8 1/2

This is the first film from The Great Movies that I haven't ever seen. I know of Federico Fellini, but I've never actually watched any of his films, which is sort of embarrassing to admit. So, the first Fellini film I have ever seen, officially, is 8 1/2 (1963). Unfortunately, I had a less than ideal viewing experience - I was trying to watch this film on Netflix, where it was streaming. Strangely, the captions at the bottom were cut off on my TV, and you could barely make out the tops of the letters. I ended up having to watch it, windowed, on my computer, which was much more frustrating and uncomfortable, obviously. I still really enjoyed this movie, though. Being so unfamiliar with Fellini, I feel like I might not understand it very well yet. The more films you see by one director, the more you are comfortable with the types of characters they use, the visuals they tend to rely on, things of that matter - but I don't know anything that Fellini does normally. In Ebert's review, he writes a lot about 8 1/2 as compared to Fellini's other films, so I am lacking some appreciation for it. Maybe as I go on and watch more of his works, I will be able to come back and watch this again when this project is over, and maybe I can better understand what Ebert was writing about.

I really did enjoy the film, though. I've seen a lot of great movies about filmmaking, but this one is rather incredible. I love that it focuses not on production crews bumbling around and doofy actors, but on the pressures that a director faces as an artist. The main character of the film, Guido Anselmi (who is basically Fellini), is suffering from "director's block". He has this huge expensive set built for a sci-fi film, but loses all interest and passion for it. Fellini shows how difficult it is for an artist to have to produce art on demand - to make something beautiful and meaningful and personal when the public wants it. I really loved the scene where Guido is bombarded by press, all asking him stupid questions about his work, his producer yelling at him, and he eventually crawls under the table to avoid speaking to anyone. I'm not personally familiar with the pressures that artists face when their work is public, but I can understand. As a writer, I can relate to the frustration and apathy that can happen during projects - I always end up hating what I am working on and wanting to stop. I liked this angle that Fellini used in the film, it felt like a very new and interesting way to make a film about film, and I could empathize with Guido's struggle (and therefore, with Fellini).

It is a very beautiful film to look at, as well. It made me think of something one of my friends told me once when we were talking about literature. He mentioned that maybe not everyone can understand or like Shakespeare or Jane Austen, but everyone is able to recognize that they are beautifully written. I really felt this way about this film. Even if you cannot muster any feelings for Guido or any of the characters, it is so visually pleasing to look at.  There was so much movement to each shot, and energy. The contrast of the black and white was simply stunning to look at. It felt like there was something bubbling under the surface of each shot, a pulsing energy moving the film along. It's sort of funny it looks and feels so alive and energized, considering it's about having director's block, and the struggle to focus. The script and cinematography are both so incredibly tight, which makes for a really great opposition.

In Ebert's essay, he writes a lot about how others speak about Fellini's body of work - that his films that were about realistic things were much better than his more personal films such as this one. I didn't really know this (being ignorant of the subject at hand), so it was nice to get some background about the film, even if I was just like, "Oh, they say that? Well. Now I know," about the information. Ebert writes,"What we think of as Felliniesque comes to full flower in "La Dolce Vita" and "8 1/2" (The Great Movies, 12). I sort of laughed when I read this - I don't think of anything as Felliniesuqe yet! I know that several of his other films are on my list to be watched, so I hope as I watch them, I can better understand 8 1/2, and Fellini.  Ebert also wrote about a lot of the personal things that Fellini liked and experienced that influenced this film, such as his love of circuses. It was interesting to know that, since a lot of the scenes in the film, especially the large parade of sorts at the end, have a definite circus feel to them, and I was curious why (because I really don't like circuses, so I wanted to know if he was trying to show that the parade was a good thing, or a grotesque thing...my instinct and hatred of circuses made me find it more grotesque than good, at first.). It was really great to be able to watch this movie and then follow it up with Ebert's essay, since it did fill in some blanks for me, and helped me to understand the reasons that this film is so important. I really want to come back to this later, when I know more about Fellini and have watched more of his films, and can think about it a bit more constructively. Maybe when I watch it again, I won't have to struggle with captioning issues and migraine headache at the same time (which explains for why this post is a bit more lack luster than normal!)

This movie was also recently and inexplicably remade, titled Nine and directed by Rob Marshall. Even not having a great history of loving Fellini, I can't imagine this. I saw the trailer before, when it was in theaters, and remember thinking that it sounded and looked like Marshall's other film, Chicago, almost exactly. Watching it again, it seems so far off from what I liked about 8 1/2. I loved the memories that Guido had of the whore that he watched as a child, and then was punished in Catholic school for his lustful, shameful feelings. And of course Nine is just all sex and sequins and no guilt. Everyone loves Catholic guilt. I'm glad I never saw Nine. I will continue to be glad of this. Watch 8 1/2, it's better. I can tell.

Ebert's Great Movie Essay
Original Trailer
Trailer for Nine
Ebert's review of Nine
8 1/2 is currently streaming on Netflix, but I do caution against it if only for the screwed up captions that seem to appear when you watch it full-screen or on your TV. Do go out and rent it, though, or watch it windowed on a big monitor. Hopefully Netflix will fix this issue soon.

Happy Holidays!

The 400 Blows