American’s, at least college students yearned to be cosmopolitan in the 60’s. No more dull boring middle class American provincialism. No more Doris Day, Rock Hudson romantic comedies for us. We wanted sophisticated foreign films and Federico Fellini delivered in spades. La Dolce Vita made his name in the US and it was a recognizable story about empty success told in exotic Italy. To make up for the subtitles for the guys, there was Anita Ekberg who needed no translation. The best and most incomprehensible of his movies was 8 ½ which provided autobiographical episodes from Fellini’s life strung together to amuse and confuse anyone trying to find meaning.
If you remember the 60’s you will know that it was cool back then to believe in nothing which ,of course, opens you up to find meaning in anything. In other words 8 ½ was deep with the kind of insight you get smoking pot. Actually, it was rather like Cirque du Soleil with the visual beauty of the episodes and the raucous music. As you might imagine, college students ate it up. Critics liked it with the exception of the doyen of movie reviewers back then, Pauline Kael who later had to back peddle when she discovered that her audience had gone on without her.
I don’t recommend watching it unless you have already watched other earlier Fellini films like La Strada and La Dolce Vita and like them. It is a rich brew and hard to digest without conditioning if you are used to the mindless strings of special effects that pass for movies today. Fellini was not about passive entertainment. My strongest memory is the music which evokes a circus band. Some of the melodies are hypnotic. The clip below has a melody that I couldn’t get out of my head for months. Often getting a melody stuck in your mind is torture but somehow this song always put me in a good mood. Perhaps it will do the same for you.