The All-Time Favourites #6: 8 1/2

Welcome to the All-Time Favourites Series. This series examines 25 of the greatest films I’ve ever seen, looking at them in depth with analyses of what makes them great, and cutting down to the most basic level, looking at plot, cinematography, writing, direction, acting and other things, to see what makes these great films tick. For more info on the series, read this. This week’s All-Time Favourites post is on Federico Fellini’s 1963 film 8 1/2.

The two best films about filmmaking are Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night and Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. While the filmmaker in Day for Night cherished and reveled in being on set, and took advantage of every moment, the filmmaker in 8 1/2 (played excellently by the cool-oozing Marcello Mastroianni) is desperate to escape the set. The film opens with him daydreaming, which soon turns into a nightmare as he is suffocated in a car and then when he escapes into the clouds, he is tugged back to Earth by producers who are eager to see him make another movie when all he wants to do is be free from work and business.

His latest film is a big budget science-fiction epic that doesn’t look promising. He is distraught to discover that his efforts to make a film that he was happy with and that pleased others are futile. The producers scold him for his bad movie, saying “it has none of the advantages of an avant-garde film, but all of the shortcomings.” In one impassioned monologue, he fraughtfully admits “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 everyone. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry inside ourselves. Instead, I’m the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same.” No one understands his work and they probably don’t want to. I can think of a lot of filmmakers who feel this way.

He attempts to escape with sex and alcohol, but these things seem more to offend him than please him. He has grown tired of his wife, who he attempts painfully to convince he is not cheating on, and his mistress has become tiresome and is too foolish and idiotic to respect. One day he sees an actress (Claudia Cardinale) and wants her, much like the character Mastroianni played in Fellini’s previous film La Dolce Vita also lusted for an actress. She likes him, but perhaps he is too tormented by his own failure to be acceptable that their relationship would be painful and short if it even began.

To escape his world, he sinks into increasingly bizarre daydreams, as well as painful and beautiful memories of his childhood. His memories include an encounter with a prostitute whom his friends payed to “do the rhumba, Saraghina!” and his subsequent punishment from the church that schooled him and his ashamed mother. And his fantastic daydreams include him coming home to a mansion housing all the women he has ever loved or lusted after, concluding memorably with an unforgettable image of him cracking a whip to gain control over them. Is this misogynism? No. It’s simply a confused man’s attempt to understand the mystery of women, and throughout the film as he wants the actress more and more, we see the true nature of his frail relationships, and when the pressure turns out to be too much, the film concludes with a magical carnival, in which the entire cast of the film dance to music.

Federico Fellini directs with ease, allowing his cast and crew to glide through the scenes. He is known for playing music on the set (he dubbed all the audio for his films afterwards), and this is why the actors seem so jovial and upbeat. One of the film’s early scenes features uses of classical music in such a brilliant, memorable manner. Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” plays in the background as Mastroianni walks into a garden party; the classical tune, which would become more famous for its use in Apocalypse Now, is even better here in setting the tone and mood of an adventurous, engrossing film that never fails to keep the audience gripped and entertained, with its mixture of dark and celestial fantasies and jarring real-life that is still fantastically surreal and entertaining. Fellini’s obsession with circuses and parties really shows here, as his films are as enjoyable and fun as a classic carnival, at which it is easy to imagine a young Fellini grinning at the lights and attractions that would be forever ingrained into his memory and would show in his marvellous, superb motion pictures.

What about you? Have you seen 8 1/2, or any of Fellini’s films? Leave a comment below with your thoughts, and after the Christmas break there will be another All-Time Favourites post in January, focusing on another great Ingmar Bergman masterpiece, Persona.

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Posted on December 21, 2011, in All-Time Favourites, Movie Reviews, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Great review! I keep seeing 8 1/2 on Netflix, but for whatever reason I have never watched it! I should check it out soon.

  2. I haven’t seen 8 1/2. I have seen Nine, though. I’m sure that counts. 😉

    • No, that does not count. It’s insulting to put those two in the same sentence!

      • Ahah, that’s what I figured Tyler. I told a friend of mine that I rented NINE and he said I should’ve rented 8 1/2 instead. I definitely will at some point, that’ll be the first Fellini film I’d see. I subscribe to a lot of classic Hollywood tumblr and they feature Marcello Mastroianni quite often, he’s definitely a cool lookin’ dude.

        • Yeah, Mastroianni is one suave motherfucker. And I definitely recommend you check out some Fellini. LA STRADA is very accessible, so I’d recommend that, but LA DOLCE VITA and 8 1/2 are easily his best films, by FAR!

  3. I checked it out recently and i also enjoyed it.

  4. This film sounds very interesting and Marcello Mastroianni does look very cool – I’m guessing that’s him with the shades?

    When did you watch it, Tyler? I don’t think you were about in 1963 😛

    • Yep, that’s him in the shades. Easily one of the coolest movie characters EVER!

      Saw it about a year ago. Since then I’ve seen it four times.

  5. Christian Hallbeck

    I belive that Fellini’s “8½” and “La Dolce Vita” will always be regarded as two of the best films ever made. They are superbly made! Watching “8½” is a feast for the eye! it’s technically flawless! Morever, I can’t think of a more black and white film than “8½” (maybe with the exception of Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood”). I find the black colours in “8½” to be the most beautiful black colours that I’ve seen on film. If i place “8½” among the five best film’s I’ve seen, it’s because of the way it’s made. It’s because of the craftsmanship.

    • Absolutely. They are both superb, flawless films. I also rewatched La Dolce Vita recently and fell in love with it. Fellini is a cinematic God!

  6. When I first saw 8½, I did not appreciate it as much. Maybe it was too much artsy for me. But since then, whenever I have given a thought to it, I understand it much better. Maybe I just needed a little time to digest all I saw. Just like, La Dolce Vita, Fellini’s another masterpiece, older it becomes, I feel better about it. I have seen La Strada too. Nice Movie especially for Gelsomina. I Vittolini, Nights of Cabiria and Amacord in my wishlist.

    • I think 8 1/2 takes time; we need to sit and mull it over before we really get it. La Dolce Vita and La Strada are easily his second and third best films behind it. I also recommend Juliet of the Spirits as well as the three you have in your wishlist.

  7. I am sure you have done a post on this film before…. Or maybe it was somewhere else. Anyway this seems a great film that needs to be shown here in my life!!

    Thanks matey

  1. Pingback: The All-Time Favourites #8: Napoleon (1927) « Southern Vision

  2. Pingback: Introducing… The ALL-TIME FAVOURITES SERIES! « Southern Vision

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