(1963) dir. Federico Fellini
I often note that no matter how many films a film fan, student, scholar, or cineaste has seen, there are going to be huge gaps in the list of major films or major filmmakers’ works that one has seen. Federico Fellini has been one of my major blind spots in my litany of the major filmmakers of the 20th century whose work I have seen so little of. Up until this point, I’d only seen three, The Clowns (1970) (which is pretty anomolous I gather), I Vitelloni (1953), and La Dolce Vita (1960). While La Dolce Vita is one of his major works, I think I was unaware of his early style (Italian neorealism) versus his later surrealistic style that seems to have developed starting with this film. When someone says that something is “like a Fellini film”, they usually mean the bizarre, the dwarfs, the clowns, the weird stuff. I don’t think I’d ever seen one that met that criteria.
From the opening sequence, in a traffic jam in a tunnel, which evolves into a fantasy sequence of escape and floating in air, I realized that I was finally seeing what equates more to the typical consideration of Fellini and his work. That said, the film still maitains a realism that contrasts back with the fantasy sequences, which is a singular part of the film’s workings. 8½ is a film about a filmmaker’s mid-life crisis, in his work, in his marriage, in his religion, and his culture. The breaking with the narrative, the sequences of internal fantasy, memories that eventually give way to the creation of the film, the dance of all that is part of Fellini’s ego, his self, his world.
It’s a very mid-20th century vision. Very Jungian, very modernistic, still steeped in the Catholocism and the beginnings of therapy and self-analysis, rife with a sexism that also is open to not quite feminism, but something.
The film has been so influential that many films and filmmakers come to mind throughout the unreeling of it. There is a brilliance, the novelty of its time, the breakthrough creatively that a film about the suffocation of “writer’s block”, the breaking the wall between life and the creative process, and the psychosis of the director’s world, the world of filmmaking.
The funny thing, too, for me, is that 8½ almost was one of the first “art films” that I ever saw. It played on HBO or something back when I was an early teen, and I remember being intrigued by it, as I was beginning to develop an interest in “film”, in exploring stuff that I have not been familiar with. Strangely enough, more than 20 years later, I finally get to see it. I consider what my reaction would have been at the time, what influence it might have had on me. It’s interesting.
It finally came up for me as part of my broken “numbers” films, watching movies whose titles began with a numeral, rather than a word. This little whim of a festival brought it to the top of my queue, even though in the end, I didn’t watch all the number films in a row. Well, for whatever reasons I finally got to see it, I am grateful. And I am now more interested in seeing others of his films, including the documentary that came out a few years back about him called Fellini: I’m a Born Liar (2002). If you haven’t seen it, it truly earns its mark in the filmmaking of the 20th century.