02 September 2022

52 for '22: 8 1/2

Movie8 1/2(2007)
Method: HBOMax

Why Did I watch this?

This has been one of those movies on my queue forever. Since January 15th, 2010! This is one of the major old movies, an immortal, Mount Rushmore movie, timeless, one that every film student should now. And I've never watched it. It was just that time on the queue.

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew it was Federico Fellini and it was his 8th and a half film, but I'll admit that I haven't seen any other of his films so I don't really know what that means. As I watched it I thought I knew his style, but I was actually picturing Michaelangelo Antonioni, so whatever. I apparently knew nothing about the plot or style or just how surreal this thing was going to be, so it was a lot of fun!

How Was It?

Alright, terrible cultural expose time, this film washed over me like waves on a brick wall. I could not engage with this thing. I really tried to sit down and absorb it, but it couldn't hold my attention. I was maybe not in the best head space, it was late at night, I was tired, kind of forced for this column, but getting through it was rough. I think it was maybe the subtitles, but it also seemed to be dubbed in another language? That may have been the Italian mid-century style of just doing the actor's native language and dubbing later. But the dubbing and subtitles made it tough to follow anyone. This may have just been an HBOMax thing.

I really appreciated just how biting and surreal this was. Like films today don't push this hard enough. Bullet Train (2022), which I just saw, is a great example. Like, that movie is trying so hard to be fun and surreal but refuses to commit. 8 1/2 COMMITS. Maybe too much, scenes seemed to end abruptly, others didn't appear to go anywhere, and characters seem to float in and out without much introduction. I get that that's the point, and there is brilliance in how this film is simultaneously extremely lived in while also a fantastic exercise in surreality. I loved it, but with my headspace, it just really through me out. This isn't really a sit down and brain turn off movie.

The plot follows a director with director's block as he goes through periods of fantasizing about his own life, particularly past relationships, and deals with ex-wives and mistresses, and studio pressure and nonsense in between. It reminded me a little bit of Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind (2018) which was hacked up, restored, and put on Netflix a few years back. I also couldn't get through that. Maybe I just don't do well with films about directors talking to other directors at parties? That's all this movie is, too.

I kept thinking while watching this that I feel like this has been on so many best of lists because it must be so relatable to people close to film who are making these lists. Like if fisherman made Greatest Film lists The Perfect Storm (2000) would be really high. I've hardly ever seen a film where I felt so much space between myself and the filmmaker. It was as if everything was so inside that I couldn't get into it.

So, first, I'll admit that I suck, and I'm sure many people don't have the problem I had. It probably deserves another chance and I should watch it again when I'm ready for it. But there were many things I liked. As I mentioned, the efforts at a warping surreal structure are flawless and something I wish contemporary films would be bold enough to do. It's surprisingly meta, at one point they cast people within the movie for a scene that we just saw in a fake movie. It's actually meta, existing simultaneously as itself and a product within itself, not just calling out tropes like films do these days when everything has been recycled to death.

It's also an incredibly crafted film, I've spoken at length recently about the odd distinction growing between cinematography and computer-generated landscapes and the merit of distinguishing the two, but it's fun to watch a movie from 1963 where you know everything is camera trickery or practical sets.

With that being said, the cinematography here is in fact cinematography and it is stunning. It's the kind of subtle stunning, like again, I think we often think good cinematography is really just a pretty picture of a landscape, where the terrain is doing the work, but it's the black and white interiors, the many people in frame at once, the shadows, compositions, and framing here which are excellent. It's maybe one of the best crafted films ever made.

The acting is fine, again, no one seemed to be using their own voice, and the main dude seems to be some version of Fellini, who is detached, bored, and restless. That's a hard line to follow to make interesting. Kind of like how the protagonist in NOPE (2022) is distinguished by being passive. Anyway, it's tough to make interesting and this film largely doesn't.

That's my culturally bankrupt take, this really hit with some of the technical stuff, but I couldn't get past my personal distance to really enjoy it. Am I the worst film blogger ever? Or is this not that great?

Check out more 52 for '22 right here! 

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