by Roderick Heath
Note: This review of “8 1/2″ originally appeared at ‘Ferdy-on-Films’ on September 13, 2009.
Federico Fellini’s signature opus is a film that, nearly a half-century ago, was the height of demanding modernism in the cinema. 8½ shook the landscape by challenging filmmakers to match its new, innately personal cinema spun purely out of its creator’s perspective and psyche and thereby establishing a new argot for exploring creative endeavour in movies. More loudly, too, if not necessarily more artfully, than any other director of the ground-breaking generation to create and work within Italian Neorealism, Fellini abandoned mere reportage and circumstantial study, and pushed deeply into metaphor, associative epiphany, psychology, and personal mystery, rather than analysis, explication, and the traditional demarcations of the social conscience film. He did not abandon such a conscience or method, but radically altered the way that he organised his responses to it, hunting for a way to dovetail the inner crisis with a common sense of anxiety and malaise.
An irony of this was that 8½ established its own personality cult, allowing student and commercial filmmakers, and other artists, to pinch its effects, images, and methods of realising intellectual autobiography. 8½’s inherent individuality was alchemised into public code, its pictorial quirks converted into pop art, for Fellini had a way of generating imagery that lodged in the minds of his contemporaries, as rockers like Bob Dylan and The Doors referenced his films in their songs and record covers, and Woody Allen quoted it endlessly in films like Annie Hall (1977). It’s hard to imagine other, key works by such diverse brethren as Scorsese and Coppola, Nanni Morretti, Charlie Kaufman, Bob Fosse, or Emir Kusturica without its example. 8½ was also a dividing point in Fellini’s career, after which he took up a kind of free-form fresco filmmaking, which bugged the hell out of many. (more…)