Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of one of my favourite films opening, Fellini’s 8½. To some like me it is a near perfect work of genius, others think it excessive, presumptuous and self-indulgent. It was greatly criticised by feminists for the scene where Guido in a dream tames all the women in his life like a lion tamer. The film is a critique of film making and the breakdown of a creative person who is haunted by his past with no thought for the future. I love it.
It was made in black and white and would have lost almost all its power in colour. It has an amazing Nino Rota score, mixes surrealism with an everyday realism. It is also probably the only Italian film quoted in Steptoe and Son, when young Steptoe is trying to better himself (and of course impress a woman) by going to a foreign film, and old Steptoe pulls him down from his pedestal.
I first saw it on the invaluable BBC2 World Cinema series around 1971, which introduced me to so many films otherwise unavailable in a place like Stoke-on-Trent. For so many people that was an important part of their ‘education’. It is hard now to imagine how hard it was to see such films outside London and just a few cinemas around the country. Now we can find almost everything online or on DVD, then if you missed it, you missed it! There were not the repeats BBC4 has and no way of recording. I loved it then but when I eventually got to see it on a cinema screen then it really ‘blew my mind’.
50 years feels a very long time and is. The Fellini films stand the test of time, they are very much of their period, La Dolce Vita is the signature film of the early 60’s mentality, but because they are so good and so powerful still have a power few other films do. The final scene of 8½ would now be made with lots of cgi, but the fantastical realism Fellini used through actually making the scene means it works so much better.
The film ends with my favourite scene where Guido is at one with his breakdown and all the people from his past (priests, wives, lovers, mother) come together and dance in a circle around the film set to a wonderful music tune, then as the screen fades it shows one of my favourite quotes, (I ended Underpainting quoting it) – “Any artist worthy of his calling should make one vow: to learn how to be silent”.
If you’ve never seen it, please see it and you are so lucky to have such a great treat in store!