8 1/2 (1963)

Federico Fellini’s phantasmagoric exploration of a filmmaker’s mind. Guido Anselmi, one of Italy’s top directors (i.e., Fellini—like anyone’s fooled), has a nervous breakdown due to having writer’s block and doubts about his current film (and when you find out it’s a sci-fi movie with a spaceship, a movie one could never imagine Fellini making, it does sort of make sense). Some people think this is the greatest movie about making movies, but I think that ranking goes to Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night. I’ve seen 8 ½ a couple of times before and though I know it’s considered one of Fellini’s finest film (up there with La Dolce Vita and La Strada) it was always difficult for me to become emotionally involved in the story. This time I think I figured out why; the inciting incident, the thing that causes everything to happen, takes place mainly off screen, and that is the filmmaker’s nervous breakdown and his decision to flee to a spa (the breakdown itself, a dream sequence in which the filmmaker feels trapped in a car being filled with gas is shown, but there’s no context for it to really mean anything). Because of this, for most of the first half of the film I’m playing catch up just trying to figure out what is going on. It’s not that the movie doesn’t have it joys. It’s wonderfully neo-surrealistic with many actors chosen for how they look (or how just off they look). There’s also the very large woman, La Saraghina, a prostitute from the filmmakers childhood, who would dance on the beach; a screenwriter who keeps telling Guido that the script is hopeless and that there is nothing he can do about it and he doesn’t even know why he’s there; and that gigantic skeleton of a spaceship. The cast is wonderful. Guido is played by Fellini alter ego Marcello Mastroianni (who is very irritating in his attitude toward his wife’s unhappiness with his playing around—he takes it as just the way the world is, men cheat and women get unhappy about it; he can’t conceive that he may be the least little bit at fault); his long suffering wife is played by Anouk Aimee; and Claudia Cardinale makes an appearance as Guido’s ideal woman. The whole thing ends with Guido bringing all the characters down a staircase to dance around a circus ring while some clowns play music. It’s a wonderful scene that feels you with great joy; everyone is happy, all is right with the world. And Fellini does do this in his next films, takes the characters from his past (and even farther than that with Fellini Satyricon and Cassanova) and makes that the subjects of his films. What else can he do? He can’t come up with an original idea; he’s run out of those. Now it’s time to go into the past.

So tell me what you think.

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