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Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), a celebrated filmmaker riding high on the success of his recent picture, suddenly finds himself at a loss for new ideas. Hounded by his wife, mistress, the press, and his fans, he begins to retreat into childhood memories and sexual fantasies, before finding the inspiration to begin his current project, a science fiction tale about the survivors of a nuclear war.
8 1/2 (1963) remains Fellini's most celebrated film and a pioneering work;one that explores the creative process while exploiting the endless possibilities of cinema. The film is also an anthology of Fellini's style, featuring his trademark aerial shots, vertical zoom movements, jump cuts, a carnival atmosphere enhanced by the music of Nino Rota, and an underlying fascination with the exotic, bizarre, and grotesque. The title is derived from the fact that Fellini had previously completed six features and three short films, adding up to 7 1/2. So he named his new picture 8 1/2.
The real-life parallels between Guido and Fellini are more than obvious and the director once commented, 'I am Guido.' It was no secret that the director was in Jungian psychoanalysis shortly before and during the making of 8 1/2 and some of his dreams and anxieties became manifest on the screen. Fellini also had very specific requirements during the casting process and often placed ads in newspapers, his standard ploy, to find actors who matched the look of his characters. For the role of Carla, he wanted 'someone old-fashioned, with a pink and white complexion, a small head on a Rubens body, very soft, flowery, maternal, and opulent.' In Fellini: A Life by Hollis Alpert, the author wrote 'There were those who took the ads as a joke, but Fellini, who needed this woman and would travel, went as far as Milan and Trieste to see women of Rubenesque proportions who might be suitable. Thousands answered the ads. Also, during these travels he kept an eye out for the even more opulently figured Saraghina. Camilla Cederna, a journalist present at some of the screen tests, wrote about the applicants: 'Enormous women; they were like enormous chests of drawers, like elephants on two feet.' Fellini tested dozens, but found his Saraghina in Milan....He saw her walking along the street, approached her, and learned she was a young opera singer, an American of Czech descent, who was on her way to a music lesson. Blonde and shy, her name was Edra Gale, and it took some convincing before she agreed to be tested and was given the role.' As for the role of Carla, Anita Ekberg was first considered but Fellini later hired Sandra Milo who had considerable difficulty adjusting to the requirements of her character, one who had a lusty appetite. Milo had just lost a considerable amount of weight and didn't want to gain it back with the numerous eating scenes the part required.
After 8 1/2 was completed and released, it created a sensation among critics who wanted to dissect the film's meaning and question Fellini on every aspect of the film. In one interview, Fellini commented on the core idea behind 8 1/2: 'Self acceptance can occur only when you've grasped that the only thing that exists is yourself, your true deep self which wants to grow spontaneously, but which is fettered by inoperative lies, myths and fantasies that propose an unattainable morality or sanctity or perfection - all of it brainwashed into us during our defensive childhood.' Regardless of how you interpret Fellini's film, however, 8 1/2 pointed the way to a new direction in cinema with its freewheeling style and serious yet playful exploration of an artist in transition.
8 1/2 was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Direction, Best Screenplay, and Best Art Direction and won Oscars in two of its categories - Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design. Paul Mazursky would later pay homage to 8 1/2 and Fellini in his quirky, anti-Hollywood comedy, Alex in Wonderland (1970) and Bob Fosse also created his own, Fellini-inspired fantasy, All That Jazz in 1979.
Producer: Angelo Rizzoli
Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, Ennio Flaiano (also story), Federico Fellini (also story)
Production Design: Piero Gherardi
Cinematography: Gianni Di Venanzo
Costume Design: Piero Gherardi
Film Editing: Leo Cattozzo
Original Music: Lao Ferre, Nino Rota
Principal Cast: Marcello Mastroianni (Guido Anselmi), Claudia Cardinale (Claudia), Anouk Aimee (Luisa Anselmi), Sandro Milo (Carla), Rossella Falk (Rossella), Barbara Steele (Gloria Morin), Eddra Gale (La Saraghina)
by Jeff Stafford