A superb postmodern screenplay and performances in a rare directorial handling of the material combining emotional and intellectual intelligence. The photography, editing, sound and music, art direction (film after all is a combination of all these), the way Fellini dealt the cards in a largely ‘uneventful story’, critiquing the making of it in the story of making it is mesmerizing.
We love hate admire despise and ultimately accept and ignore the protagonist simultaneously. The greatest dramatic artists understood the utterly useless side to main characters, that a protagonist can ultimately be plagued by so many paralysing weaknesses that they sit like tubs of glue at centre of their stories – Achilles, Hamlet, Lear, Bloom.
The train of imagery is as staggering as it is effortless, in a brilliant use of lighting and camera with the spaces and movement of players. No one handled a crowd like Fellini, a director, filmmaker who understood that altogether simple theatrical relationship of foreground to mid-ground to background. The transparency of tones at times in the B/W photography, the use of natural and artificial light in concert, all makes this film a visual and dramatic masterpiece for me, probably the greatest film made in my years at least, that began consciously in 1963. It just so happens 8 1/2 came out early that year as well.
I won’t compare it to other fine films – comparisons to me are meaningless because all works that succeed, succeed for different reasons and on different levels, but the big films that are often quoted to either equal or better 8 1/2 to me feel so forced and constructed set against this, the best of Fellini’s work.
8 1/2 anticipates and describes postmodernism still yet to happen when the film was first released. Fellini prefigured a whole movement – as Joyce did with the contemporary novel, Fellini did with film.