Vintage Movies: “8 1/2”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’00s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.


8 1/2 (1963, 138 minutes)

When legendary Italian director Federico Fellini released 8 1/2 in 1963, it was touted as the pinnacle of a career that had already produced La Strada and La Dolce Vita, a pair of gems that had a significant impact on American cinema. Nowadays, 8 1/2 is considered one of the best films of the 20th century. Along with the tantalizing work of Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman and fellow Italian Michelangelo Antonioni, Fellini was a heavy-hitter on America’s art-house circuit 50 years ago.

A la Quentin Tarantino these days, 8 1/2‘s title refers to its place in the Fellini filmography, then composed of six full-length works and three shorter ones he counted as a half movie each. Starring the director’s favorite leading man, Marcello Mastroianni, as Guido Anselmi, a worried movie director with writer’s block, it also features Anouk Aimee (A Man And A Woman) and Italian cinema goddess Claudia Cardinale (Rocco And His Brothers). The music was done by the prolific Nino Rota, who would go on to score the first two Godfather films.

8 1/2 reels you in like a big fish about to be mounted on someone’s den wall. It opens with a monumental traffic jam in some urban Italian setting, as the camera pans slowly over the blank faces of an army of commuters, imprisoned in their vehicles. One man is not taking it well. He’s beating on every surface inside his tiny car, trying to escape, gasping for breath like he’s about to have a stroke. Suddenly, the distressed man, dressed in a black cape and homburg, is set free to fly, arms spread wide, into the cumulo-nimbus high above. He soars over an urban power station (like the giant pig balloon on the cover of a Pink Floyd LP yet to come). Abruptly he’s reeled in, like some absurd kite, by a man galloping down a deserted beach on horseback. And that’s only the first 10 minutes into this A-ticket Fellini masterpiece (helmet not included).

A terrific bonus disc included here is a must for Fellini fanatics. It’s a fascinating collection of oddities, butt-ends and scraps from movie projects that never got off the ground. It includes something called Provino Mastorno with candid shots of a grumpy Marcello being made-up before shooting—and nobody did world-weary better than Mastroianni. Fellini planned to film him in the subway, a location he compares to the ancient catacombs below Rome.

Another proposed Fellini film site sports a tattered, life-sized cardboard re-creation of the cathedral in Cologne, standing alongside the skeleton of a giant wind tunnel, housing a mock-up of a commercial jet-liner. A small party of hippies is planning an outdoor wedding as Fellini revisits the place. “When I come back here,” he notes, “it is even more beautiful now, all covered up in weeds.”