June 27, 1963 [8 1/2]

In Fellini's 8 1/2, the camera moves like a drunk who's paying attention to you--and shows it by lurching forward, just a little, almost toppling--but he catches himself and continues to watch you talk, certain you're making sense, but he can't make heads or tails. And the music: bouncy, a Mediterranean carnival winding along the high road at the edge of town.

And the ringmaster of this drunken circus: Marcello Mastroianni--fresh from the fountain with Anita Ekberg in La dolce vita--and I am still trying to recover from the sheer mass of her, a white figurehead cutting through the water, her head tilted up, her mouth open--inducing hysteria not only in herself but me sitting stock-still in my seat, feeling a kind of panic grow.

Fellini and Marcello continue to grasp those soft white nervous arms in 8 1/2, the former indulging in a fun-house mirror image of his occupation--and the things that occupy him: women, especially--they float and scrabble all around, turning to the camera, to him--to us--and smiling, even the nuns and old ladies. Marcello's movie--the one his character is trying to make--or avoid--seems to serve the first concern: the mother-wife-tidbit he keeps reinventing in his life--and more so in his head, wild lionesses that, despite the whip and chair, surge forward, and become the movie.

The irony of the moment of starting the projector is that it ends the director's life--which instead spools through the machine, stretched tight as it courses past the light and out to me, Wagner and "Blue Moon" as soundtrack--with Nino Rota's flute-and-tuba fountain bubbling, vaguely menacing--or is it melancholy?--an Italian blasted-heath serenade warbled by a real trooper, finding sudden joy in the surrender to his own failures, joining the cast, ready to go everywhere as long as there's a clarinet playing in the background, his slightly-less-than-rueful, little clown's grin serious as he directs the band.


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