2019 Tarkovsky Prize First Place: Sebastian Kaplan
Sebastian Kaplan (16, Lowell High School)
Hiding Behind Sunglasses in Fellini’s 8 ½
8 ½, directed by Federico Fellini is a landmark film, it is a circus, it is theater, it is a dream, and it is all very, very liberating. The idea that the imagination liberates us from the entrapment of life’s absurdities is expressed throughout in dazzling ways.
It begins with a dream of liberation, and quickly breaks the rules of neorealism that Fellini once ascribed to , separating himself from his earlier work- ala The White Sheik (1952) La Strada (1954), and in turn opening himself up to criticism from such men as Guido Aristarco, prolific dean of Marxist film criticism and founder of Cinema Nuovo (who resembles well the film critic from early in the film). The Camera immediately makes itself known, panning through a traffic jam. Our hero, Guido, played by Marcello Mastroianni is introduced from the back, through the rear view window of his car, in fact we will not see his face at all until the films next sequence So far few clues are presented to suggest we are in a dream. From the beginning the sound is odd, as if off, lacking car horns or noise except for faint drum, suggestive of a heartbeat. Next fog spews from the dashboard of the car and an off-putting shot of a busload of people with their arms out, heads covered, might tip some over the edge and into the understanding this is a dream. After seeing Carla, his ‘fat assed, small headed- placid’ (as described by Fellini himself ) mistress being pleasured by an unknown older man - Guido, promptly looks to those around him in other cars for help as he cannot seem to escape his car, Guido manages to liberate himself from his vices and tensions, and more importantly the car by climbing out of the roof. Arms outstretched, Guido glides over the cars and Fellini presents us with a very dynamic image. Guido, freed from the traffic is now free to fly, advancing toward rapidly moving clouds. (Fully in the air I can’t help but think of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph Of The Will, the gorgeous shots of the sky, and plane that holds Adolf Hitler.) Guido, flying high, looks to escape the world below, discovered by Claudia's press agent, who promptly yanks him down- sending Guido from his unconscious mind back into the possibly more confusing reality of his life.
Although it is dangerous to equate the film completely to Fellini’s life- it’s hard not to at points. Obviously he didn’t pull the idea of a director who has trouble with his latest film out of thin air, he went through it! Fellini, began his career as an assistant and writer to Neo Realist director Roberto Rossellini and after making the mad sprawling high life dramedy La Dolce Vita, expected to be on his feet for his next work. Instead Fellini felt the horror of an inspirational void. Fellini had been fixated for a while now on the idea that a director only lasts ten years before he begins to repeat himself, pointing towards what he deemed exhibits A, Rene Clair, B, G.W Pabst, and C, Jean Renoir for reference. Fellini was panicking when he should have been celebrating and it created an obsession that he decided to make the subject of his new movie. Although the original intent was to have Guido the lead, be a writer struggling to write, Fellini could not decide how to clearly depict this and so found the idea reborn with the struggle of the director.
After his Neorealist period Fellini found in his hands Carl G. Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963) by the fault of Jungian psychoanalyst Dr. Ernst Bernhard. There is no doubt that Carl Jung’s work has found itself into 8 ½ and many of his later films to come, especially the daring Fellini/Satyricon. The most prominent aspect of Jung I found to surface in 8 ½ were Jung's theories on dreams, the Anima and the Animus.
The Anima is most clearest perhaps in what is my favorite segment in the film. About 35 minutes into the film, as pressure mounts on Guido to begin filming, as he won’t even tell actors their roles, he retreats into the comfort of Childhood Memories. We are escorted to a whimsical land of children and mothers in a scene at Guidos Grandmothers, off screen, a woman is humming the “Ricordo d'infanzia” theme. This voice and this music persist through much of the sequence, along with a pattern of notes soothingly played on a guitar. All the women here are bizarre, yet loveable creatures held in great esteem by Guido. As the many children are tucked into bed by seuxalized Nannys we can look to a quote by Jung selected by Albert Benderosn in his book Critical Approaches To Federico Fellini's 8 ½ ,“His aeros is passive like a child’s. The son hopes to be caught by the mother, sucked in, enveloped and devoured”. Specifically a young Guido is tucked in and embraced with a long kiss by a Nanny in White as the Camera tracks closer, letting us in on the slightly perverse, if not relatable moment.
The women here are very innocent seeming and kindhearted, and don’t give off the impression of wanting to bud anything sexually in the children. Saraghina, is the sort of archetype of woman on the fringe of society, witch, the anima projection responsible for the emergence of Guidos sexual deviance portrayed later on, who nests in a small hut on the beach. Jung in Man and His Symbols describes a Siberian tale which illustrates the dangerous aspect of the Anima. One day a lonely hunter sees a beautiful woman emerging from the deep forest on the other side of the river. She waves and beckons him to her, singing of embracing him, that her nest is near. He swims to her only for her to transform into an owl and the hunter drowns in the water. The Anima here symbolizes an unreal dream of love, happiness and maternal warmth. When Guido is young he and his schoolmates visit Saraghina, she dances, beckoning him over, they dance only to be caught by Priests, dragged away, similarly to when he is dragged to the press conference towards the end of the film. Interestingly the priests Guido is then brought before are played by women with odd complexes (The only reason, Fellini claims, was that they looked the part). Later Gudio visits his Saraghina, and the scene is accompanied by a final zoom on Saraghina, an odd sort of objectification of her.
Later in the film, as the line between his life, his film and his fantasies have become so blurred, we wonder if Guido has any life at all outside of his own film. As Carla sings and dances with his wife Guido is serendipitously transported back to La Fattoria Della Donna from earlier in the film, “Here he comes” says his wife as she takes a boiling cauldron of steamy water off the fire. Guido enters bearing gifts to many wonderfully shaped women, the ones who bathed him as a child plus a whole array of wife type archetypes and participants in his sex life. Carla comes from downstairs, a very dangerous place because that is where you’re put after you turn 30 (how wonderful!?). The Cinematography here by Gianni Di Venanzo has incredible depth and eccentricity, as something is always fluttering past the lense of his camera, always moving, like a young man's eyes trying not to be caught staring as beautiful women surround him. The Ramba plays as a Hawaiian girl dances for Guido as he begins to prepare for his maternal bath. It’s a wonderful comic scene, I’d never seen anything like this before-- such a capturing of a rampant teenage, and apparently middle aged mind pulsing with sexual thoughts. Ana Nisi Masa. Memory and fantasy merge as the Nanny in White appears for a brief moment and then he is wrapped in a sheet, perfect male fantasy of regression. Saraghina appearance in the scene reinforces this as she says upon seeing Guido again, “Such nice, thin legs.” and another woman adds on “Straight like when he was a boy”. It’s hilarious and very disturbing but I found myself not being able to say I wished I was where he was, (or did I?).
A showgirl bargains not to be sent upstairs and flaunts herself proving she indeed has a “tight little ass”, later “Look at my chest!”. But Guido, in the fashion of the decadent Roman Emperor (Caligula? Nero seems the better comparison reflecting on Fellini/Satyricon) sentences her upstairs. Saraghina interjects with an infantile high pitched moan and begins to ignite a rebellion against their patriarch, soon the Hawaiian girl shouts “Down with the tyrant! Down with Bluebeard!” as Wagner's Valkyrie creeps in. the women rebel against the god. The lighting here intensifies through use of a technique of pulling on lanterns and swinging them around, the camera work is equally eye catching. As Guido draws a whip the scene goes into full swing- a woman when whipped lets out an “oooh Delicious”, perverse enough? Yeesh.
This scene for myself, and many others was so wild and inventive, i’d never seen anything like this. This surreal sequence continues and the showgirl is allowed one last song. It’s rather, degrading, embarrassing and depressing in comparison to the fun at the crack of Guidos whip.
Reflecting the last scene, we fade to a scene of Guido watching Screen tests. Much mirroring here as we see how similar some of the footage is to his life. The film ends soon after.
All in all this oneiric film guides us to view it in the perspective of dreams. Many films do this; Scorsese’s After Hours . Kubrick’s The Shining and most everything by David Lynch… Though Fellini ensures that the lines between dream, reality, fantasy and memory remain blurred, the audience is forced into a deeper level of involvement. Honestly, I still don’t understand the film. It’s still as much a mystery to me as when I first saw it. I’m serious-- this film is very shaking, it grabs you and slaps your silly face. If you’re afraid of the world around you, afraid of women, afraid of vulnerability, afraid of being disappointed, and afraid of being a disappointment slip on your sunglasses.
Folks, this film is bananas. Everyone should go see it!