I’d like to do an informal and decidedly unscientific poll. Post your answer in the comments if you want to play. I’ve been wondering recently how many film buffs of my generation (I am 51) came to Fellini’s 8 1/2 through Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories? I know I did. I remember the exact moment. I’d just seen Allen’s movie at the Biograph Theatre in Georgetown. I enjoyed it very much. (It was my favorite of his for years.) Later I was chatting with a much more cosmopolitan acquaintance and mentioned how much I liked Allen’s movie. He dismissively waved me off declaring, “Awww that movie is just a Fellini rip-off! What a waste of time!”
I still like Stardust Memories quite a lot. Despite the obvious homage, the film can stand solidly on its own merits. But at the time I remember thinking, “Fellini, huh?” I’d heard of the guy but at age 23 and fresh out of the cornfields I had never seen one of his movies. It was actually a few years before any of the video stores around me carried the film. I watched it, saw the parallels to Allen’s work, and I remember enjoying 8 1/2 as well. And then I didn’t give it more than a passing thought.
Nearly thirty years later I’ve watched Fellini’s movie many times. In the past three years, I’ve gotten into the habit of checking it out every 5 or 6 months. It resonates with me now. I can relate to Guido’s confusion, his creative impasse, and the way he is misunderstood by his peers. It is about a filmmakers creative drought, certainly, but it is also a much more human story of a person stuck at a crossroads. The fact that Guido is constantly negotiating a series of crises of his own making only makes him seem like more of a kindred spirit! This is 8 1/2′s greatest strength. Move past the phantasmagoria to the very human story at the core of the drama and you find something very rich and rewarding.