8 ½, Federico Fellini, 1963, Italy.
When I was younger I was a cyclist. I rode every day for over 20 years, with the occasional break for snow and sickness. As a consequence, I was quite fit, in fact very fit indeed. I rode with quite good riders with a couple of local “pros” and one who actually was on a Belgian professional team. I was not the fastest or best, but not for lack of skill or fitness. It comes down to genetic makeup, and how our bodies respond to high levels of lactic acid. So maybe my legs are a bit short and I didn’t have quite the right ratio of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers to be a professional. In pseudo medical terms, when my heart-rate was maxed out, the local pros had a bit more to give, the Belgian racer had one more internal “gear,” so he blew everybody away, and the professionals that ride (for instance) in the Tour de France have yet another gear over him! So when we watch bicycle races on TV or even real life, and imagine we could do that maybe (given time to be fit like that etc. ) we may actually be incorrect. We would have to have the requisite body genetics first. It is no wonder why cycling is rife with drug abuse as this genetic issue cannot be “made up!” It is simply a gift, and when used well, it creates a bit of magic.
Why start a film review with this diatribe on cyclist fitness levels? Well, it is appropriate here. It is likely true that people who would bother to read film reviews like this one are also likely to at the very least fantasize about making their own films. Some do make films, and some will. But just like the cyclist watching the Tour de France, it is an illusion to imagine we can make a film like this. The word “Masterwork” is overused in our culture today, more of a marketers pipe dream then a reality most of the time. Yet here, it is the only proper word to use to describe it. This is a masterwork from Federico Fellini. It is so exquisite in its detail and complexity as to be nearly impossible to grasp. I want everyone who reads this to imagine being given the task to write the screenplay for this movie. Where do you even begin? How do you even write a treatment on this film? And we can cheat, it is already done! I don’t imagine too many filmmakers, even given the genetic structure to do it, would have the nerve to pitch this idea today… That is sad actually.
So lets talk about this movie.
This movie is said to be “The greatest film about films ever made.” (From the Criterion cover) and maybe it is, but it isn’t really about film after all, but about life and all its complexities.
I was more than a bit intimidated by its 138 minute run time and left it on the shelf for a long time because of it. When I watched it I found it to be not nearly that long mentally, although it does run that time on the clock. Perhaps it is because the first thing I noted was how it is made up of a thousand small stories with “payoffs” coming within a few scenes, as opposed to (just say) a mystery movie that gives the clues throughout the story until the final reveal which is its only payoff. There is a flow to it that you find yourself following along, and caring to continue. I found a rather profound irony in that I was beginning to wonder how it was going to end, as the counter was getting up there and I couldn’t imagine a resolution. It suddenly occurred to me that that was precisely the main characters problem as well, among a myriad of others! It wasn’t some sort of gimmick, it just naturally puts you there, worried for the film within the film and the film itself. The film is a blend of fantasy and reality, with the reality often played as farcical melodrama.Yet, even in the fantasy sequences, it is so poignant that at times it is as true to life as any moment we will ever see. There is a religious element that is a good example of this. The film calls it an “Italian catholic consciousness.” and plays it out (in part) as a melodramatic form of flashback dream and yet it touches on truths of catholic consciousness that certainly cross the Italian border!
The cinematography is clear and crisp, camera movements and any effects used efficiently and when necessary, you don’t really think much on it actually. So while this is good in a “not at all irritating” way, on the whole it doesn’t blow you away with visual beauty. (With strong exceptions!). The direction is master class and the editing keeps the story pacing well, tonal values in check, and it flows more or less in a linear way. The acting is compelling, yet somewhat hard to define as the surreal and the real seem to blend and flow at times so you may be thinking something is melodramatic yet it is sensible for the scene. The most basic storyline is easy to follow, but it is a bit player to the multiple small story lines throughout, it is a true privlidge and delight to see this film… Is there anything to complain about? Well, there is something that I would pick on, if only because I have been picked on for it so many times: When I write essays or term papers and the like, they usually have great ambition. So while many are struggling to find that 1500th word, I am struggling to figure out how to condense it a bit, maybe use single space instead of double to make it seem a bit shorter… So I have been told that I should keep it a bit less ambitious, no need to write a book. This movie touches on so many things on so many levels that even though it is done remarkably well, it is really really ambitious! It probably would still have a similarly deep impact had it been done more simply… although we will never know and frankly, we are probably better off for it. I am going to rate this movie 4 stars because it deserves and earns it. I don’t know if on a highly personal level it reaches quite there, maybe three and a half, but I am trying to keep my ratings objective.
This movie has plenty of women in various states of dress and undress, and it does explore many aspects of sexual dynamics between men and women, yet it isn’t out to exploit or give any cheap thrills. I suppose there are scenes, and both male and female actresses, that are easy on the eyes, and there is not that “Hollywood” mysterious absence of sexuality which is a thorn in my side… There are some lovely filmed scenes that are worth seeing. I will go with a 1 ½ on the kink scale
8 ½, Federico Fellini, 1963, Italy.