Restored `8 1/2' offers fresh look at a masterpiece

June 04, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Since its initial release 36 years ago, Federico Fellini's "8 1/2" has become such a filmmaker's talisman, quoted in almost every student film and Woody Allen movie you can think of, that it's difficult to take it on its own terms -- as a great film, no more, no less.

Happily, the task has been made easier by the recent re-release of the film on a gloriously restored 35 millimeter black and white print, which arrives at the Charles Theatre today. And a fresh look at the movie many considered Fellini's masterpiece reveals a work that is as funny, glamorous, ingenious and morally relevant as it was the first day it was screened.

No matter how often you think you've seen "8 1/2," to watch it on the big screen, with its inky blacks and blinding whites restored to their true tonal values, is to see it again for the very first time.

What's the best thing about "8 1/2"? It might be the cast: Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi, a movie director in the throes of a vicious artistic block, who repairs to a health spa north of Rome in order to seek inspiration; the frowsily sexy Sandra Milo, as Guido's lover; Anouk Aimee, as the filmmaker's wife; Claudia Cardinale, the real-life screen goddess who plays the goddess-like muse of Guido's imagination; the dozens of extras Fellini cast to play the denizens of Guido's spa, each face a map of longing and loss.

It could be the movie's set pieces: The opening shot of a man floating out of a Rome traffic jam (and R.E.M. fans thought the idea started with the "Everybody Hurts" video), those extraordinary sequences at the spa, in which the clients partake of the healing waters in a sort of secular humanist communion; the famous closing scenes in which the friends and lovers of Guido's past dance in front of an absurd rocket ship constructed for Guido's next movie.

Or it could be Nino Rota's musical score, the perfect accompaniment to the circus atmosphere; or Gianni Di Venanzo's poetic cinematography, in which high-contrast black and white adroitly captures the harsh realities of Guido's present life, and the surreality of his dreams.

All of these elements went into making "8 1/2" the classic portrait of the filmmaking process. But 36 years later, what shines through even more brightly, is its moral core. Fellini allows that there is nothing quite so trivial and ephemeral as filmmaking, and when Guido agonizes that he has nothing new to say, no compelling moral reason to make another movie, it's clear that he is speaking for Fellini ("8 1/2" was made three years after "La Dolce Vita," Fellini's biggest hit at the time). But in the end, with no sense of self-importance or trumped-up justification, Fellini manages to make a case for film -- and art.

Guido comes full circle, literally, in a dance of forgiveness with the people of his past. For its flawless surface beauty and artifice, the best thing about "8 1/2" is its love for human imperfection.

`8 1/2'

Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo

Directed by Federico Fellini

This film is not rated.

Running time: 138 minutes

Released by Kino International/Corinth Films

Sun Score: * * * *

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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