Fellini’s 8 1/2, Revisited

Today at Filmwell, a film blog (?) that lives at The Other Journal, Michael Leary and I begin an epic journey, playing Siskel and Ebert all the way through what the Sight and Sound 2012 critics poll has voted the top ten films of all time.

We begin with #10… Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2.

In it, Leary writes…

Films that depict personal crisis tend to make things simple for us by linking one key emotion: despair, regret, etc… with one set of events or experiences. A divorce drives a man to grapple with a feeling of inadequacy. The death of a child forces a mother to wrestle with loneliness. But this is not how things actually happen. In real life, we are all constellations of feelings and emotions that are hard to pin down, and we are not always sure where they are coming from.

This film really gets that. It is an honest film because it doesn’t attempt to fix Guido or explain his malaise. Toward the end, Guido says: “I wanted to make an honest film, with no lies of any kind… I thought my ideas were so simple. That would help us to bury all that is dead inside us.” While Guido’s attempt fails, it seems that Fellini’s hasn’t.

I really love what Leary’s saying here. In a way, he’s affirming what Wim Wenders said about filmmaking in the Filmwell post that immediately preceded this conversation:

In a way I think of films the same way I looked at stories in books, when I was little. I realized very early on that the story was not in the written words, but in the space between the lines. That’s where the real reading took place: In my imagination, and that happened in all the white between the letters and the lines. And when I started to see films, I approached them the same way. In fact those filmsallowed me to perceive them like that, they were asking me to dream myself into them. The classic American cinema has that same specific quality, and this is also the great tradition of European Cinema. I did not invent that “method”. It is an endangered process, though, these days.

One thing I forgot to mention in my conversation with Leary… I didn’t realize that the dance scene starring John Travolta and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction was actually a recreation of a dance from 8 1/2.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.


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