Reopening this week as well, Federico Fellini's 1962 8 1/2 marked the high point of the director's personal legend. This self-reflexive essay on the vicissitudes of a successful, middle-aged movie director (given an undeserved grace by Marcello Mastroianni's performance) was once so revered it's worth noting that it always had detractors. Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris both panned 8 1/2 and continued to flog it for years as the sort of bogus masterpiece beloved by over-earnest English professors (Kael) or callow film students (Sarris).
However the ensuing decades have brought forth a deluge of bogus masterpieces, and Fellini's, by comparison, holds up rather well. 8 1/2 may be lightweight, but its facility is inspired. The filmmaker was never smoother than he was here, guiding the audience through a series of superb set pieces: the opening traffic-jam nightmare, the harem fantasy, the cocktail partypress conference on the movie lot, the haunting and inimitable circus-ring ending. Fellini's intercutting of reverie, dream, and reality is seamless and standard-setting. And as 8 1/2was made before his style inflated to DeMille dimensions, his pet tricks killing all the sound except the howl of the wind, or dollying the camera through a throng of ciao-hissing gargoyles had yet to harden into mannerist tics.
Dial M for Murder
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Frederick Knott from his play
A Warner Bros. Classics release
At Film Forum
April 9 through 22
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Brunello Rondi
A Kino International release
At the Paris Theatre, opens April 9
More than any other foreign "classic" of the early 1960s, 8 1/2 was slick and entertaining enough to make a splash in the mainstream. The movie's major flaw remains its romantic, self-serving portrait of the artist as a big-time moviemaker. This, of course, has been its fatal appeal for certain self-conscious Hollywood auteurs. Now that movies like Woody Allen's Stardust Memories and Bob Fosse's All That Jazz have slid down the memory hole, it should be easier to enjoy the maestro's more adroit hokum.
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