26th February 2013
And so to my second randomly selected title from the Sight & Sound critic's top 10. I don't have a great record with Fellini. Back when I thought I was cool for watching foreign language films (and i do mean WAY back), I recorded La Dolce Vita off the telly. It was probably on at 1am on Channel 4, before Film4 or any channel beyond 4 existed. Yup, even before Channel 5 launched in a massive fanfare with the premiere of Speed. About five years after it was released at the cinema. Anyway, the VHS sat and gathered dust in much the same way the DVD of Norwegian Wood is gathering dust now. Until I was finally inspired to watch it. Or at least the first twenty minutes. At which point I gave up. Never to return to one of cinema's feted writer / directors. Until now.
In case you're a complete heathen like myself, 8½ is the story of a writer / director stuck in the middle of a film he seemingly has no script for or control of. As he daydreams his way through the catastrophic shoot, a variety of character spin in and out of focus causing him all manner of agonies to pile on the agonies he seems determined to pile on himself.
Obviously autobiographical, Fellini continually blurs the line between fiction and reality to the point where you are as dazed and confused as his main character. Moments of obvious desire to escape (climbing out of a car in a traffic jam, a fantastic shot of the director's foot as he is manhandled like a kite in midair) mingle with braying stars, angry producers, spoiled lovers and an increasingly disinterested spouse. Through all this, Mastroianni is the epitome of looking cool, even as we slip into his subconscious revealing his deep seated guilt and all manner of other abandonment issues (at one stage his lover morphs into his mother as they kiss). Trapped between guilt, wanting to make a truthful film and an overwhelming desire to escape, the film does not go to plan.
Through all this, repeated visits are made to an ever expanding set of a life-sized rocket, seeming to visually represent the weight that the director is building up on his own back. The actual film is never brought into focus, forever being the backdrop for the director's struggle with his own mind.
It's easy to see why this appears in this top ten and makes an even higher entry into the Director's Top Ten (at number 4). It throws a deluge of ideas and themes into the chaos that surrounds making a movie brilliantly shows the artist's never ending struggle to be creative without cheating. Which on this evidence, is pretty much impossible.