In 1963 I lived just outside of New York City. My friends and I could be at any number of art theaters uptown or in Greenwich Village in well less than an hour.
We were seniors in high school, we had already been accepted into college. So of course we sat around wondering what life was all about and what we were going to do about it. We considered ourselves deep. Many others in our graduating class considered us assholes. We were very happy being lost, confused, and mildly depressed.
Also, we were desperately in need of sex and all our female classmates were objects of our desires and fantasies.
We went to see 8 1/2 at the Paris theater on 58th street (it is still there). I’m not sure how, but I ended up seeing 8 1/2 there 9 times.
I didn’t understand 8 1/2 in the sense that if you asked me what was happening in any scene, or asked what Fellini was “saying” in any scene, I couldn’t give you a coherent answer.
But I loved it. I connected with it in someway that I can’t describe. Probably it was identifying with Guido. My friends and I were at a turning point in our lives and didn’t know where to go or what to do next. We were confused by the world. The civil rights movement was becoming more prominent, Kennedy had been assassinated. We didn’t understand those things. We didn’t understand ourselves. So identifying with Guido and his confusion, while not understanding him, was simply natural. We were confused, he was confused. He couldn’t complete things, we couldn’t complete things. An heroic figure.
Guido was also our hero because he got sex, something that we didn’t. His life was pure bliss: total confusion coupled with sex with beautiful women. Heaven on earth. (Even if the Archbishop didn’t think so.)
Probably if I had understood 8 1/2 I would not have loved it as much, and it might have had less of an emotional impact on me. We reveled in our lack of understanding, considered it a sign of maturity, and stumbled ahead. Guido, the anti-hero, was our hero.
Now to Nine and why I hate it.
I consider it to be pornographic plagiarism.
How is Nine plagiaristic? Because scene by scene there is nearly a one-to-one correspondence with 8 1/2. But actually, that’s not so bad, Shakespeare borrowed most of his plots.
It’s the pornography in Nine that really got to me.
Perhaps I should explain my definition of pornography. You can actually find it in some dictionaries. Pornography exploits art by “leaving nothing to the imagination.” If you haven’t seen an XXX rated film go watch the first 5 minutes of one and you will know what I mean.
Why is Nine pornographic?
I’ll tell you why. It’s because in every important scene there is someone singing a song telling you what that scene is all about! Worse! Telling you what that scene means!! Catastrophically the Worst. Telling you what Guido is thinking why he is thinking it!!!
Since I loved 8 1/2 because its confusion melded with my confusion, the last thing I wanted was for someone to strip away that confusion. Pornographers!!!!
I should not be so negative. There was one thing I liked about Nine. That they changed the ending. Guido grew a beard and wandered by himself. He became celibate (we imagine). This change shows that the makers of Nine assumed the viewers of Nine needed a Hollywood ending. So I liked their wrecking the ending because it reinforced my hatred of the movie.
Better yet, they even changed the very last shot. Again they showed their contempt for their viewers by having Guido obviously being reunited with his inner child — directing a movie behind a camera no less. More pornography! They couldn’t leave the relationship of Guido to his inner child unexplained. They had to show it to us. They simply could not leave anything to our imagination. They had to say, Guido will be successful making movies in the future because he is finally united with his inner child.
Compare this to the last shot in 8 1/2; Guido the child is playing an instrument with the clowns. The clowns walk out of the spotlight, the clild is left alone, then slowly turns and walks into the dark, alone. Where is Guido the adult? Certainly he’s not in the last shot. He’s not directing the movie. He’s prancing around the edge of a circus ring with the actors and actresses in his failed film and with beautiful women created by his imagination. What does it mean?
Damned if I know, but it felt right, and that’s why I loved 8 1/2 so much.