Top 250 Tuesday: #010 – 8 1/2 (1963)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #10 on the list, Federico Felliini‘s 8 1/2. For a longer introduction and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll be posting that info later in the day.

8It’s not that I didn’t “get” Federico Fellini‘s 8 1/2. It’s not even that I didn’t enjoy it. The truth is, though, that it’s simply one of those films that, now that I’ve seen it, I have a feeling that, unlike a lot of the movies at the top of this list, I probably won’t feel that need or desire to visit again, and certainly not any time soon.

8 1/2 (the title is a translation of its Italian original, Otto e mezzo and is a reference to its being the creator’s eight and one-halfth feature film) is the story of film maker Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) who is experiencing an incredibly severe case of writer’s block as he tries to figure out exactly what his latest movie is all about. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that he is currently actively engaged in the production of the film. It’s also the story of a man going through a mid-life crisis as he tries to figure out what his priorities really are and how to balance his reputation as an innovator, a charismatic lover, and his supposed deep-felt love for both his mistress and his wife.

It’s also something of a surrealistic film that continuously and actively works to pull the rug out from under the viewer by presenting its story not only through flashbacks and dream sequences, but also through images on the set of the film and parts that seem to be taking place only in Anselmi’s imagination, and though there are clues as to how these disperate parts all come together, in the end, Fellini leaves much of the interpretation of what is presented on the screen – and the reality or unreality of it – to the interpretation of the viewer.

8 1/2, Marcello Mastroianni, 1963As a film, 8 1/2 is considered a masterpiece, and it’s easy to see why. It is impeccably and imaginatively shot, and while there are definitely times when, especially on a first viewing and without further consideration, the viewer may very well find himself feeling lost or even thinking perhaps that Fellini, much like his protagonist, may have lost control of his creation, it is easy to see by the end that it all comes together quite well. It is also a movie that does what every truly great film does, in that it melds sight and sound – the images on the screen, the dialogue, even the music and sound effects – into a singular whole that could not be separated or presented in any other way or format.

It is also a movie that has, over time, been incredibly influential on other film makers, probably most notably and directly at least for modern American audiences Bob Fosse‘s 1979 musical All That Jazz which parallels this film in so many ways it could probably be the closest thing to a remake that one could think of without actually being one – though that is far from the only one.

8.2So why did I say at the beginning of this article that now that I’ve seen this film I probably won’t be watching it again or delving deeper into it anytime soon? I suppose the reason is that for all of it’s technical “rightness”, for all of it’s innovation and creativity, there is one thing that, in the end, it seems to be lacking. A heart. Perhaps this is also a choice on the part of Fellini, it does parallel one of the problems facing it’s protagonist who is often questioned about and seems himself to question, whether he is truly capable of being a loving person or even if he knows what love is. Even if that is the case, however, it also serves to undercut the actual heart of the film and leaves it feeling more like an exercise in technical brilliance and achievement than the truly personal statement that one rather wishes (and suspects Fellini intended) it to be.

Nonetheless, it is a film that I recommend viewing, and one that I am glad that I have. Bot for now, for me, I think once is enough.

Here’s the trailer:

So what are your thoughts on 8 1/2? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.

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6 comments on “Top 250 Tuesday: #010 – 8 1/2 (1963)

  1. jcalberta says:

    You make a good point: A great film … artistically … even a film that’s a breakthrough in statement, culture, technical merit, may not be a Classic – in my own sense of the definition – being that it’s a movie I can watch over and over again. Some of the great movies are not fun to watch again – though we can understand their historical importance.

    • Michael Laws says:

      Thanks! Yeah, I suppose rewatchability (which is definitely a subjective measure) really is a part of my own measure of a “classic”. It’s definitely something I consider when I’m asked for a list of “favorite” movies, or even just recommendations. Of course, that’s also one of the differences I suppose between a list of “my favorites” and movies I consider “great”.

  2. Beer Movie says:

    I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed by this one. Just felt a little distant from it. Definitely not a bad film by any means, just not a personal favourite. La Strada is my favourite Fellini film and one that I could engage with a whole lot more.

    • Michael Laws says:

      Yeah, “felt a little distant from it” kind of sums up my reaction well, too, and I was kind of surprised considering how highly it continuously ranks, not just in this poll, but others as well. Ah, well, I guess that’s where personal opinion comes into play. eh?

  3. […] 1929) [68 votes] 009 (9)- The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927) [65 votes] 010 (10) – 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963) [64 votes] 011 (11)- Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925) [63 votes] 012 (12) […]

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