60 Years Later, Federico Fellini’s 1963 Oscar-Winning ‘8 ½’ Has Fallen From Favor

60 Years Later, Federico Fellini’s 1963 Oscar-Winning ‘8 ½’ Has Fallen From Favor

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In 2012, the world’s film critics considered Federico Fellini’s 1963 Oscar-winning “8 ½” one of the 10 greatest films of all time. By 2022, Fellini’s landmark film had fallen out of the top 30. 

Once upon a time, director/screenwriter/producer Martin Scorsese had reportedly cited it as his favorite film of all time. More recently it’s come in second for Scorsese, tucked behind Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Endlessly copied, cribbed from (both consciously and unconsciously) and parodied, it inspired Paul Mazursky’s 1970 film “Alex in Wonderland” (which includes a cameo by Fellini) and was the source material for the Tony-winning musical “Nine.”

Variety’s critic Bob Hawkins was effusive about the film straight out of the gate, reviewing it after its Rome premiere. He noted that it was “an exciting, stimulating monumental creation” and an example of what Hawkins’ deemed “the author-director picture par excellence.”

While Hawkins colorfully described “8 ½” as “a 140-minute séance on the psychiatrist’s couch,” Fellini’s genius was to plumb his own personal follies and complexes while ensuring that no moviegoers were to doze during his “séance.” Hawkins celebrated the film’s intensely personal storytelling and lauded Fellini as “the writer-director turns himself inside out” while remaining wholly relevant: “Fellini misses no trick in lashing out savagely at hypocrisy in every walk of life.”

So why is “8 ½” falling from favor with the world’s film critics? 

The most obvious answer is “Asi nisi masa,” Fellini’s anagrammatic phrase he uses to tip his hand to the psycho-sexual confusion of the film’s filmmaker hero, Guido, brilliantly played by Fellini favorite Marcello Mastroianni. Could the fantasy image of a man with a whip controlling all the women in his life, and in his mind, have played differently to film aficionados 60 years ago? 

It was reported during production that Fellini kept a note pinned just below his movie camera’s eyepiece that read, “Remember, this is a comedy.” In the years since #MeToo, that might not be as easy as it once was. Sexual politics notwithstanding, the film’s five Academy Award nominations, including director and two wins for international picture and costume design, are a potent reminder of “8 ½” as a high-water mark of European cinema.

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