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Pick of the Week
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"8 1/2"
"8 1/2" Criterion Collection DVD
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine

Guide Rating -  

Length: 138 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Starring Marcello Mastroianni, "8 1/2" (1963) is an Italian-language masterpiece of world cinema that is co-written and directed by Federico Fellini. I love this entertaining, semi-autobiographical movie, which is about a 43-year-old filmmaker who is going through a crisis in both his professional and personal lives. When I watched "8 1/2" recently on the Criterion Collection DVD, it looked and sounded great, and it comes as part of a two-disc set that is loaded with extras.

In early 1960s Italy, Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) is an internationally famous writer-director who has committed to make a film, but he can’t seem to get started on the new project. Feeling uninspired and emotionally worn-out, Guido repairs to an old-fashioned large and fancy health spa to take the mineral water cure, but he is still continually badgered by his producer, actors, agents, public relations people, the press, critics, and various hangers-on.

Guido installs his mistress (Sandra Milo) in a drab hotel near the train station, but she is unhappy with their arrangement and becomes ill. Then Guido’s wife (Anouk Aimee) joins him, and we see that his marriage is near the breaking point. Finally, the beautiful actress (Claudia Cardinale) who will play the lead in the new film arrives, and Guido discovers that he and she are not simpatico.

What I like best about "8 1/2" is its memorable imagery when Fellini shows Guido’s fantasies, reveries, and memories. We see Guido escape from a suffocating traffic jam by floating up into the sky, only to be brought down later by an actress’s agent and her P.R. man. And who could forget Guido as a boy watching an overweight prostitute perform a sensuous dance on the beach? Perhaps most memorable of all is Guido’s fantasy that begins with him living in harmony with all the women in his life, but ends with his harem staging a revolt against him!

The film score for "8 1/2" is a perfect match for Fellini’s imagery and tone, and it was written by Nino Rota, who is best known for his music for "The Godfather" and "The Godfather: Part II." I really like Rota’s music, and I was delighted to find that Disc Two of the "8 1/2" DVD set contains an informative 48-minute German-language documentary on this great film composer.

Disc Two also contains some interesting interviews. I thought the interview with actress Sandra Milo was particularly intriguing since she played Guido’s mistress in "8 1/2" and says in the interview that she was Fellini’s mistress for 17 years.

Disc One has a worthwhile commentary track that contains lots of screen-specific information. Also, the two-disc set comes packaged with a nice little 22-page booklet that, among other things, explains the derivation of the mysterious words "Asa Nisi Masa" that occur in the film. And the DVDs have quite a few other special features that I have listed below.

Selected Special Features on the DVDs:

  • Two-Disc Set + 22-Page Booklet
  • Introduction by Terry Gilliam
  • Commentary by Film Critic Gideon Bachmann and NYU Professor Antonio Monda
  • A Director’s Notebook (52-Min. Film by Fellini)
  • Nino Rota - Between Cinema and Concert (48-Min. Documentary)
  • Interview with Actress and Fellini Mistress Sandra Milo
  • Interview with Director Lina Wertmuller
  • Interview with Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro
  • Photographs by Gideon Bachmann
  • Stills Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer
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