8 1/2 and I’m Not There

Art as a representation of the artist–it is something that the films 8 1/2 and I’m Not There share in common. Although the dominating element in both films is the art of each artist, what is being highlighted by the film are the artists themselves.

8 1/2
(Director: Federico Fellini)

You might have counted how many mistresses Guido has to see if they totaled eight and one half. It might have disappointed you, infuriated you even, to find out that this was not the case. Did you try to remember if he was 8 ½ years old when he experienced the encounter with what they called the “devil” Saraghina? Or did you just resign at the end, as the attempt proved futile in trying to discover what 8 ½ referred to?

You might have thought of that and done just that while watching the movie 8 ½. It’s easy to be distracted by the allure of Marcello Mastroianni, the actor who played Guido and find yourself watching enthralled and under the impression that everything that mattered in the movie is associated with him. That was one of my assumptions that proved to be wrong.

Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi

The movie is not entirely about Guido. Rather, the character of Guido is about Federico Fellini, a director like himself. The enigma of “eight and one-half” can only be unveiled if we put him in mind. The title pertains to the eight and a half films that Fellini has made, with this one included. With the title and the lead character deliberately made to refer to the real-life artist, the film is not only made by Federico Fellini but it is also partially and greatly about him.

Guido and Fellini have much in common. They are both directors, to say the least. They are both artists engaged in the art of making films. They both also face a kind of crisis wherein an artist’s block had followed their success. As artists, they are both pressured to put on a grand performance, to live up to the legacy they had created.

From left to right: Fellini, Mastroianni, and Sofia Loren

The movie also featured flashbacks and fantasies from Guido’s life. These sequences pulled from either memories or dreams, with no apparent logic, may have been a reflection of Fellini’s preference for images over coherent ideas.

Guido’s fantasies are somehow patterned on the somewhat repressed or the forbidden aspect of his life—Saraghina as that which represents sin against his Catholic background and his mistresses as those who are forbidden in marriage. The repressed or the forbidden erupts with vigorous energy as his fantasies show an element of the carnivalesque. At the latter part, his desired women form a harem. In the ending, everyone comes together to accept him.

This may reflect the artist’s source of inspiration. His art is animated with unbridled energy, limited by nothing, not by a strict Catholic institution or the restricting bonds of matrimony. This is not to say that Catholicism or matrimony is bad, they are only representations of what restricts or limits the ideas of the artist. To defy it is to destroy the block and let flow art and inspiration.

In the end, although Guido fails to produce a movie, the person that he signifies does not. Federico Fellini is triumphant in creating and beautifying his art, the film itself.

Watch the trailer here (no subtitles):

I’m Not There
(Director: Todd Haynes)

I’m Not There tells about the lives of six different artists. The film narrates of the lives of these artists: the ups and downs; the pros and cons; the wee days and the low days. Above all, it focuses on the artists themselves rather than their art per se.

Marcus Carl Franklin plays the role of Woody Guthrie.

The first artist we encounter is a young boy named Woody Guthrie, who is too mature for his age of 11. He claims to have experienced everything—been there, done that. His character represents the burning passion in the life of an artist—the heart, the desire, the hunger for the “good stuff”, the yearning to showcase their art, the need to voice himself out. Woody might be at a tender age, but he has a lot of things to say. Too many that the housewife from the Arvin family told him to live his own time, to sing about his generation. What the housewife meant here is that he should be able to live a life different from yesterday, from the past. What he had been singing is something that he shouldn’t concern himself with and that it is a useless passion. Singing about his time, on the other hand, may make more sense than the first.

Cate Blanchette portrays the role of Jude Quinn

The second artist is Jude Quinn, as portrayed by Cate Blanchette. Quinn is the “bad-ass artist” of the film. He wears and tears. He abuses his body, like with vices such as smoking and drinking, and not even sleeping for more than a month. He does whatever he wants, and no one can stop him. Funny though, but a woman was chosen to play the role of Jude Quinn. It somehow gives the mocking feeling of how men act—the need to constantly reassure themselves of their masculinity. What’s funnier is that a woman is obviously portraying a male character due to her voice. What we can get from this is that no matter how manly a man can get, there will always be a part of him that is definitely feminine.

Christian Bale as the rockstar Jack Rollin

Jack Rollin, as played by Christian Bale, is the third artist we meet. Plot-wise, his character represents the downfall. He’s the kind of artist that is somewhat jaded but not fully with living the life of an artist. Like the young boy above, he might have been able to experience a lot. He has the right to claim that he has seen it all, although there is more to be seen. He might not be as bad assed as Jude Quinn. But he even had a film about his life, with Robbie Clark (another artist we’ll discuss next) playing as him.

Heath Ledger plays the role of the actor Robbie Clark

Unlike the first three artists, Robbie Clark (played by Heath Ledger) is an actor. (The first three are prominent in the music industry). But to connect him to the story, he plays as Jack Rollin in the movie called Grain of Sand. His character represents the point wherein the artists try to leave the life of a rock star. He struggles with the transition of his life from being a badass rock star with booze and drugs, to a life of milk bottles, soccer practice, boat rides, and what not’s. Practically speaking, he’s having a hard time trying to live an ordinary life.

Ben Whishaw acts as the poet Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud would be the fifth artist in the film. Like Rollin, he has a different industry from the first three artists as he is a poet. In the film, he is shown as answering questions inside an interrogation room.

Richard Gere as Billy The Kid

Last but not the least, we have Billy the Kid, the old man in solitude who represents of the end. Played by Richard Gere, he reflects the life after everything has been said and done. Ironically though, at the end of the film, he appears to be escaping—he was on the run.

6 artists as Bob Dylan

If you haven’t gotten any clue, you’ll be surprise to read this: all six of them are Bob Dylan. This kind of strategy, giving six different faces to different stages in the life of Bob Dylan is simply wonderful. Although the film can be viewed without prior knowledge of the life and works of Bob Dylan, the film would be more appreciated if the viewer has a background of the singer’s life. What the end implies is we somehow have to take all the six characters as one and accept everything.

Watch the promotional trailer here:

Photo credits:
Flickr: beastandbean

The Common Ground 

Bob Dylan

Federico Fellini, the director of 8 1/2

Something that 8 ½ and I’m Not There share in common is that they are both looking into the life of an artist. Although we are presented with their art as the dominating element of the film, a closer look would reveal that the artists themselves are being highlighted. It is like going behind the scenes, where we see people in action, crafting their own art.

In 8 ½, we see the life of Guido as a director. It’s not Guido’s film that is important; it’s the life of Guido being narrated in the film that matters. The struggles and the way he works have something to do with Guido’s personal issues. In I’m Not There, we’ve seen the different facets of the life of Bob Dylan. These six different characters represent the stages of Bob Dylan as a person and as an artist. We get to see a glimpse of what he has gone through.

Apparently, the titles of both films have little to do with the contents of the film. The titles are more reflective of the real artists behind them, with Federico Fellini as the director of 8 ½ and Bob Dylan as the subject of I’m Not There. As discussed above, 8 ½ is not symbolic of anything in the film. It is merely the count of the films produced/directed by Fellini. On the other hand, I’m Not There is representative of Bob Dylan’s absence in the film. Yes, the film is about Dylan’s life as an artist, but it’s not fully biographical.

What both movies tell us is that an artist’s life cannot be fully separated from the art that he creates. The elements that constitute his art are often extracted from the private life of the artist, from what comprises his internal, subjective self. With memories and fantasies pulled from either or both the conscious and the subconscious, they make the craft more honest, more human, more real. All of these internal profusions converge to create the craft of the artist.

But how much of the artist—his real self—is present in the art? Sometimes the expression does not truthfully mimic the individuality inherent in the artist. As the artist rises to fame, he becomes more pressured by the million viewers, by the strangers who subject him to their unyielding judgments. He is sometimes compelled to perform and to express in a way that would please them. He is pressured to represent the majority. He is alienated from his art, consequentially.

The issues of the artist and his art are raised, with both films positing a plurality of meanings with their depiction of those two classic concepts. We are left both astounded and perplexed.


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