Cult movie: Federico Fellini's masterpiece, 8½

Marcello Mastroianni, as Guido Anselmi in the peerless 8½, embodies Euro-cool
Ralph McLean

LIKE all great art there are many sides to Federico Fellini's 1963 masterpiece 8½. It's a film about the craft of film-making itself, a study into the dark hole of writer's block and one of the most affecting slices of pure cinema ever released.

A visually stunning stream of consciousness that glides stylishly through flashbacks and dream sequences with an almost carnivalesque grace, it's got a sparkling surface shimmer like nothing else before or since, but also enough depth to drag it way past the regular accusations of self-indulgence that it's endured down the years.

It's self-referential for sure - it's a film about a film made by a film-maker having a crisis of confidence about what it was he does for a living after all - but never lazy or indulgent just for the sake of it.

Perhaps the most personal film ever from a director famed for work drawn deeply from his own life, it stars the great Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi, a movie-maker whose latest film project is collapsing all around him.

Grappling with the complicated female relationships in his life - as embodied by Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo and Claudia Cardinale - and a crippling case of writer's block, Guido must face his demons before they destroy him.

Basking in the global glory of La Dolce Vita that had made Fellini and his star international icons of cinema, it was perhaps inevitable that the question of "What next?" would be looming large on any follow up project.

Up to this point Fellini felt he made seven-and-a-half films. This is the story of how he added one more to that list.

8½'s simple, but deeply personal, premise allowed the director to conduct all manner of achingly cool cinematic flights of fancy while openly admitting he was bogged down by an epic bout of writer's block.

Dream-like imagery flits by on a scene by scene basis, reminding you that nobody did postmodernism with quite the same comedic glee and joyish lust for life than Fellini.

Nino Rota's remarkable score adds another layer of beauty to proceedings and there are enough groovy moments of dancefloor abandon to make this perhaps the ultimate swinging sixties flick.

Watch out, for example, for Scream Queen Barbara Steele's moves that clearly provide the template for Mia and Vincent's dance steps in the Jack Rabbit Slim's Twist Contest in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

To say 8½ influenced hundreds of film-makers who arrived in its super stylish wake would be an understatement of monumental proportions. An unforgettable fantasy trip shot in stark black and white, it still surprises with its style and beauty despite the passing decades.

The embodiment of Euro cinematic cool, it continues to look effortlessly iconic today, loaded as it is with pin sharp images and ice cool sequences.

It may sound flippant to say it in 2021, but this is an artistic statement that liberated the cinema world from convention, allowing it to spread its wings and fly into all kinds of uncharted skies. As such it is truly unique.

Ralph McLean

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access