8 ½ : Fellini Exposes Fellini

In his film 8 ½ Federico Fellini shows us a detailed image of a troubled director, one who constantly battles with self-doubt and public criticism; this character in reality, is Fellini himself.  Fellini did not know how to finish many of the projects he had been writing, so as a form of self-therapy, he made a film about not being able to complete a movie.  In doing so, Fellini made one of his most honest and powerful films and one of the most honest accounts of the tribulations faced by directors and fellow creatives. “The result was the story of a director who must begin a film but cannot remember the plot and continues to oscillate between two planes; reality and imagination.” This film, in its essence is “a film within a film described by another film.”  8 ½ is a dramatic entwinement of multiple parts of Fellini’s own life, his “professional life[…] his personal life […] and his inner life of dreams and fantasies.”

Fellini, through his statements and autobiographical vision of 8 ½ shaped the way scholars analyze the film.  From the name alone, 8 ½ leaves much to the viewer’s imagination as to what this film is about.  In truth, the name serves as “an unpretentious title that is almost an archival reference” said Federico Fellini.  Before making 8 ½ Fellini had directed six full-length films and three short films, which Fellini said would make this move his “8 ½ endeavor.” “This film will be the ultimate in autobiography: it will be a kind of purifying flame.” said Fellini.  Fellini crafted the main character of the film, Guido Anselmi, to hold much of the same characteristics and flaws held by himself.   Much like Fellini felt at this time, “Guido is fully preoccupied with his inability to move ahead on his film and to put his personal relationships in order.” Guido is bombarded by those around him, they are constantly coming to him for answers and truths while he is unable to provide any of this to their satisfaction.  In an attempt to avoid his tormentors, the director simply dances among them and hides his face.

Through meetings with the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, Fellini was convinced that there was “no dividing line between imagination and reality” and that through these dreams, he would be able to “communicate on a subliminal level with his audience by means of films expressing a symbolic world rather than representations of reality might be possible.”  If Fellini tapped into his own dreams, he could establish a better representation of himself as both an artist and a person. The director did exactly this within 8 ½. From the sets, the characters and the dreams, all of the elements had their start in Fellini’s own life.  Everything in this film is bigger, bolder, and more dramatic than everyday life, but such was the life of Federico Fellini. By jumping from past, present, dreams, and back, 8 ½ “destroys any sense of time” and the film’s editing “further disorients and dislocates our conventional perspectives.”  Many of the sequences and storylines throughout the film are tangled and told in tandem, the viewer becomes lost in the chaos, much like Guido in his own world.  Fellini wasn’t trying to hide his flaws, he was trying to reveal them in their most honest form and ask for acceptance. The dreams in the film, which mimic many of Fellini’s personal dreams, bring a heightened element of the director’s life into the film.  The opening scene establishes a “blueprint for the rest of 8 ½”  by providing a sense of claustrophobia and self-doubt.  In his book, The Cinema of Federico Fellini Stuart Rosenthal establishes Fellini as a troubled director who loved his work more than anyone around him.  The director, feeling the pressure for success and a constant bombardment from critics, poured his thoughts into the character, who feels that “everything has come to a standstill for him […] he is hemmed in on all sides by the demands that so many people are making of him.”  In much the same way that Fellini would ignore producers, staff, and personal acquaintances, Guido is “not at all sure of what to do, so he bluffs and procrastinates, hoping to buy time.”

Throughout the film, Fellini uses dramatic juxtaposition between black and white to demonstrate good and evil, truths and lies, as well as innocence and a lack thereof.  Angelo Solmi provides excellent examples of this in his book Fellini.  In Guido’s memory of his punishment in a Catholic church, “The geometrical compositions of the black confessionals against the bare white background of a room that has no well-defined limits exactly conveys a sense of guilt that identifies us all with the young boy.” When we visit the mineral springs, the sheer brightness of the scene nearly causes the viewer to look away in amazement and must become used to all the white in the scene.  This is contrasted by many of the sinful patrons heavily draped in black.   The springs are striking, the surroundings awe-inspiring and the sight “heightens our sensitivity to his feelings, while the enormity of his vision of everything around him enlarges him for us.”  The film ends on Guido as a child, wearing all white.  We have grown accustomed to seeing the hero persistently dressed in black, so seeing him in white provides the viewer with a sense of hope and rebirth, “Guido the child, the last image of a purity that had been lost, yet perhaps found again.”

The film’s finale, in which Guido reveals his deepest feelings and doubts to his wife is a sincere message from Fellini himself.  This scene “contains the most striking theme of  8 ½: that we cannot change other people and that every attempt to do so is fruitless.”  “Accept me as I am” says Guido, “Accept me with my faults, my complexes, my genuine qualities, but don’t try to change me.  In exchange, I will give you the best of myself.” One can see Fellini begging this of his audiences, his critics and his loved ones at the very same time Guido does.   Most critics agree this film was Fellini’s way of expressing his love for the creative process, and through this piece he worked out his own doubts and accepted who he was as an artist. Fellini seems to have finally justified his natural tendencies and has learned to accept himself for who he is and not who is wants to be. “At the end […] we have seen a very tightly organized film about a film, which IS the film.” “All the confusion of my life… has been a reflection of myself!  Myself as I am, not as I’d like to be,” says Guido in the final scenes.  Guido, like the director he mimics, has learned to live in a harmony with the art he is destined to create.