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.
• 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