This blog is part of the courses on film, art, literature, and media
given by Dr.
Hudson Moura, Toronto, Canada.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Beautiful Confusion in Fellini's 8 1/2
8 1/2 was a liberating film for cinema as a whole. In the first sequence, the camera itself is a major character in the film, as is the fact that it was recorded without sound--and the audio segments were actually spliced in later. It is spiced with tones of anxiety and unreality in the shots, from the bus loaded of arms without faces, to the ugliness of nearly every character in the cars.

Much of the film is centered on Guido's dreams, and his complex reality of truth, lies, and fantasy. Guido--incredible portrayed by Marcello Mastroianni, Fellini’s alter-ego--is clearly a mirror of Fellini himself, and thus 8 1/2 is a film about making a film, and a film about itself. Guido is essentially this director who has run out of ideas of material. This process of self-questioning is begun by projecting his childhood memories into his current state.

Of course this dual-reality Guido begins living in the dream world of reality and fantasy, as well as the past, the future, and the present all at once. He sees his ordinary, everyday life through his artistic lens. He is incapable to leave this world he has created for himself. He not only had merged his past and present states, but also his professional and personal lives. In Guido's reality, home and work were one in the same. He was literally producing a film about himself (which Fellini was doing as well).

8 1/2 is full of Catholicism imagery and symbolism. From the train station resembling a cathedral to the motif of cleaning something that isn't there, 8 1/2 critiques not only Guido/Fellini's life, but also the current state of Italian-Catholic life. In 8 1/2, all that occurs is possible, but improbable. The elevator resembling a confessional booth, and Guido feeling this oppressing force upon him in the elevator (which in reality would've been claustrophobia) and thus trying to escape is rather comical. Something Fellini always reminded his cast, "8 1/2 is a comedy"--but was it? Or, did he just want his characters to act in a comedic style so express how he was feeling as though he was on the outside of someone else's inside joke?

When he arrives at the hotel, there is a flood of various languages and dialects being spoken, the confusion of Guido's soul is represented in this sequence, as he cannot understand what is going on. This is another allusion to the theme of Guido as a man-child who, while an adult, is mentally very young and naive, and thus not understanding what is being said around him. 

In the sequence with the priests on the beach, trying to catch young Guido who is running away after meeting La Saraghina, Fellini references silent film by speeding up the sequence and providing no dialogue, just rapid music. Guido is finally caught and taken back to his school to be punished for meeting a prostitute and running from the priests--there is a moment where we see that the priest who is disciplining Guido is identical to the dead priests--perhaps this is another critique of the Catholic church being outdated and backward. It is ironic, with Fellini's love of women, to have him cast women to play the priests in the punishment sequence-- this is to show how misguided Catholicism has caused problems in the fact that it both generates fear and guilt--and releases its members from fear, all at once. Guido, after receiving his punishments, finally bows in front of a statue of The Virgin Mary who when the camera cuts to her face, is identical to Catarina Barato (a symbol of the cinema during Guido's childhood). This is representational of the Cinema as Guido's (and Fellini's) Church.

Later in the film, there is a sequence in which Guido goes to a steam bath type spa. The images used in this case display a sort of dissent into hell, which resembles the images Dante used to describe his Inferno. In this pseudo-Hell that is the steam bath, Guido finds the Cardinal and goes to speak with him about his project. It is incredibly interesting that Fellini would place religious leaders in this very carnal and hell-ish atmosphere. Perhaps he was trying to point out how contradictory and imprecise the Catholic Church is/was.

Guido really seems to struggle with the issue of his art and his life becoming one. He can, essentially, be an incredible artist without the ability to love, or accept mediocrity as an artist and be happy, and find that love he is looking for. Guido has come to ignore the fact that there are more important things than work. This reminds him of La Saraghina who was a prostitute who lived on the beach near his hometown. She was basically the thing that corrupted him and gave him this skewed vision of what love/sex/life was/is.


Guido's mistress, Carla, is comparable to La Saraghina. Carla harbors many of the characteristics attributed to La Saraghina and is the temptress in Guido's adult life. When Guido was a little boy, and he and the boys from his school went to visit La Saraghina she took their money, smoothed her dress, exposed herself to them, and then performed a dance. The La Saraghina's movements every time is seen as mirror reflections of Carla's movements. The only real difference between the characters is that Carla is not fat and ugly and disgruntled, like La Saraghina; which is probably just Guido's taste in women's appearance evolving as he ages.

Luisa is Guido's wife. Through the film she becomes more and more of a stranger to him, and an abstract ideal of what marriage should be. Their marriage is obviously questionable because they don't really love each other as a passion couple--they have more of a friendship-type love which is always floating somewhere in the background. Luisa symbolizes home life and the restoration of the world to it's rightful order. Guido struggles with this because he has a dual life, which was a prominent factor in Italy at the time; it was not accepted but it was not discussed either, and it still existed even with the oppressing forces of the Patriarchy.

Fellini believed that there were four kinds of relationships men and women could have: love, sex, friendship, and marriage, all of which were exclusive of each other. This sentiment is relatively prevalent in the film and truly explains Guido and Luisa's tortured yet tender relationship with each other. Which would be another place to ask, "Is this film an autobiography?"

The title of the film is 8 1/2, which has led several film critics to ask, "8 1/2 what?". There are 8 1/2 questions left unanswered. Guido's father leaves Guido's questions without answers. The Cardinal leaves Guido with out answers. Guido leaves Carla, Luisa, his producers, his assistants, and Madeleine Lebeau--the actress of his film--, all without answers to their questions. Luisa leaves Guido's questions unanswered as well. Some of these questions are claimed to have no answers, because they were answered with lies. There are several Pinocchio references in 8 1/2, such as Guido scratching or tapping his nose. These lies, half truths, and lack of answers further claim that Guido's life, his fantasies, and his film have all merged into a sequence of dreams, which he cannot escape--he has no existence outside of it.

Of course, Guido's complete involvement in the process of his film leads him to a level of vulnerability--and Fellini as well. Fellini provides a pre-release critique of 8 1/2 to dispel commentary. The critic in the film claims that it is too illogical. Guido defends his work by explaining a mirror construction aspect and how the audience would in essence be watching a film about itself. Of course this leads to a struggle between Guido and The Cardinal who tells Guido that there is no safety outside the church. Guido then derives that the Cardinal is not ready for this film. How foreseeing of Fellini to see how the Catholic Church would react to 8 1/2.

By the end of the film, Guido has been abandoned by his wife, his producer, his friends, and even his mistress. He plans to commit suicide, and does. Guido's confusion of reality and fantasy are no longer beautiful and he (and Fellini) felt that it would be better to throw away everything than to be imperfect. But then a magician appears and offers an alternative to Guido--start again! In this moment the full cast appears dressed in all white. Suicide is not death in this case, it leads to a new beginning and a complete understanding. Fellini discovered (and thus has Guido discovered) that absolute perfection is found within imperfection and resolution with those imperfections. Guido realizes that he is who he is, and that he is comfortable with that. There is a very circus-y feel to the end of the film between the dancing, the magician, and the full cast appearing out of nowhere which is symbolic of the realization that “everything is ok.” It is especially moving how Guido actually leads the procession, which seems to be in celebration of his life and the people in it, instead of joining in line with everyone else.
8 1/2 is a return to the earth. The Catholic Church leads (and still does) people to this state of escape, and hence individual's problems are never addressed. Problems do not disappear and the world is not perfect, but Guido's character accepts that and moves on. The real point of the movie is that life is constantly moving and every changing. If a solution is not available or apparent, there can be a kind of solace found in the possibility of eventual existence and/or creation of one. After the circus and dancing, the screen fades to black. This is not an ominous black, but a possibility that a film will one day light up the screen again. It serves as the end of this piece, and the beginning of another.
Source: R.E.D. Italian Cinema Tutorial

Watch below a short documentary made during the shooting of Eight and a Half by Italy’s public channel Rai3, entitled “8 Minutes on the Set of Fellini’s 8 1/2“:

Here are some highlights, for those of you who don’t speak Italian:

Claudia Cardinale (“Claudia” in the film)
Claudia: “I’m something strange in the film. I’m half vision, half reality”
Journalist: “You’re the ‘friend’ of the director?”
Claudia: “Yes”
Journalist: “And the enemy of the director’s wife?”
Claudia: “No” (laughs nervously)
And then the journalist asks her if the film mirrors real life, and she nervously laughs and denies it.
Anouk Aimee (Lisa Anselmi, the director’s wife, in the film)
J: “What’s the best compliment that Fellini ever gave you?”
AA: “He cast me in this film.”
Sandra Milo (“Carla” in the film, the director’s mistress)
SM says she was a bit upset that for the film Fellini made her completely shave her eyebrows for the role of Carla. She says her face feels “flat” with the new look. Fellini had also asked the makeup department to give her dark moles.
Barbara Steel (Gloria Morin, the young girlfriend of Guido’s friend Mezzabotta)
Upon meeting Fellini, she says, she immediately felt something familiar, as if she had always known him.
Federico Fellini
“This is a peculiar film, even I, I haven’t really understood it. The film has come to an end almost suddenly. It wasn’t difficult to make, not at all. It simply happened, almost unbeknown to me. And today it’s over.” Fellini then adds that he doesn’t want to talk about the “intentions” of the film – he finds it dangerous and insincere. He recalls the recent experience of promoting La Dolce Vita: he says he spoke too much about it before the film came out and people went to watch it with an already pre-established idea of what it would be like. Fellini asks the journalist if he thinks the mystery surrounding 8 1/2 is a publicity stunt. “Do you think it’s a publicity stunt? If you want I’ll tell you just that. Are you happy now?”

Dialogue translation:

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