Wednesday, September 25, 2013

David's Top Ten - #1 - 8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963)

1. 8 1/2 - Federico Fellini, 1963

          I have yet to see a character study more complex, challenging, or innovative than Federico 8 ½.  While it is not the most perfect film I have ever seen, it is the most cinematically exciting, fluidly interweaving moments pulled from its filmmaker-protagonist Guido’s dreams, daydreams, memories, and present realities while also commenting on the nature of the creative process, both for an artist and an audience.  It is a film that humbly speaks to the burden of success while also challenging viewer suppositions regarding the authenticity of its subject matter.  Fellini creates a protagonist that mirrors himself, and his pains feel inspired and true, but he also playfully pokes his audience to ask how much is reality, how much is fiction, and whether that matters in the end.  The film is ultimately profound not because it provides answers, but because it pushes us to ask questions.
          From a broad view, the film is about the pressure to produce.  As Guido struggles to conceptualize his next film in the face of his producer, screenwriter, and cast’s pleadings, we lament with him the burden of achievement and the monetization of creativity.  Fellini, of course, does not really decry his status as a famous filmmaker, but he does draw attention to the many influences on artists if they are so lucky to find fame.  Likewise, all who display their own talents, whether they be artistic or otherwise, and are found desirable will face a similar reality – they can never return to their humble beginnings, and will always be held to the standard of their previous work.  As the film builds on this theme, it becomes increasingly exhausting and harried until catharsis is finally found in defeat.  The film’s conclusion negates many of its questions without trivializing them.  While there certainly are reasons to be wary of business interests in the creative process and the unduly worship of artists, Fellini ultimately calls his fellow artists and viewers alike to celebrate the joys of life apart from the expectations of others.  By recognizing his own inability to control or appease others, Guido is free to enjoy the process rather than any resulting acclaim.  After all, due to the collaborative process of producing films, his films are not purely his own anyway.
Guido, Guido, Guido
          What is amazing about 8 ½ is that these themes are communicated in the midst of an engaging and very personal portrait.  Fellini’s presence as the film’s creator is intentionally evident, and he creates a sense that he is actively fighting for the film to be about Guido as a man.  By injecting his voice into the film, and concurrently commenting on the forces working against the presence of such a voice, there is a feeling that each scene represents a battle lost or won.  For Fellini, each film represents is a fight to preserve a personal voice; a fight many filmmakers understandably concede.  It is amazing to me that this fight feels genuine despite the fact that, on reflection, it is intentionally communicated.  There is no denying that, despite the many and varied influences on his work, Fellini was an artist strong enough to recognizably assert his voice above the shouting demands of his audiences and collaborators.  With 8 ½, we are invited to witness his victory.

Chelsea's Response: 
          By the time 1963 rolled around and Fellini began work on his ninth film, 8 ½  he had already made quite a few masterworks and was a celebrated director.  8 ½ is, in turn, about a celebrated director attempting to make his ninth film.  As such, it is incredibly postmodern, and certainly way ahead of its time.  It still feels new and exciting today.  While Fellini may have in reality struggled to come up with 8 ½  the film's protagonist Guido truly comes up blank.  As many of us do, he searches and longs for that perfect bit of inspiration which will somehow save the day, but finds it doesn’t exist.
Staggering Setpieces
          I first saw 8 ½ many years ago, when we were dating, and I must admit I was confused by 8 ½ on 35mm.  What could I do but throw a birthday party that included a screening of 8 ½   By my second viewing, I had seen and grown to love several other Fellini films and had come to appreciate his contemplative rhythms, and I found that I loved it.  It was exciting and entertaining, throwing dizzying dreams at its audience and never once holding our hands.  It was visually beautiful, full of staggering and audacious set pieces.  And it was oddly honest, even as it was full of artifice.  I was thrilled.
it.  I didn’t understand Fellini’s cinematic language.  While it was still entertaining and had a brilliantly drawn central character, I didn’t quite know what the fuss was about, sighing that I would have to wait and watch it again.  Years later, David’s birthday rolled around and our local (read: two blocks away) microcinema decided to show
          Moral of the story: some films require a second look to reveal their riches, and like someone developing a taste for fine wine, sometimes those riches can only be found with a fuller and more experienced understanding of cinema's language.

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