Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2

I reviewed Fellini’s 8 1/2 for Cine-File Chicago ahead of a couple of revival screenings at the Gene Siskel Film Center this weekend.

Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (Italy)
Gene Siskel Film Center – Saturday, 3pm and Sunday, 6:30pm

Life imitates art and art imitates life in Federico Fellini’s 1963 masterpiece, a thinly disguised autobiographical study of an Italian filmmaker, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni, naturally), fighting director’s block while making a science-fiction epic. 8 1/2 proved to be exactly the right movie for its cultural moment, as cinematic new waves were cropping up all over the world and the auteurist notion that a film could be (and indeed should be) seen as the personal expression of a single individual was filtering down from critics to the general moviegoing public. Of course, an intuitive director like Fellini wasn’t consciously trying to capture the zeitgeist but merely throwing his own confusion about life, love, and art up on the screen (the film’s original title, THE BEAUTIFUL CONFUSION, would have been apt). Fellini also had no way of knowing that the innovative way he showed the collision of his protagonist’s fantasies, dreams, and childhood memories—most of which pertain to Guido’s struggles with religion and/or the women in his life—would exert such a massive influence on future filmmakers. Everyone from Woody Allen (STARDUST MEMORIES) to Bob Fosse (ALL THAT JAZZ) to Paul Mazursky (ALEX IN WONDERLAND and THE PICKLE) unofficially remade it (while, ironically, the official remake, the Hollywood musical NINE, proved to be an impersonal work-for-hire for director Rob Marshall). As Dave Kehr perceptively noted, “There’s something about the concept (stuck for an idea for his new movie, a director takes a long, hard look at his own life) that appeals irresistibly to the ego of the professional filmmaker. For directors frustrated by the eternal obscurity of life behind the camera, the 8 1/2 formula gives them a way to step forward and grab the spotlight they’ve trained so long on others.” Fellini may never again have ascended to the level of greatness he displayed here, even though he repeatedly mined similar subject matter, but 8 1/2 remains a dizzying career high. (1963, 138 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

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