“8 ½” – Chris Luedtke

I’m sitting on a floor staring at an empty glass of orange juice, wondering if I can muster up the motivation to get a refill. The fridge is about thirty feet away, but there’s counted out tips laying on the floor, a mess of change, and torn envelopes blocking the door. My phone hasn’t vibrated in about two hours, and I have a fifteen-hour shift swiftly approaching. Amongst all this mess and irrelevance, I still cannot find the words or feelings to describe my experience with 8 ½ two nights ago. An experience that is both irrelevant and extravagant all at once. Screw it, I need more OJ.

Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is being pestered non-stop to make a new movie. Everyone, from his spiteful wife (Anouk Aimee) and mistress (Sandra Milo) to a slew of blood-sucking producers, is on his back, trying to get him to write his newest masterpiece. What else can Guido do but go with it? Keep telling them that his newest piece is in the works. Right? The script is half-done. Right? After all, something is bound to come along, even if it isn’t. Right? With the cast being assembled and sets already being built, Guido needs to write something — or else what is to happen to his career?

I texted A.J. in the middle of this film, expressing grief and confusion. His response to me was that Federico Fellini isn’t for everyone. That’s very true. After completing the experience, this is a very difficult piece to process. Fellini’s work is something that is very debatable and delicate. Much of 8 ½ could be dismissed as complete bullshit, and a part of me truly feels that. One of the main character’s quirks is that he uses the memories of yesterday to escape his current state of stress. After all, in the past, Guido wasn’t carrying a cross like he is now. But sometimes these trips into the past become not only drawn out but appear to serve no purpose other than to say that the longer he spends time inside his head, the longer he gets to be away from the real world.

Such things make 8 ½ a very different kind of movie. A lot of the time, Guido is just a kid with a lot of parents around him telling him to get his homework done. Of course, Guido’s rebellion is in his art. He doesn’t want to get his work done because he doesn’t know how to. How can someone possibly do something they don’t understand? Makes us viewers wonder how he ever got into film to begin with. Still, according to his producers/wife/mistress/friends, he has pulled off some amazing pieces of cinema before and thus believe he can do it again.

The flow of the film is lost the entire way with the idea that there is no idea. Think of the longest episode of “Seinfeld” you’ve ever seen in your life. If “Seinfeld” is the show about nothing, 8 ½ is its cinematic grandfather. It could be argued that in the end, something does happen, but it isn’t enough to constitute anything major other than the fact that you can open up your DVD player and call it a day. 8 ½ is driven by nothing but its characters, and Guido is there to ensure that all that drive comes to a screeching halt as he tries to create something that can be done to please everyone.

Everything about the film still feels jumbled, but I don’t think the experience is meant to be an easy one. Fellini’s work can be very praised, as it is a piece that raises so much debate and thought about the process of filmmaking. 8 ½ is essential viewing if you’re heavy into cinema, have ever made a film, and/or are really into multi-layered films. Others will probably want to stray.

Rating: ★★★☆

-Chris Luedtke

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