Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

8 1/2 (1963)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

8 1/2 (1963, It.) (aka Otto e Mezzo)

In Federico Fellini's sprawling, surreal fantasy drama about the breakdown and descent into madness of the protagonist - a stressed-out film-making director planning to make his next movie, a science-fiction epic:

  • the bizarre, allegorical, subjectively-viewed opening dream sequence: a massive traffic jam in a tunnel, and feeling trapped, asphyxiated and gasping for air in his own claustrophobic car, the harried film director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) struggled in desperation and pounded on his car windows; he emerged from the roof of his car, stood with his arms outstretched and his black cape unfurled as he walked forward, and he found himself floating away and escaping by sailing off into the clouds; his freedom was short-lived, since his ankle was attached to a kite line held by a man on the beach far below with another man riding on horseback (his associates: the producers of the film Guido was directing); Guido was tugged down to earth ("Down, you come down") and tumbled into the water
  • the many flashbacks and retreats to the director's boyhood memories, and the numerous flights of fantasy and dream sequences, anxious nightmares, and day-dreaming wish-fulfillments
  • the flashback to Guido's impressionable youth - a beach scene when he joined with a group of boys to watch "The Saraghina" (Edra Gale) - a fat prostitute who was paid to teasingly dance a rumba, and even invited Guido to dance with her outside her beachside shack
  • the visionary, over-exposed appearance of Guido's beautiful dream girl Claudia (Claudia Cardinale) with whom he found solace, on spa grounds where he was recuperating; as Guido adjusted his sunglasses, he imagined that she glided into view from the forest (to the tune of Rossini's "Barber of Seville" overture), dressed in white; as his salvation, she offered him a glass of purifying and healing mineral water - but then she reverted to one of the spa attendants
Guido's Dream Girl Claudia
  • the other females in Guido's life - his cheap but sexy mistress Carla (Sandra Milo), and his intellectual, estranged wife Luisa (Anouk Aimée), who knew of his promiscuity
  • the steamroom bath scene of Guido's short audience with a Cardinal (Tito Masini), when Guido spoke of his unhappiness: ("Your Eminence, I'm not happy") and the Cardinal only responded with Latin catechism quotes: ("Why should you be? That isn't your job. Who told you we come into the world to be happy? Origen says in his homilies: Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. There's no salvation outside the church. Extra Ecclesiam, nemo salvatur. No one will meet salvation, outside the church. Salus extra Ecclesiam, non est. There's no salvation outside the church. Civitas Dei. He who isn't in the City of God, belongs to the City of the Devil")
  • the dance sequence where young, dark-haired "student" Gloria Morin (Barbara Steele) danced with white-haired, elderly Mario Mezzabotta (Mario Pizu), Guido's producer friend
  • the stream-of-consciousness 'harem scene' at the spa actually began when Guido was at an outdoor cafe with his wife Luisa and her best friend and his lover Carla; to escape, he imagined all the women in his life living together in a harem; when he arrived at the door, everyone cried out: "The Emir is here!" - the females included "The Saraghina," Luisa, Carla, Gloria, his star actress Claudia, and a dancing "black girl" from 'Hawaii' and many others; after he distributed gift parcels, the attendants prepared him for a bath, undressed him, and put him in a tub of hot water; later, he was removed and wrapped in a white robe, sprinkled with talc, and pampered like a child; to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" while wearing a black cowboy hat, Guido grabbed a whip to attempt to tame and control the rebellious females when they complained about his enforcement of the rules, and his double standard about aging in regards to one rejected showgirl: ("Discard us after squeezing us dry!...You're a monster!...Down with Bluebeard! We have a right to be loved to the age of 70!...Who does he think he is, a boy? It's time he knew he's a lousy lover. Sweet nothings, that's all. Then he falls asleep") - the rule was that discarded, overaged women were forced upstairs; Luisa explained Guido's behavior: "It's a need he has, he does it most nights"; soon after Guido's punishing reprimands, the rebellious women calmed down, and the group applauded him
  • the press-conference sequence - surrounded, assailed and finding himself unable to answer hostile questions of reporters and producers, the confused and indecisive Guido thought the film project would be abandoned and the set dismantled; he crawled under a table, and took a gun out of his pocket; a gunshot was followed by a close-up of the back of Guido's head slowly hitting the ground - Was it another fantasy? Or had he killed himself?
  • the carnival finale sequence - on a field where a massive steel-girded structure or scaffolding had been built (a giant-sized spaceship for the movie production); a resigned Guido walked away from the set that was about to be taken apart, when he heard the words of cinema critic and writer Carini (Jean Rougeul), a manifestation of his own intellect, who advised and reasoned with him as they proceeded to his car; while listening, Guido was basically convinced to quit his creative profession, and walk away from the terminated project: "You've made the right choice. Believe me, today is a good day for you. These are tough decisions, I know. But we intellectuals, and I say 'we' - because I consider you such, must remain lucid to the bitter end. This life is so full of confusion already, that there's no need to add chaos to chaos. Losing money is part of a producer's job. I congratulate you. You had no choice. And he got what he deserved for having joined such a frivolous venture so lightheartedly. Believe me, no need for remorse. Destroying is better than creating when we're not creating those few, truly necessary things. But then is there anything so clear and right that it deserves to live in this world? For him, the wrong movie is only a financial matter. But for you, at this point, it could have been the end. Better to quit and strew the ground with salt, as the ancients did, to purify the battlefields. In the end, what we need is some hygiene, some cleanliness, disinfection. We're smothered by images, words and sounds that have no right to exist, coming from, and bound for, nothingness. Of any artist truly worth the name we should ask nothing except this act of faith: to learn silence. Do you remember Mallarme's homage to the white page? And Rimbaud - a poet, my friend, not a movie director. What was his finest poetry? His refusal to continue writing and his departure for Africa. If we can't have everything, true perfection is nothingness. Forgive men for quoting all the time. But we critics do what we can. Our true mission is sweeping away the thousands of miscarriages that everyday - obscenely - try to come to the light. And you would actually dare leave behind you a whole film, like a cripple who leaves behind his crooked footprint. Such a monstrous presumption to think that others could benefit from the squalid catalogue of your mistakes! And how do you benefit from stringing together the tattered pieces of your life? Your vague memories, the faces of people that you were never able to love... "
  • Guido's redemption in the conclusion - he had a revelation that he needed to accept his life for what it was; when he saw his wife Luisa, part of a procession of figures dressed in white who appeared (all the people in Guido's life?), he reconsidered and spoke: "What is this flash of joy that's giving me new life? Please forgive me sweet creatures; I didn't realize, I didn't know. How right it is to accept you, to love, you - and how simple! Luisa, I feel I've been set free. Everything looks good to me, it has a sense, it's true. How I wish I could explain, but I can't - everything's going back to what it was. Everything's confused again, but that confusion is me; how I am, not how I'd like to be. And I'm not afraid to tell the truth now, what I don't know, what I'm seeking. Only like that do I feel alive and I can look into your loyal eyes without shame. Life is a party, let's live it together. I can't say anything else, to you or others. Take me as I am, if you can. It's the only way we can try to find each other"; meanwhile, a top-hatted, white-faced character (a magician or ringmaster) with a baton had interrupted and announced: "We're ready to begin"
  • in the next segment, a rag-tag parade of circus clowns also appeared (Guido as a boy wearing white was the last one in the line, playing a flute) and marched toward the scaffolding; director Guido grabbed a megaphone-bullhorn to guide and direct the action; the entire cast of the film appeared from behind a opening curtain and descended down the steel stairs of the space-ship scaffolding; Guido waved to his mother and father, and then he took his wife Luisa's hand to join in the jumbled yet happy procession performing a circle dance; in the final moments, the movie set transformed into a circus ring where the young Guido led the clowns, and then was left alone in the ring to play a flute (illuminated in a dwindling spotlight) as he marched off
Circus-Parade Ending

Opening Dream Sequence

Beach Scene with Prostitute

Steamroom Bath Scene with Cardinal

Dance Between Gloria and Mario

"Harem" Sequence

Words of Advice From Cinema Critic and Writer Carini

Wife Luisa


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