Coincidentally, the same number of viewing attempts it took me to get through this damn thing.
The Film: Federico Fellini’s surrealist confession of professional and creative ennui
The Potable: Eight bottles of Peroni lager, half a Swisher Sweet
How does one fill a day? As my period of unemployment stretches, the answer to that question has increasingly become: Twitter. One evening, I stroll down to Whole Foods, decide I will try a recipe for braised goat. Another, I wander into a bookstore and figure it’s a good time to read up on maritime treaty law, given the ongoing situation in the South China Sea. I apply for a job, I check the mailbox, and I look at my watch. It’s only 9:30 am and still I smell like goat from the night before.
My aimlessness takes on one form, Marcello Mastroianni’s character in 8 ½ takes on another. He wears fitted Brioni suits, smokes unfiltered Muratti cigarettes. He romanticizes women. He flies kites on the beach. Whatever. He reminds me of myself. When dining al fresco, I too tend to wear sunglasses.
Mastroianni plays a thinly-veiled version of Fellini, a hot-shot moviemaker with an illustrious reputation. Eight and a half films under his belt, expectations are high for the ninth…and a half. Mastroianni is signed on to direct a big-budget science fiction picture, but fears he may be fresh out of ideas. On top of that, he’s bored.
God is he bored.
This morning I rearranged the knickknacks on my coffee table, watched the Steve Harvey Show, and got mad at the refridgerator for being out of eggs.
One seeks inspiration in odd places, and Mastroianni mines bizarre childhood memories while evading his production team and mistress. He soaks in a spa with a bishop and spends more than enough time sipping espresso with a boob of a film critic. The critic describes the director’s work as having an “impoverished poetic inspiration,” which is precisely the kind of drivel you’d expect from a poncy reviewer who’s probably never even seen Raiders of the Lost Ark. Trust me, I spent yesterday afternoon creating a card catalog system to organize my Spielberg collection.
Mastroianni can only avoid his producer so long, and he is eventually dragged out to the set, where scaffolding has been set up to serve as an enormous spaceship launch pad. It’s an impressive structure, but one I honestly think I could handle. All you’d need is a good bundle of 2x4s, a pack of nails, a level, and the space to build. For a miniature version, I’d wager I could do it in three or four hours, as long as Mrs. Carmichael lets me borrow her backyard tomorrow afternoon, which I frankly don’t see being a problem.
Our protagonist again retreats into his memory, and at this point, something onscreen struck me, moved me in some way. A bombed-out bunker on a beach, deserted, planted the seed of an idea in my head. Wartime. The South China Sea, a frigate adrift in unfamiliar waters. A crew running low on supplies. Running out of eggs, out of curry powder, perhaps. The HMS Harvey.
I confess that most of the film’s second half was lost to me, too distracted was I in crafting my own, original screenplay. Sweeping the doodads from my coffee table, I pulled out a notebook and began outlining the plot structure. Spoiler alert: a dramatic battle at sea caps the second act. I drafted rough character sketches, the naval crew based largely on mechanics I don’t know very well but who left a strong enough impression when replacing the clutch on my Hyundai Tiburon. For good measure, I drew a small doodle of a soldier peeking over a parapet, adding a nice, impressionistic touch by smearing the ink with a drop of Peroni.
Inspiration, I smiled, can come from odd places.
I regret to say that this outline has since been scrapped, after realizing that large portions of my story were lifted directly from Spielberg’s miniseries The Pacific.
Thankfully, I realized my error in time to catch the 8 ½ finale. During a high-stress meet-and-greet with the paparazzo, Mastroianni realizes that his film, made on the terms of others, will never work. He scuttles the whole project, costing his producer millions, but luckily his entire existential crisis was caught on tape and makes a pretty good film in its own right.
He took his disinterested heart and made it art, to misquote Meryl Streep quoting Carrie Fisher. I guess I can try that, too, but I just sat on my sunglasses, so now I’ve also got that to deal with.
Verdict: 8 and a quarter