FOCUS Art Cinema and Cinema as

Fellini's 1963 film Eight and a Half is centred on the character of Guido Anselmi, an Italian director. The director is struggling to prepare another movie project. He cannot find the peace and space he needs to think. Most of the interruptions are caused (not always deliberately or maliciously) by the people who have worked with him in the past constantly looking for more work. Seeking both solace and inspiration, he retreats into his unreliable memories and surreal fantasies.

The film, occasionally rather lugubrious in pace and often (deliberately) disjointed, contains some marvellous set pieces that have entered the iconography of art cinema.

The opening scene is a striking metaphor for the frustrations of day-to-day life. The director sits trapped in his car in a traffic-jammed underpass. This visual metaphor has been revisited or revised in films such as Weekend (Godard, France, 1967), Wings of Desire (Wenders, Germany, 1987) (see chapter 33) and countless music videos. Eventually Guida escapes by literally climbing out of the frame and floating off into the sky. It is a breath-taking moment of pure cinema. Fellini transmits to his audience the central themes of his film and the dreamlike nature of his presentation in a directly visual manner. A central problem of the film is that there does not seem to be much else to say - but the striking images continue.

Guido's tribulations continue at a Spa resort. The scene where Guido queues for water is a prime example of Fellini's ability to frame and choreograph crowd scenes. Fellini's sense of scene composition is all the more impressive as the stiff formality of the scene is broken by the vision of Claudia - a symbol of fresh hope

- from the woods. Saraghina's dance on the beach - part of a flashback to the comforts of childhood - is beautiful and haunting as an image. Whether it has much value beyond looking interesting is open to question. The same might be said of the fabled 'spaceship' finish to the film.

Fellini - along with Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Luc Godard -personifies the European auteur. He has an easily identified visual signature, a set of themes (even obsessions) and a desire to be seen as a creative artist. As a European auteur's rumination on the trials and tribulations of film-making, Eight and a Half is both self-indulgent and insightful. In a sense, the self-indulgence is the most insightful element of the film. Guido struggles to come up with a new idea not least because of the milieu he exists within. To some extent this situation is of his own making. The circus around him is his responsibility. Fellini is clearly exploring his own troubles. The shot of Guido staring into the bathroom mirror is clearly a personal statement of anxiety from 'the director' and the director. The title refers to the number of movies Fellini himself had directed up until that point: eight features and one short. Much of the material in this film (for example, Guido recalling major happenings in his life, especially the women he has loved and left) is autobiographical for Fellini.

Eight and a Half is - if nothing else - a chance to wander within the mind of a great European 'auteur'. As such it is also a valuable insight into the nature of European 'art cinema'. By extension, the film can serve as a study in how European art cinema sees cinema itself - this is particularly true if compared to Hollywood's portrayal of itself. The 1930s musicals of Busby Berkeley et al. through to Singin' in the Rain (Kelly and Donen, USA, 1952) (see chapter 15) relished the power of the movies to change people's lives. In the post-war period from Sunset Boulevard (Wilder, USA, 1950) (see chapter 14) to The Player (Altman, USA, 1992), however jaded and cynical Hollywood may have chosen to portray itself, the audience was never left in any doubt of the glamour of the industry. In Eight and a Half and other European films - e.g. Truffaut's Day for Night (La Nuit américaine) (France, 1973) the filmmaking process is portrayed as pain. In particular the pain is felt by the director. The director is the central, tragic creative figure stuck within a soul-destroying process. Thus European cinema -indeed great European cinema - can take on the characteristics of auteur theory gone mad.

Some Things to Watch out for and Consider

• 'If you are moved by it, you don't need it explained to you. If not, no explanation can make you moved by it' (Fellini on Eight and a Half). Where does film analysis /criticism go after that?

• 'Remember this is a comic film' (Fellini's note attached to the camera during filming). What kind of comedy is Eight and a Half?

• 'His films degenerated into rambling, mostly inconsequential rag-bags made up of comic anecdote, facile metaphor, nostalgic reminiscence and flamboyant set-pieces ... He evidently saw himself as a great artist, whereas a more accurate assessment might describe him as a magnificent showman' (G. Andrew, Directors A-Z (London, 1999)). How could you defend Fellini against such criticism? Is Fellini a great artist or a magnificent showman? Is it possible to be both?

• Has the (mainland) European tendency to treat film as 'art' and directors as auteurs been a help or a hindrance (to what)?

Film Making

Film Making

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