8½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)

“I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever.”


What forced me to jump from being a mid-level only-watch-what-is-advertised attitude to film to the ‘higher status’ of a film-enthusiast-who-has-realised-it-is-actually-impossible-to-watch-all-the-films-but-will-die-trying attitude is Top Film lists. How can I claim to be a film fan if whenever these ‘Top 10 Films of all Time’ lists appear, I have only seen two of them: ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Casablanca’. I looked at the list and, at the time – we’re talking 2005 – I didn’t even know who Fellini and Godard were. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ , I had heard of, but I didn’t watch. Over time, I was watching these – one-at-a-time – and eventually found that Fellini’s ‘8½’ was playing at the BFI during an Italian Cinema season. I trotted along with Sarah and, due to the subtitles and often-white-scenery you couldn’t read every subtitle which was frustrating but I could see the reason it was so credible – though I don’t think Italian Neo-Realism is really my thing.

Following Guido

The film begins as a character is breaking free from a car. This car is filling up with smoke and everyone is looking at this car as it sits, stuck, in a traffic jam. This is a metaphor for the situation our protaganist is in. We soon find that this is Guido (Marcello Mastroianni). He is a film director of Science-Fiction – a genre that is complete fantasy – and is struggling to get inspiration for his next film – effectively his ninth film but he is stuck in limbo between his eighth and ninth film. This is what we see.

He mixes imagination with reality – hence we move from his set and his conversations hrough to circus and parades. We are additionally shown Guido’s childhood – or how he imagines his childhood was. This past and dreamlike state in the present is all an attempt to inspire him for a new film.

Inspiration and Self-Reference

This lead character, Guido, is apparently based on Fellini himself and – while strugglinh to create his own film – he created this film. This commentary on Art and Creativity is a tough balance – though something that many other writers and directors have tackled since – namely Charlie Kaufman in ‘Adaptation’ (as a writer) and ‘Synecdoche, New York’ (as writer/director), while Woody Allen seems to regularly approach the subject in his films.

Maybe it is this that is ‘genius’. Having only seen it once – and you can see that I am merely scraping the surface, so I do not explore all the focus on lust and love and women as inspiration – I think this is primarily one of those contextual successes. At the time, there was nothing so dreamlike and sexy in cinema – clearly ‘8½’ made cinema more reflective of the auteur, the director themselves. This has been done since, stalling my personal passion for the film, but showing me how the sixties was not just historical epics, musicals and theatre adaptations. Then again, as history showed us, Hollywood realised this too – turning to Italian Cinema and the French New-Wave to inspire what became the New Hollywood.


  1. Since Fellini is my favourite filmmaker of them all and I think all of his films, if not brillant, have some worth I am very picky when it comes to reading reviews of him. THat said, Fellini is not, nor was he ever as a director part of the Ialian Neo-Realism movement. Other than that you've written a nice piece.

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