"A still-controversial masterpiece"
Dir. Federico Fellini; writ. Fellini, Tullio Pinelli; feat., Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Guido Alberti (UNRATED)
In the long-running genre of self-referential works of art, Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 is one of the most enigmatic. It's easy to get wrong, and right, on a number of levels. Many viewers look at the surface plot (of a renowned filmmaker planning a new movie that just won't gel) and take it as a sort of admission that 8 1/2 itself isn't fully formed — that Fellini's technique of disjointed episodes, of reality that succumbs to fantasy or contorted memory at every opportunity, is knowingly haphazard.
But this film perfectly captures the chaotic, sanity-threatening experience of making a motion picture. In that light, the continual accusations that are launched at Mastroianni's Fellini stand-in throughout the film do double or triple duty: They show the fictional director's plight, they let the real director tease himself, and they expose real-world critiques of Fellini's famous style as only halfway conceived.
This isn't only a movie about movies, though. It's a film about one successful man's struggle — and avoidance of struggle — with his own egotism. Fellini isn't shy about his protagonist's problematic attitudes; the movie's fantasy harem scene is one of history's most biting portrayals of sexual greed.
Though it is roundly acknowledged as a classic today, the movie's unconventionality doesn't go down well with everyone. (It's said that in Italy, one group of townspeople attacked the projectionist after a screening.) Some insist that the director's stunning imagery adds up to nothing. But as Roger Ebert said in the movie's defense, "A filmmaker who prefers ideas to images will never advance above the second rank because he is fighting the nature of his art ... images are best when they are free to evoke many associations and are not linked to narrowly defined purposes." Like dreams and poetry, Fellini's later films are richer for the multitude of interpretations they provoke. — John DeFore
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Tuesday, September 10
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