Jim Dooley’s review published on Letterboxd:
I would love to know what Orson Welles thought of this film.
8 1/2 is brilliant filmmaking, working on so many different levels. On the surface, it is about a Director who is unable get a handle on his “Vision.” He has so much that he wants to say that he is unable to find the structure he needs to contain it all. Wonderful ideas abound (and they seem indispensable), but how do they fit together? Do they fit together? It shouldn’t be autobiographical … it needs to be more fanciful. Maybe if we just start doing something, the solution will come. Let’s build a spaceship.
Of course, it isn’t just about ideas that won’t gel. The central character is a film Director (Marcello Mastroianni), but he could be anyone who has ever been exceptional at one time, and is now under close scrutiny to display further brilliance. Whatever he does can’t be merely “good.” It needs to be a work of “inspired genius.” Talk about performance anxiety!
It is also about the difficulty of fantasy and reality residing together. Walt Disney most loved to let his imagination soar. It was up to Roy Disney to “bring him back to Earth.” Their partnership worked. But, the Director in 8 1/2 cannot give his imagination free rein because of the groups surrounding him. One group will take each half-formed idea as a firm story. Another group will start figuring out how to interpret the concept in film. Another is ready with criticism (which is anathema to a half-formed idea). And still another holds the purse strings and wants tangible results. Is it any wonder that Claudia Cardinale will “appear” as an uncritical listening ear, giving him space to think out loud?
In the midst of the “fantasy” of moviemaking, there are all of the relationships that need tending … and are left to fend for themselves. Near the opening, the Director is imaginatively floating, until his “responsibilities” lasso him and pull him down. The relationships (casual, business, artistic, romantic, and others) are vying for his attention. Unfortunately, the Director doesn’t want to expend his energy on them right now. And because he ignores them, they hang on and pull him down.
Another component is the memories that not only made the Director who he is, but need his “re-staging” to bring them back to life. When 8 1/2 ended, my own memories came flooding back for a while, as if the movie had opened the floodgates. (I’ll bet my dreams are going to be quite vivid tonight!)
I’ve seen a number of wonderful shows about the filmmaking process such as DAY FOR NIGHT. 8 1/2 is the best I’ve seen. It not only deeply explores the creative process, but so many other elements that crowd their way to the front for attention. And it puts the Viewer squarely into the mind of the Director … which is a chaotic and unnerving place to be! In addition, I can’t recall another film that had so many memorable scenes. Not just wonderfully constructed and executed scenes, but scenes that remain vivid in the memory. It has been almost 10-years since I previously viewed 8 1/2, yet as scene after scene appeared, an image of how they would play out came immediately to mind. There were a lot of them like that.
And finally, there is the title itself. Federico Fellini has stated that 8 1/2 is a reference to the seven-and-a-half films he had previously made (one not being wholly his own) and now this one. For me, though, it has a different meaning. Do you remember ever saying that you were going to “count to ten” and then something would happen? Maybe it was when you would begin searching in a game of “Hide and Seek” … or a decision was required by the time “ten” was reached. Yet, there were occasions when you wanted there to be a little extra time (perhaps for the youngster who was having a lot of trouble finding a hiding place). So, you counted whole numbers … and then resorted to fractions to allow a bit more time. “8 … 8 1/2 … 9 … 9 1/2 … 9 3/4 … 10!” When I see 8 1/2, I see it as the Director giving himself more time.
8 1/2 is a tremendous film for an after showing discussion into the wee hours over pizza and beer. There are so many elements in it, and friends frequently latched onto things I “saw” but didn’t register. It is truly a work of art. And I am in awe of the ending!