8-1/2: The Criterion Collection
Home Vision Entertainment
Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee and Sandra Milo
Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli,
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Review by Gregory P. Dorr
It's the idea that every creative person ponders when they have run out of ideas: "Why don't I a make a (movie/novel/song/play/commercial/DVD review) about the making of a (movie/novel/song/play/commercial/DVD review)?" It's a knee-jerk instinct of desperation, wisely discarded as quickly it is conceived, dismissed as a selfish therapy too inaccessible, too indulgent.
When it comes to indulgence at least in terms of cinematic expression no artist excels like Italian director Federico Fellini, a visionary so unique and bold his very name has been appropriated as a descriptive term for images and events evoking his distinctively Felliniesque style. When confronted with his own instance of creative stymie following the great success of his 1960 masterpiece La Dolce Vita, Fellini did not shy away from this self-reflexive impulse to explore on film the fears that blocked his ideas. The result is as postmodern as they get: a movie about the making of a movie that is, in fact, that very movie. As convoluted as it could have been, 1963's 8-1/2, is a breathtaking masterpiece of self-indulgence and narcissism that is yet, somehow in its masturbatory way, completely accessible and empathetic, not to mention stunningly beautiful.
Marcello Mastroianni stars as Guido, a famous Italian filmmaker on the verge of directing a film he has not yet written. He withdraws to a tony spa for space, but is besieged by needy agents, actors, performers and producers, as well as hounded by acolytes and critics, and caught between his mistress, his wife, and all of the other women floating through his life and mind. Guido slips in and out of memories, fantasies, nightmares and realities, seeking a purity which only exists in the memories and mind of an artist.
In many ways the European art film that common American audiences fear, 8-1/2 is more poem than narrative, refusing conventional storytelling rules for a stream-of-thought pattern of scenes. But Fellini is, at heart, a populist, and even when he slips into potentially obscure dream sequences, such as the one that opens the film, the imagery is not cerebral but emotional, easily felt if not intellectually decipherable. Just as Guido must learn to surrender to his ideas without deconstructing them, so must an audience enjoy Fellini's wild visions for their physical beauty and visceral provocations.
Mastroianni gives another masterful performance as Fellini's alter-ego, following his role in La Dolce Vita. Suave and seemingly unflappable, Mastroianni also always seems on the edge of crisis, resigned to destruction with a cool smirk. The women in Guido's life are vividly and memorably portrayed by Sandra Milo (Carla, the mistress), Anouk Amiee (Luisa, the wife), Claudia Cardinale (Claudia/the Girl of the Spring), Barbara Steele (Gloria, the brooding flirt), and the unforgettable Eddra Gale (La Saraghina, the wild dancing whore).
8-1/2 is given a typically reverent presentation by Criterion, gloriously restored with an excellent black-and-white anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) worthy of the standard set by Warner's celebrated Citizen Kane. Audio is in Dolby Digital 1.0. The additional commentary cobbles together scholarly insights from on-set documentarian Gideon Bachmann and NYU film professor Antonio Mondo, which are interspersed with a screen-specific essay read by actress Tanya Zaicon. And director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) delivers an effusive Introduction (7:30), explaining how 8-1/2 impacted his own distinctive cinematic vision and his perspective on the chaotic process through which movies are made.
The supplemental disc features almost three hours of extra material:
- Fellini: A Director's Notebook (50:59) is a television special made for NBC in 1969 during which Fellini leads host Peter Goldfarb on a tour of ideas for past and future films, beginning at the ruined set for the unproduced The Voyage of G. Masterno and finishing at a series of auditions for Fellini's Satyricon. Mysteriously, along the way, everywhere Fellini goes he runs into either drag queens or women who look like drag queens. This "documentary" blurs the dividing line between Fellini's encounters with the world and his depictions of it, casting suspicion over whether any of it is real. It is an artful and fascinating program and unlike anything you're likely to see on network television these days. Mostly in English, with some Italian accompanied by subtitles.
- Between Cinema and Concert: The Composer Nino Rota (47:30) is a German documentary about Fellini's favored maestro. Sandwiched between a pretentiously narrated opening and closing meditation on nothing of import, is an informative look at Rota's progression from a child prodigy to a film and opera composer and the chilly critical reception of his popular work. The most interesting segment concerns Rota's generous self-plagiarism, specifically in the case of his score for The Godfather, for which his Oscar nomination was withdrawn when similar tunes were discovered in his core for the 1958 Fellini-written film Fortunella Features interviews with director Lina Wertmuller and two of Rota's former students. In German and Italian with English subtitles.
- A personal, surprisingly intimate Interview with Sandra Milo (26:32) during which the candid actress (Carla in 8-1/2) recounts her introduction to Fellini and her 17 years as his on-again/off-again mistress. She recalls their turbulent relationship and Fellini's incurable philandering with great affection (and, perhaps, a little self-deluded rationalization). Her recollections are given an added poignancy when accompanied by film clips of her acting opposite Fellini's wife, Giulietta Massina, and when after 26 minutes of revealing intimate details refuses to tell any secrets. In Italian with English subtitles.
- Lina Wertmuller, who assisted Fellini on 8-1/2 before becoming a celebrated director in her own right (Seven Beauties, Swept Away...), in her interview (17:28) recalls the director's fickle, improvisational process and comments, with amusement, on his conflicted, often ironic portrayal of women. In Italian with English subtitles.
- Famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Conformist) in an interview (17:21) speaks about the great influence of 8-1/2's cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo. In English.
- Two collections of Production Stills, including rare photographs by on-set documentarian Gideon Bachmann.
If you've been waiting for the definitive edition of 8-1/2 on DVD, this is it.
Gregory P. Dorr
- Anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1)
- Single-sided, single-layered disc (SS-SL)
- Dolby Digital 1.0 (mono)
- Digital English subtitles
- Commentary with Gideon Bachmann, NYU film professor Antonio Mondo, and a screen-specific essay read by actress Tanya Zaicon
- Introduction by Terry Gilliam
- Single-sided, dual-layered disc (SS-DL)
- Documentary: "Fellini: A Director's Notebook" (50:59)
- Documentary: "Between Cinema and Concert: The Composer Nino Rota" (47:30)
- Interviews with actress Sandra Milo, director Lina Wertmuller, and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro
- Production stills
- Dual-DVD keep-case
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