Thursday, May 19, 2022

Film Club Featurette: Fellini's 8-1/2 (1963) 2h18m

On Saturday, 21 May at 6:31pm, The Phnom Penh Film Club enters the far turn of its Big Movie May with a screening of one of the most iconic touchstones of Euopean cinematic excellence, Federico Fellini's *8-1/2*, starring Marcello Mastroiani and Claudia Cardinale. 

I've heard it said that most of the cachet of this film is dependent on having seen a significant portion of director Federico Fellini's other works, in general, and on appreciating the title as a self-directed jab at the creative drought that descended over him after completion of his previous -- and eighth -- film, La Dolce Vita in particular. And I'm here to tell you that it doesn't matter. Just as Airplane works without having first seen Zero Hour, this film works regardless of one's familiarity with Fellini the director, or with the angst-ridden impetus that went into this particular project, either one.

In a move that must have been the inspiration for Charlie Kauffman's often ham-fisted metacraft, Fellini wrote and directed this story of Guido (Marcello Mastroiani), himself a famous but suddenly uninspired director. When we meet him Guido is struggling to complete a picture in a town not quite remote enough to spare him from the demands of paparazzi, would-be crew, long-estranged friends, or assorted female lovers, either. Already doubtful as to his facility to complete the project, Guido careens from one preposterous request being placed upon him to the next -- eventually retreating into a blurred simulacrum in which the best fever-dream vignettes infect his waking life, and ultimately his plans for how to change the direction of the picture.

As a young child in the extreme exurbs of New York in the 1970s, I grew up with neither home video rentals nor 250-channel television. I saw many, many movies -- but they were the movies that happened to be showing on one of the two channels I could consistently watch. Thus it was that I ended up taking this particular Fellini film before any other, and over the decades since, the approach has had both an up- and down-side. On the one hand, it has rendered all other Fellini films far too accessible and linear for me to place them on the same tier of greatness that they enjoy in the eyes and hearts of so many other film buffs. But it also rarefies the experience of 8-1/2 itself, which commands a special place in my heart as one of those "I'll always know where I was the first time" sorts of films.

I hope everyone will plan to join us Saturday, 21 May, at 6:31pm for one of the truely iconic specimens of the modern canon. We owe it to Guido, to Fellini, and ultimately to ourselves -- to find out whether the crippling impostor syndrome, scrambled priorities and last-minute re-writes of this world can be counted on to build us something truly great. 

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