Tuesday, June 29, 2010

8 1/2

Federico Fellini was possibly the most influential Italian director in the history of cinema. He's added words to the English language - Paparazzi, for reference, after a character in La Dolce Vita, which is also a term familiar to most - and is cited as an influence by pretty much every director you can name - and several you can't. In spite of his clear talent, it's comforting to know that he also wasn't supremely confident at all times. How do I know this? I've watched 8 1/2.

Now, that isn't to say anything negative about 8 1/2 - in fact, prepare for praise - but instead just a response to the subject of the film itself. Some might suggest that the movie is slightly autobiographical. After all, it's about an Italian film director struggling with a concept for his next picture and also with his wife and mistress. Fellini, was an Italian film director, the title was a reference to the total number of movies he had made before, and he made this movie because he wasn't sure what to do next. I won't claim to know what his marital situation was at that time, but there's a large amount of vulnerability here, almost a kind of therapy, as Fellini lays bare his own frustrations through proxy characters and events.

It's a feel good story, but not in the traditional way. Everyone has had moments of a loss of confidence, everyone has been nervous and everyone has had times when they don't know what to do next. If you're a creative type, you can recognize that, just as in the film, the act of creating can sometimes seem like going steadily insane.

I understand this, and I'm sure everyone has had moments of a supreme lack of confidence and uncertainty. The liberating aspect of this film is that one realizes that an influential filmmaker at the height of his powers felt the same way as we might, and he worked through it to create one of the best films you'll ever see. Now, we're not all Fellini, but there's a certain something life affirming about the enterprise. The knowledge that the feelings are normal, and that people aren't alone at these lows, it's kind of uplifting.

The best part is, even if you don't know the story behind it, the frustrations and triumphs are laid bare on screen so you can fully grasp what is being presented. It takes the intimately personal, and makes it universal, and that's not only a difficult trick but a highly worthwhile one. I don't simply understand Fellini more after watching this, I understand myself. That's what truly great art can do.

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