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Wednesday, January 7, 2015


8 1/2 (1963) was my first Fellini film. (Well... second, but Toby Dammit is more like a short, so I don't count it). As I consider, "What the Hell is going on?" to be the most refreshing of sensations, I find all of Fellini's work (at least all that I have witnessed thus far) highly enjoyable. It's not pure entertainment, however. There is a gravity to the often raucous absurdity, as evidenced in this piece. His work is heady. It demands participation. His camera work is assertive to the point where the audience can often feel like the characters/actors are invading their personal space. The effect is absorption to the point of losing oneself.

But then, this is just the point, isn't it? Fellini breaks the fourth wall and makes the screen not just a projection but a reflection of the interior world. The heightened and exaggerated attitudes and manners of his actors/storylines (Juliet of the Spirits, La Dolce Vita) are unreal in their physicality but authentic in their representation. His is not a camera turned around on the world but one that instead turns the world inside out, letting all the mania, sadism, fear, and loneliness drip out-- sometimes from a fountain. In this case, it is a depiction of himself-- a director in search of a film-- that sets the stage for one of his most iconic works. 

Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a filmmaker at the top of his game who feels the ground caving under him. The pressure to come up with another feat of cinematic genius haunts him like the artistic plague, and to avoid confrontation with possible failure, he becomes a victim of his own fantasies. His interactions with the ghosts of his past-- memories of encounters from his childhood that effected his perceptions of men, women, sex, religion, power, etc-- sometimes assault him as a cavalcade of alarming indiscretions and other times comfort him with innocent indulgence and escapism. 

In the end, the film isn't Portrait of the Artist as a Madman but as a man period-- an average man, cloaked with decades of life and personal experiences that are carried inside him, affecting his work, his sanity, his marriage, and his confidence. We are all gratuitous mirages of ourselves who seek to camouflage the meek child within, hounded by the knowledge of what we have seen and done and forever trying to either compensate or outrun these alleged sins in order to accomplish... something we can't even define. Heaven? Happiness? Reprieve? Liberty? Death?

The question for Guido is: will his next work be able to purge his soul for a few brief moments before the next harassment begins? Can we ever be free of ourselves or are we condemned to suffer, suffocate, and finally submit to our burdens? As a director and perpetual storyteller, Guido's curse is his pleasure is his curse. Or Fellini's curse:

"I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say. Something useful to everybody. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves. Instead, I'm the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same."

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