Archive Review: 8 1/2 (1963)

For those of you considering Nine as your Christmas weekend movie, here’s a little insight into where it came from, “8 1/2” by Federico Fellini.


There are many different ways to look at Federico Fellini’s masterpiece, “8 1/2,” and the one you choose ultimately determines how well you understand and enjoy the film. There are broad lenses that capture the bigger picture of fictional film director Guido Anselmi’s creative block and the tighter lenses that zero in on Fellini’s creative choices during imaginary sequences and their underlying messages. For the average viewer, the big picture lens — if you can keep that perspective the entire length of the film — will earn the more favorable response. It’s the artist, however, anyone who watches this film that has struggled to create, ever, who will love it most.

With the title actually referring to the number of films Fellini had made, “8 1/2” is clearly a personal endeavor. It is an acting out of his own personal struggles as an artist by having his main character imagine his own struggles. Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) has a number of women in his life — a wife, mistress, a couple actresses — even brief acquaintances that have stuck with him somehow. Juggling them all in his mind, he tries to make sense of them all together but can’t do it without favoring certain ones and his attempt to use this as the basis for his film fails him.

He also wants to create something meaningful to people — something truthful. Nothing purely escapist, but still effectively consoling. Holding himself to this standard, he is able to achieve nothing artistically with regard to his “upcoming film,” completely unable to satisfy himself, his producer or anyone else in his life for that matter.

The result of “8 1/2” is a discussion of the purpose and role of art. Is it purposeful or purposeless? Meaningful or ultimately meaningless? The surrealist quality of the film reflects the chaos of addressing that very subject. There is a futility in attempting to create art that fully and completely encompasses and reflects truth and reality and that in itself is the point of art. It’s the beginning of what could be an endless discussion and that’s yet another characteristic of exceptional art.

Fellini has made this discussion come to life in an evocative way and one that is just as cognizant of relationship drama as it is about relationships being artistic inspiration. There are countless aspects to analyze as a result and it makes “8 1/2” one of those “Film Studies 101” movies.

4.5/5 Stars

8 1/2
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo


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