8 1/2 off!

As part of my “movies about crazy directors making movies” research, I just watched Fellini’s landmark classic 8 1/2.  I have nothing pertinent to add to the avalanche of praise that this dense, multi-layered, hallucinatory, infinitely graceful masterpiece has garnered, except to note that it seems to have inspired a number of imitators over the years.

Because I was born into a provincial, parochial Chicago suburb with limited access to classics of European cinema of the 1960s, I probably saw both All That Jazz and Stardust Memories a dozen times each before I ever saw 8 1/2 but both of them strike me as not just “inspired by” the original, but practically direct remakes, at least as much as A Fistful of Dollars is a remake of Yojimbo and A Bug’s Life is a remake of Seven Samurai. (And The Lion King is a remake of Kimba.  Or Hamlet, I forget which.)

Both Fosse and Allen lift Fellini’s structure, have their protagonists drift back and forth in time and from fantasy to reality, from the art their working on to the mental processes that create that art.  Allen also lifts the black-and-white photography, the “extras as gargoyles” tone, and quotes pretty directly from the dream sequences as well.  Fosse does all those things too, but filters it more through his own sensibility.

It’s a tribute to the quality of Fellini’s work that both of his imitators were inspired enough to turn in movies that are, let’s face it, both pretty freakin’ amazing in their own rights.

Who else is there?  Are there other movies drifting around out there that we could say are remakes of 8 1/2?  Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion comes close, similarly weaving fantasy and reality, dreams and reality, “filmed reality” and reality (it also has more of a nuts-and-bolts attitude to production life — more problems with shooting, less conceptual agony).  It has a much more programmatic structure and is more anecdotal in its approach, but serves as a kind of pocket-sized 8 1/2 — call it 4 1/4.

UPDATE: And now that I think of it, Adaptation, in its own way, is a valid entry in the 8 1/2 genre.
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23 Responses to “8 1/2 off!”
  1. chevett says:

    Not a film, but the three-part “Meltdown” storyline in the first season of The Newsroom is heavily inspired by/remakes scenes from 8 1/2.

  2. eronanke says:

    “All That Jazz”…
    IDK, it’s a little too removed from reality. I need more than the suggestion of reality-shifts in my movies.

  3. dougo says:

    Do all the men in 8 1/2 wear ‘s glasses?

  4. craigjclark says:

    It’s weird, but after all this time, I still haven’t seen All That Jazz. Intellectually I know I should, but emotionally I think, “Oh, god. Do I really want to see that much dancing?”

    By the way, do you think The Stunt Man would qualify as a Son of 8 1/2? I know it doesn’t have as many layers of reality going on (basically, it’s about filmed reality and how it can confused for the real thing) and the protagonist is a “nuts-and-bolts” guy as opposed to the director, but I still think it deserves a mention.

    • Todd says:

      I would say that not watching All That Jazz because there’s too much dancing is like not watching Citizen Kane because there’s too much newspaper business in it. The technique alone, not to mention the cast and the script, is reason enough to be enthralled by it.

      The Stunt Man is certainly about the clash of reality vs. film, but it is only tangentially about the director’s anxiety about how to end his movie. It is also, I would say, several notches lower in its insights than the movies being discussed here, not to mention overwhelmingly optimistic with regards to what a film crew is capable of shooting with one setup.

      • craigjclark says:

        I understand what you’re saying about All That Jazz. It is on my list of movies to see. The trouble is, that list is enormous and whenever I’m in a renting mood there always seems to be half a dozen other titles/directors that are more pressing.

        And I understand what you’re saying about The Stunt Man. I just like that movie and have done ever seen I saw it at my college’s Cinemateque.

  5. kornleaf says:

    well, Allen chose to make stardust memories in black and white and made his character look like fellini to hit the audience over the head with; “look, THIS is who I am trying to emulate!”

    • Todd says:

      Why, I have no idea, he must have known his film could not have benefitted from the comparison.

      • kornleaf says:

        i think it was supposed to be an homage to Fellini, honoring him and even was going to name it “4” indicating that it was not half as good as Federico Fellini’s 8½. I mean, even the voice of the main character, Sandy Bates, sounds like Marcello in pacing and dialog.

        I mean, look at it; black and white cinematography, the opening scene of Woody on a train, the seaside locations, the emphasis on a director hounded by critics and fans, and relationships with multiple women.

        • Todd says:

          I think it was supposed to be an homage, of a sort, as well — he even puts that “homage” joke in the “question and answer” scene. The opening dream sequence is practically a parody of the opening of 8 1/2. If anything, you might say that he’s saying that Sandy Bates is a director so pretentious that he thinks he can get away with a blatant ripoff of 8 1/2.

          On the other hand, Allen often goes beyond homage and into the realm of theft. When I started watching Bergman, I was stunned at how many plot points, character arcs and individual scenes are lifted wholesale for use Allen’s films.