor for his attention (producers, writers & actors) and those whose attention he would give willingly. It’s a battle between the primal and the spiritual and of desire and obligation. At times, a beautiful muse appears (perhaps one of the loveliest faces I’ve seen on the silver screen, Claudia Cardinale) and in her delicately calm manner, tries to reassure him that all will be forgiven.
The Visionary is the only true Realist.
In one of the more famous scenes in cinema history, we encounter a dream in which Guido is surrounded by a harem of women from his past and present, and they all forgive and love him. But the harem has rules, and one of these rules is that once you turn 26, you must move to the second floor. As one lady pleads to stay, she slowly starts a revolution amongst the aging women. Quick to keep them in line, our fedora-wearing hero pulls out a whip in a futile struggle to keep them obedient.
It had occurred to me that the creatively-minded duo Steven Spielberg and George Lucus must have taken ample notes in this harem scene to create the famous introduction of Harrison Ford in Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. From the shadow image of our hero wielding a bull whip, wearing his sentimental fedora (iconic and important to his identity), to the darkened close up of the hero himself – Spielberg and Lucus reconstructed Guido’s daydream in dynamic and captivating fashion.
8 1/2 is a superb film that, although brilliantly artistic, can be tiresome for modern audiences. An intellectual and mind-bending piece, I suggest that the viewer sit down and view this when he or she is best receptive to thinking. Being slightly intelligent yourself is also a requisite. If you’re a dum-dum, and need to start a bit lower on the totem pole, might I suggest Total Recall (a science fiction, dream/reality shifter) for the less cerebral.
Don’t feel that we are being judging…
The Joyce Review loves you… “Just as you are!”