A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)

Marcello Mastroianni in 8 1/2
Guido Anselmi: Marcello Mastroianni
Claudia: Claudia Cardinale
Louisa Anselmi: Anouk Aimée
Carla: Sandra Milo
Rossella: Rossella Falk
Gloria Morin: Barbara Steele
Madeleine: Madeleine Lebeau
La Saraghina: Eddra Gale
Pace, a Producer: Guido Alberti
Carini Daumier, a Film Critic: Jean Rouguel

Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi
Cinematography: Gianni Di Venanzo
Production design: Piero Gherardi
Music: Nino Rota

At one point in 8 1/2 an actress playing a film critic turns to the camera and brays (in English), "He has nothing to say!", referring to Guido Anselmi, the director Marcello Mastroianni plays and, by extension, to Fellini himself. And that's quite true: Fellini has nothing to say because reducing 8 1/2 to a message would miss the film's point. Guido finds himself creatively blocked because he's trying to say something, except he doesn't know what it is. He has even enlisted a film critic to aid him in clarifying his ideas, but the critic only muddles things by his constant monologue about Guido's failure. Add to this the fact that after a breakdown Guido has retreated to a spa to try to relax and focus, only to be pursued there by a gaggle of producers and crew members and actors, not to mention his mistress and his wife. Guido's consciousness becomes a welter of dreams and memories and fantasies, overlapping with the quotidian demands of making a movie and tending to a failed marriage. He is also pursued by a vision of purity that he embodies in the actress Claudia Cardinale, but when they finally meet he realizes how impossible it is to integrate this vision with the mess of his life. Only at the end, when he abandons the project and confronts the fact that he really does have nothing to say, can he realize that the mess is the message, that his art has to be a way of establishing a pattern out of his own life, embodied by those who have populated it dancing in a circle to Nino Rota's music in the ruins of the colossal set of his abandoned movie. The first time I saw this film it was dubbed into German, which I could understand only if it was spoken slowly and patiently, which it wasn't. Even so, I had no trouble following the story (such as it is) because Fellini is primarily a visual artist. Besides, the movie starred Mastroianni, who would have made a great silent film star, communicating as he did with face and body as much as with voice. It is, I think, one of the great performances of a great career. 8 1/2 is also one of the most beautiful black-and-white movies ever made, thanks to the superb cinematography of Gianni Di Venanzo and the brilliant production design and costumes of Piero Gherardi.

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