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

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