BP’s Top 100 Challenge #30: 8 1/2, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I always appreciate movies that explore the art of film. This semi-autobiography is a mind-field of half-remembered daydreams, memories, and stories. Guido, the main character, is working through his own past the same way director Federico Fellini is clearly working through his own past. It was a fascinating film to watch. It is a film about a film-maker who cannot find a way to tell his story and is surrounded by people who are constantly offering him opinions when he can never make up his own mind. You can tell from the beginning of the film that this was a very personal film for Fellini. It had the feel of stepping into someone’s dreams or at least their daydreams. The way we remember things is often exaggerated or disjointed as are many of the scene in 8 ½. That personal touch also helps give the film some additional weight.
As I mentioned, I like films that explore the art of filmmaking. The characters in 8 ½ are often discussing art, film-making, and acting. The critic character in particular is almost always pontificating about art and film. The juxtaposition of the declarative statements about art with the main character Guido’s complete in ability to be inspired and make decisions about his own film works wonderfully the long the film goes on. The only moments when he seems to have any true inspiration are when he imagines Claudia. When he finally meets her in real life she sees right through him and his main character. The conversation about art continues through other characters, each with a unique viewpoint. The French actress Madelaine is desperate to understand her character and her motivation. She doesn’t seem interested in the story, only what she needs to bring to it. While the producer is obsessed with the big metal structure they have spent a lot of money on as well as getting Guido to make decisions which he is clearly unable to make. We even see the production crew focused on their own creative pursuits, showing how it takes a village to create a film.
The most interesting parts to me were Guido’s memories and how they serve as inspiration for the film he is trying to make. The one “daydream” I struggle the most with is the one with all the women giving him a bath. While it was a fascinating exploration of Guido’s psyche and his views of women it was pretty misogynistic. At one point, he is actually wrangling the women with a bullwhip. The way Guido treats women in general is not very admirable. He cheats on his wife and lies to her with alarming regularity. There were some interesting thematic similarities to Fellini’s previous feature film La Dolce Vita. Women are often treated as objects or props by the men in his films. They are also often held up to an unrealistic ideal. I did like the moment though between Guido and his wife at the very end when he asks her to help him accept this life and reality and she says that she will try. It helped give me some hope for him and them as a couple.
Overall 8 ½ is a strange film but I like it and what it has to say about inspiration and film. It was a challenging to movie to watch and keep everything straight but I like movies that challenge me and make me ask questions. As someone who has spent this year thinking a lot about film and what they mean, and what they have to offer the world, 8 ½ is a great film to watch and consider. Fellini was clearly a filmmaker what wanted to explore those questions too.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
8 ½ ranking: Battleship