8 ½

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #140: Fed­eri­co Fellini’s 8 ½.

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Cin­e­ma is the art form that lends itself most eas­i­ly to post­mod­ernism and 8 ½ is the most snug­ly post­mod­ern film I’ve seen in a long time. Self-reflex­iv­i­ty is its bread and but­ter, and while that may be gim­micky now, it was right­ly pow­er­ful when this film was ini­tial­ly released. Oth­er stan­dards of pomo per­me­ate the struc­ture and the die­ge­sis, name­ly a heavy help­ing of sym­bol­ism, and a decon­struc­tive psy­cho­analy­sis of the main character’s exis­ten­tial cri­sis. With such rich fod­der for the lit crit and cinecrit crowd, it is no won­der this film is so talked about. I even won­der if its advent, cou­pled with auteur the­o­ry, cat­alyzed the homog­e­niza­tion of direc­to­r­i­al-based film crit­i­cism, where every­thing becomes auto-bio­graph­i­cal. Which came first, the direc­tor or his crit­ic?

While the film is pret­ty good, it doesn’t make me cream my jeans, or even want to watch it again, real­ly. This is not the film’s fault. For some unknown rea­son, like most Ital­ian cin­e­ma, it just isn’t to my taste. The cin­e­matog­ra­phy and mise-en-scene are near­ly per­fect, but the pace and inter­nal­ized cri­sis dragged a bit for me. Gui­do is obvi­ous­ly com­plete­ly inde­ci­sive and has been occlud­ing this for months by only talk­ing halfway to every­one who cross­es his path. The ten­sion betwen desire and duty plays itself out in dream sequences that indi­cate that the inde­ci­sion is present because Guido’s cur­rent focus is on infi­deli­ty, or, per­haps, an exam­i­na­tion of his abil­i­ty to love. Gui­do is piti­ful, not because he is such a bas­tard, but because he has a near­ly per­fect life and hasn’t learned how to appre­ci­ate it.

The self-reflex­iv­i­ty ulti­mate­ly dis­in­te­grates, since Guido’s film does not get made, but Fellini’s goes on to gar­ner great fame. This adds a lay­er of irony that I think was like­ly inten­tion­al, but makes the sense of the film a bit too murky for my taste, like a cake with too much frost­ing. Maybe I just haven’t learned to appre­ci­ate it.

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Cri­te­ri­on excerpt from I, Felli­ni by Fed­eri­co Felli­ni
Cri­te­ri­on essay by Tulio Kezich
Cri­te­ri­on essay by Alexan­der Sesonske
Cri­te­ri­on excerpt from I, Felli­ni (reprise) by Fed­eri­co Felli­ni