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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,
and Brunello Rondi

Directed by Federico Fellini

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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).

Disc One

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.

Disc Two

The supplemental disc features almost three hours of extra material:

If you've been waiting for the definitive edition of 8-1/2 on DVD, this is it.

— Gregory P. Dorr

Disc One

Disc Two

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