Saturday, July 11, 2015

Off the Beaten Path: 8 1/2

As much as I love mega budget Hollywood blockbusters (with some exceptions), I’ve been trying to watch movies (both live action and animated) that are a little “off the beaten path.” 

Of course which movies fall into this category is a matter of opinion.  A lot of films I call "off the beaten path" are movies that would be very popular in some circles. 

In general I’ve been looking for films that are a little (or extremely) quirky.  Most of them were either released decades ago or created outside the Hollywood system and never made it into our pop culture consciousness. 

The most recent “off the beaten path” movie I’ve seen was Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8 ½ (1963)

"Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido Anselmi, a director whose new project is collapsing around him, along with his life. One of the greatest films about film ever made, Federico Fellini's 8½ turns one man's artistic crisis into a grand epic of the cinema. An early working title was The Beautiful Confusion, and Fellini's masterpiece is exactly that: a shimmering dream, a circus, and a magic act."- Description on Amazon.

(At least watch the trailer to the 30 second mark before you declare "what the hell?" and turn it off)

How I discovered the film:  I first saw this movie years ago.  I had heard about it in passing while in graduate school and randomly decided to check it out on Netflix.  It is the only cinema masterpiece I have ever seen where I wasn’t aware of its reputation before I went into it.  Obviously, this is extremely rare in an age of Internet trailers and continuing franchises.   

Memorable moment:  This is without a doubt one of the most memorable openings of any movie I have ever seen.  


  •  Supposedly, while filming 8 ½, Fellini wrote, “Remember that this is a comic film,” on a piece of paper and stuck it to the side of the camera.  (Obviously, this reminder was probably written in Italian.)
  • Fellini considered this his eighth-and-a-half film. He counted each of his shorts and productions where he was a co-director as being ½ of a film.  
  • The original ending was supposedly considerably darker.  The conclusion that appears in the final film was originally shot to be the trailer. 

(Keep in mind, this is the last scene in a movie so, you know, spoilers.)

Who should embrace it:  Obviously, anyone who is into surrealist cinema.  David Lynch has said that he was heavily influenced by Fellini, but this movie might be more accessible than many of Lynch's films simply because 8 1/2 is not as nightmarish.

Even if you watched the clips above and said, "That might be a little too weird for me," keep in mind the story does settle into a concrete plot.  It just happens to be interrupted by memories and fantasies.  Think Citizen Kane if the flashbacks of Kane's past intertwined with the frame story.

If you're even slightly interested in something quirky and offbeat, I'd say go for it.  It really is a hilarious film.  Don't worry about analyzing the symbolism or themes during your first viewing.  Just enjoy it for what it is.    

Who should avoid it:   No movie is for everyone.

Well, maybe one movie is.

8 1/2 is definitely not something you want to have on as background noise while you're doing the dishes (which is, unfortunately, how I watch a lot of movies and TV shows) or when you're hanging out with friends at one in the morning.

If you're looking for a movie that has a clear explanation for everything that takes place then you might want to look elsewhere.    

Connections to other movies:  Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories was a parody of this movie. I was not aware of this when I first took that movie out of the library and it wasn’t until years later while I was watching 8 ½ for the first time that I asked myself, “Why does this look familiar?”

The Broadway musical Nine was heavily inspired by this movies.  In 2009 it was made into a movie.  (No, not this one.)  I have never seen Nine but from what I understand, the universal consensus was, “eh.”

Apparently, this R.E.M. music video was inspired by the opening scene. 

Where you can watch it: Hulu or Amazon’s instant video.


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