Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eight and Half: Fellini at his best

Federico Fellini was the name I often heard along with the likes of Bergman, Kurosawa- who are considered to be the masters of world cinema. Recently I watched Fellini's movie "81/2".

This Italian movie is about a film director who is fresh from a super hit planning to shoot a new movie. Coming out of a block buster previous hit, he suffers from writer's block. He starts to doubt his own creative capacity and faith in his talents, as often happens to creative persons. Adding to his owes, he messes up his personal life. He invites his mistress to the town where he was working. His wife gets the hint of his disloyalty and she starts to nag him. Fellini narrates this story in a unique way.

Film begins with the protagonist- Guido, played by Marcello Mastroianni- getting trapped inside his car amidst the halted traffic. People in the nearby cars, buses just stares at him while he struggles to get out of the car banging the windows and wind shields from the inside. People standing in a bus with outstretched hands from the window of the bus suddenly change the mood of the scene. You start to feel like everything outside the car where Guido is trapped is dead. Fellini in a quick shot releases Guido from the trap, he starts floating above the dead traffic. He rises high and high in to sky, suddenly he is pulled down by a rope tied to his ankle. The person standing on the ground yells at him to come down, and pulls the rope hard. Guido starts falling, he falls in to the see. And with sudden jerk he wakes up in a clinic. We realize that it was a dream of Guido the director.

The speculation behind the reason for choosing the title to be "Eight and half" is curious. You cannot find any justification in either the theme or the storyline of the movie. Some speculate that, by the time of producing this film Fellini had directed six feature films and three shorts amounting half each. So adding the present film, his total tally would be- guess- Eight and half!

Critics point out that "Eight and Half" was first of its kind movie to engage the autobiographical style of film making. Many have drawn parallels between the life of Fellini and the character Guido. Coming out of huge success of his earlier film La Dolce Vita (1959), Fellini would have suffered the writer's block himself. But is there any other best way out of the block than to make a astounding movie about the block itself?

Critic Lawrence Russell points out:

Fellini is slyly creating an autobiographical commentary on his previous work as well as presenting the universal artist confronting a guilty past within a confusing present.
Since autobiographical narration has a risk of being too personal, the childhood experiences, the joyful and traumatic incidents having nothing substantial significance than that emotional importance to the person who experienced them, the narration tends to weaken the structure of the movie if not taken care of. Fellini criticizes his own earlier creations in an attempt of self introspection.

As some film critics say, cinema should not be seen, it should be read. In an ordinary melodrama we are engulfed by the gripping story that unfolds calmly(sometimes swarmed with numerous flashbacks) before us. We are so absorbed into the story that, we forget it is all just a movie being shown in a theater. We laugh holding our stomach, the heroism boils our blood, tragedy makes us drop some tears. We consider a movie as the best which makes us most indulgent. In our indulgence we get an opportunity to forget our reality. It is like a mirage where realities of the ground are surpassed in a charade of dreams.

But most of the world masters in cinema and also renowned critics opine otherwise. Cinema should be 'read' following its grammar. The grammar of the cinema being the collective image created by the various streams such as lighting, camera angle and movement, space, locations, color pattern, scene transition, back ground score etc.. not to mention the dialogues and acting. Cinema should be seen consciously, with firm standing in reality. Otherwise, as speaks Mr. Bertolt Brecht, the viewer loses his awareness and makes himself available to be lured by the director.

In an interactive session of the film ''Kanasembo kudureyaneri'', one of the panelist had questioned director Girish Kasaravalli that why did he introduced title cards for scenes in between; It irritates the viewer and interrupts the involvement. Kasaravalli categorically replied that he intentionally did it to make the viewers watch the film consciously. He also mentioned some other foreign director who used to freeze the screen during the proceedings of a movie just to bring back the viewer into his senses.

Coming back to the film we were talking about, the plight of Guido caught up in a mental block, relation ship conflicts is narrated with so many unrelated, abstract scenes. Dream sequences which interrupt the narration whenever they wish, blurs the line of distinction between reality and imagination. For a traditional cinema viewer, who is accustomed to predict that the character is entering into a dream by swirling graphics, blurring of the face, sudden shift from multi color to monochromatic scenes - the dream sequences Fellini weaves are hard to digest. Beginners have to watch the movie like reading a text book!

Being myself an amateur cinema viewer, I couldn't get into the nerve of the director. The movie slipped through my hands like sand grains slipping through finger cracks. About the structure and the narrative of the film, I found this insightful note from aforementioned critic Lawrence Russel :

"... but what is the writer's real intention? To make us think? To frighten us?"

Again, this elliptical commentary fits perfectly with Fellini's own experience and the actual film that you are watching. This sort of personalism, where the play within becomes the real structure, and the play without a dismantling of the old determinist model, is both existential and revolutionary. It abandons the fixed certainties of a religious universe in favour of the uncertain topographies of a psychological one where dreams and trauma shape the soul of the individual".

What I could note down from my observations is: The brutal confidence in which Fellini executes his idea in the film. If you watch the film you will notice that it is technically very rich. Nino Rota(composer for God Father) has composed tunes that will haunt you for some days. Particularly the bit that Saraghina sings sticks in to my head. The editing is crisp. The swooping camera sometimes becomes the main character of the film. With the disease of categorizing cinema as commercial and art film widespread, it is amazing to notice how could Fellini make such movies for general audience.

Keeping in mind the fact that this cinema was made in 1963, you will be able to appreciate the sheer brilliance of cinematography. The characters swarming Guido to get guidance, to suggest, to ask for jobs are shot in a rhythm which you could hardly miss noticing. Some say that Fellini played some rhythmic music in the back ground and Choreographed the moves of the characters as well as camera to get that effect. And the effect in itself was inspired by circus, of which Fellini was attracted deeply earlier in his childhood.

To bring out my own interpretations of the movie I need to watch it many more times. For time being, I end this note with few useful texts on the movie which I gathered during my research. If you have come across more interesting literature about the movie:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8%C2%BD
2. http://www.culturecourt.com/F/Fellini/EightHalf.htm
3. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF173FB32CA54A4CC6B6799F8D6896
4. http://oldschoolreviews.com/rev_60/fellinis_8.htm
5. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20000528/REVIEWS08/5280301/1023

Three Quarter- The Blog

In the grammar of photography, three quarter turn is a pose of an actor which embodies the urge of anonymity. Here even though the actor is being shot, though all of his facial characteristics are recorded in the pose, the angle seems to impose anonymity.It also characterizes a person to have turned away from the direct sight of the audience.

In our usual urban slang, we call a lower body clothing which is neither a full length pant nor a traditional short as a 'fourth'. This clothing symbolizes the comfort in being able to oppose formal social norm but still be within the boundary of decency.

In the sense of measurement, three quarter is just a few steps away from becoming one-the whole. Being half or to be in half way has its own sense of completion. But moving forward from the half way and staying in the mark of three quarter puts you in an unusual kind of mental state. Though you have accomplished much more than when you were in the half way mark, it still lacks the sense of completeness.


I have blogged for many years in Kannada, which is my mother tongue. Though blog is to be personal and informal, my self assumed 'writer' position made me to write with always having the reader in mind. If I visit back those writings, I can rarely find myself in them. This doesn't mean I disapprove of those writings, they had their own ambitions.

In this blog I intend to write about things I do, projects I am associated with, my observations of the outer world, my interests, the books I read, movies I watch and the people I meet.

I hope there will be something in these logs that you can associate with and cherish.

Love you all!