8 1/2 – FELIX, Victor

I can see why a lot directors, actors, cinephiles look to 8½ as one of the best pictures ever created. It is multilayered and visually stunning, full of aesthetic shots that are evocative of a past era. You can suspend the film at any point and the screenshot would make a great picture. It is littered with symbolism and allusion, and the audio is crisp and sharp. At the center of it all, however, is the character of Guido Anselmi. The whole film is hinged on him, and the audience is rewarded with great acting and an astonishing character-driven narrative. Italian cinema has always come across to me as inaccessible and potentially unfathomable, and so 8½ has goaded me into exploring more of Fellini’s films.

The character of Guido is very perplexing. He is a little bit like Barton Fink, since the movie revolves around his difficulty in completing his film and in the various things he does to arouse his creativity, which are really just forms of procrastination. I find out after reading a few reviews that 8½ is a film about making a film, and that film is 8½. It also has an autobiographical aspect to it, since it reflects Fellini’s own difficulty in creating the film itself. I see now that the film is Fellini’s own musings on the topic of creativity, and of the creative process. Anything that is created is said to be creative, the key is in making one’s own work originative, which is an entirely different thing all together.

This is addressed openly, wherein we see the character of Guido being continuously surrounded by his staff, bombarded by questions and criticisms about the film. This also includes the people from his personal life like his wife, his mistress, and in his dreams about his family. But it is also shown subtly on screen: I notice that Guido is always enclosed by things, whether it be in a room, or circumvented by people, or in the train station (the establishing shot shows him in a chair, but the angle of the camera makes it as if he is imprisoned, with the metal gate acting as a prison door). It is as if the character is in some sort of limbo: he can’t get any form of respite and he can’t seem to find that flash of inspiration to complete his film.

I actually found the film to be somewhat humorous, since Guido was just ineffably tactless throughout the story. Whenever a member of the staff or an actor would approach him with a problem, he never really solves them, he just moves on to address the next problem. The camera is, for most of the movie, fixated on Guido and so we don’t see the other characters when he moves on, but it is safe to assume that these people are insulted to some degree. Although his stoic and secretive personality helps him achieve success in making films, it is also the chief reason as to why people might despise him. He lies openly and fluidly, and he does this so that his daily life can become more seamless and less wearisome. It’s funny to watch a liar when you already know the truth.

I do not understand, but there are some scenes which I feel will remember for the rest of my life. It is as if they have imbedded themselves into my mind. The opening scenes with Guido stuck in the car was unexplainably memorable, as was the scene with La Saraghina dancing in front of the school boys (this one especially). I think it was the raw emotion in the faces of the characters or possibly the movement of the camera which made it so striking. The scene in the spa plaza, both during the day with the old ladies lining up for water and at night with the telepathic duo, is also very persistent in my mind’s eye. I hazard that is why Fellini is considered a genius: his films affect the viewer at a subconscious level.

The film, like much of the ones we have seen this semester, slips in and out of reality. It does this through the daily and nightly dreams that Guido have, as well as the flashbacks to his youth. Most of the time his dreams are a projection of his temperament (Carini getting hanged), or they express a desire (Luisa and Carla dancing). The dream sequence at the opening of the film, in my opinion, is the most important. It symbolizes his desire to be free, to be exempt from any discomfort or misery. Possibly, the difficulty in creating a film is like being stuck in a car for everyone outside to see. Or, it’s like being a kite that is forever tethered and toyed with.

The film has a ton of similarities with many of the films we have seen, but since it is first, it is considered the greatest. From the dream sequences in Brazil, to the themes in Barton Fink, to the level of ‘meta’ seen in Inland Empire, it would not at all be surprising to hear if 8½ has in some way inspired the other nine films screened. It is one of the best examples of film as a medium of art, as a creative expression, and not merely a source of entertainment. I am especially delighted that this was in our syllabus, since I can surely say I have seen a cinematic chef-d’oeuvre.


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