While I’m not a fan of Federico Fellini’s work, I do like 8 ½ (1963), in which Marcello Mastroanni plays a film directing struggling to create an ambitious, heavily autobiographical film, slipping into childhood flashbacks and fantasy sequences and trying to negotiate his relationships with the women in his life including wife Anouk Aimee and Claudia Cardinale. A very good film, arty in that distinctively European sixties way, but more successfully than Last Year at Marienbad. “These tender, innocent scenes of childhood are completely negative.”
Woody Allen was fairly obviously influenced by 8 1/2 (the similarity is obvious in the opening film-within-film sequences) in making STARDUST MEMORIES (1980), in which a filmmaker (Allen) spends a weekend at a tribute film festival coping with fans, flashing back to his past, juggling relationships (here they include Charlotte Rampling and Jessica Harper) and fending off complaints he’s not making funny movies any more (which makes me think it would double-bill well with Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, as Allen draws the opposite conclusions about humor from that film’s Joel McCrea). I find the last part interesting as I didn’t realize that criticism started this early in his career (the only serious movies he’s made to date are Manhattan and Interiors) and it’s actually a surprisingly funny movie a lot of the time. Entertaining overall, though frequently sliding into “wimpy Lovecraft” territory (see the burden of being Woody Allen!). with Daniel Stern, Sharon Stone (in an early bit part) and Tony Roberts among the supporting cast. “I can prove that if there is life anywhere else in the universe, it has a Marxist economy!”
Apparently it was a good period for watching films about creative minds in torment—BARTON FINK (1991) is pretentious playwright John Turturro (“The dreams and hopes of the common man are as important as those of a king!”) whose visit to Hollywood to write a Wallace Beery wrestling picture becomes heavy going even before the intervention of psycho killer John Goodman. This Coen Brothers black comedy starts off well as Turturro copes with oily execs, unccoperative wallpaper and drunken Falkneresque screenwriter John Mahoney but it falls apart when Judy Davis’ corpse turns up in Turturro’s bed (about the point my tape cut out the first time I watched this): The transition from odd comedy to odd noir just doesn’t work. Great looking though, and solidly performed, with Tony Shalhoub as a producer, Steve Buscemi as a weird bellhop and Jon Polito as a studio lackey. More interesting than the Coen brothers’ previous film, Miller’s Crossing, though not necessarily better. “We were taught in the old country there’s no shame in supplicating yourself when you respect someone.”
NBC’s spy comedy CHUCK bowed out with a short season this year, following up on the end of the previous season in which evil spy Richard Burgi stripped Chuck of his “intersect” abilities (which give him both a database of top secrets in his head plus martial arts move). In rapid succession, we have Chuck’s buddy Morgan acquiring the Intersect, going off the rails, Burgi’s secret boss exposed (as my friend Ross says, a good choice—but they dropped the idea Burgi hinted at that everything that happened to Chuck had been part of one master plan) and then a much-inferior villain taking over for the last few episodes. Despite the weaker villain, a good finish to a fun series, with the last episode giving everyone a satisfying resolution.