Monday, December 21, 2009
Reeling Backward: "8½"
Before I watched "Nine," the musical film based on the Broadway show based on Federico Fellini's 1963 film "8½," I figured I'd better watch the original.
After doing so, I have to admit I feel pretty much the same way about it as I did "Nine." Here's what I wrote in that review:
"I'm not a big fan of movies about tortured artists. Whenever a film endeavors to convince us how much people who paint or write or direct have to suffer for their art, it makes me want to watch them dig sewage ditches or teach at an inner-city high school, just so they'd know what real hardship is. Filmmakers using their art medium to contemplate their own role in creating it just strikes me as wretchedly narcissistic."
I still enjoyed Fellini's film, even though "8½" is the very essence of self-indulgence. This is a movie in which the filmmaker expresses his ambivalence and confusion about his role as a maker of movies, and his life in general.
Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido, a 43-year-old director just coming off his greatest success. It's time to start work on a new film, but his personal life is in a shambles. Meanwhile, his producer is pushing him to start production immediately on his most ambitious (and expensive) movie yet, while his writing collaborator wastes no opportunity to talk about how bad his new script is.
The story, such as it is, unspools as a collection of fantasies and memories, the one often bleeding into another. Mostly they're about the women in Guido's life, how they've influenced him and how he's mistreated them. At the center is his wife Luisa, played by the stunning Anouk Aimee. She's almost contented herself with his constant philandering, but cannot reconcile his lying about it.
As the story opens, Guido has fled to a remote spa to recover his health and sanity, but the production follows in his wake. He invites Luisa to join him, even though he's already set up his mistress in a nearby hotel.
The central fantasy sequence is one in which Guido imagines himself the lord and master of a household filled with a harem of women. They dote on him, wash him, even carry him around like a baby. But when one of the older women protests at being sent "upstairs," it sparks a revolt that forces Guido to fight off his female antagonists with a whip, like a lion tamer.
I have not seen a lot of Fellini -- my first experience was with the excellent "La Strada" from a few years earlier, before the director became fascinated with spectacle. I must say I found the march of numerous faces difficult to follow, particularly some of the women he sprinkles around the film.
"8½" is a very personal film, I think, about a man trying to sort out the demons inside his head and heart. It makes for an interesting journey into the filmmaker's soul, but I'm not sure I'd want to spend more than a brief vacation there.