Cinema and Media Studies 8 ½
Raffaele Ariano
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0377


8 ½ (Otto e mezzo) is usually considered the best and most representative film of the most influential director of Italian cinema, and one of the great masterpieces of the cinema of all times. There is a “before” and “after” 8 ½: this holds true for the internal trajectory of Federico Fellini’s career, whose signature style, the so called “Fellinesque,” would significantly change in nature after the film, taking on many of the traits—the oneiric, the insistence on memory and the unconscious, the unabashed assertion of a boldly private and flamboyant imagery—which are commonly associated with it. This holds true, moreover, for film culture at large. When 8 ½ was released in 1963, Federico Fellini was already a more than accomplished director, successful both commercially and critically. However, the scope and depth the innovations brought forth by the film would set his fame on a significantly new path, and were quickly recognized as breaking new ground for the medium of film as such. 8 ½ won Fellini his third Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In the heyday of the politique des auteurs and European art cinema, it made him into the quintessential example of the modernist film author. The film has regularly appeared at the top positions in most rankings of the best movies in film history ever since, and has been an avowed influence for directors of the likes of Bob Fosse, François Truffaut, Woody Allen, and Paolo Sorrentino, to name only a few. Its achievements in the most different compartments of film language still stand as exemplary and keep rewarding analysis and interpretation, be it Gianni Di Venanzo’s black and white cinematography, Nino Rota’s soundtrack, the complex alchemy of the screenplay co-authored with Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Brunello Rondi, or the way the star personas of the likes of Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale are absorbed in the narrative and thereby reshaped. And there is even more than this. With its bold narrative expedient—telling the story, full of resonances with Fellini’s own biography, of a film director in crisis who is attempting to shoot an autobiographical film—8 ½ shifted the boundaries of what a film can do: it gave a decisive contribution to the introduction of meta-cinema as one of the permanent possibilities of the medium; it improved on its ability to reflect critically, philosophically even, on topics ranging from the nature of art and creativity to gender relations and society; it opened new avenues with psychoanalysis, with its theory and practice, and also with the multifarious galaxy of practices and discourses which, in the history of European culture, deal with self-writing and autobiography.

Published Scripts

Published scripts are a first kind of apparatus which can prove useful to the scholar and student approaching 8 ½. A first reason resides in the language deployed in the film, whose complex poetic quality deserves the kind of hermeneutic surplus attainable by analyzing it in different translations. Fellini 1963 presents the screenplay in Czech version, Fellini 1972 in Portuguese, Fellini 1987 in English, Fellini 1982 in Polish, Fellini 1988 in Russian, Fellini 1994 in German, Fellini 1996 in French, while the different versions of Fellini 1965 make available also the Italian and Spanish versions of it. This variety, it seems clear, also offers a testimony to 8 ½’s wide cultural and geographical reach. A second and perhaps more significant reason for taking into account the published scripts, as well as the materials (essays, interviews, etc.) published along with them, is Fellini’s habit of improvising on set and more generally of departing in the final film from the original screenplay. In the case of 8 ½, many differences between the screenplay and the finished film exist, the most notable of which is the ending sequence. It is thus useful that, while the already mentioned Fellini 1965 makes available the shooting script of the film, which includes the famous “lost” scene set in the dining car of a train, Fellini 1987 offers a continuity script based on a frame-by-frame analysis.

  • Fellini, Federico. “8 ½.” Svètovà literatûra 6 (November 1963).

    A Czech version of the screenplay.

  • Fellini, Federico. “8½” di Federico Fellini. Edited by Camilla Cederna. Bologna, Italy: Cappelli, 1965.

    The shooting script in Italian of 8 ½, useful because its ending, set in the dining car of a train, differs from that of the final film. Other differences concern the scenes with Claudia, the harem sequence, the position of the screen tests. Cederna’s essay, La bella confusione, is worth reading. Of this publication, translations in French (8 ½, 1963) and Spanish (“Ocho y medio” de Fellini, 1964) also exist. Originally published in 1963.

  • Fellini, Federico. 8 ½. Rio de Janeiro: Civilizaçao Brasileira, 1972.

    The script in Portuguese.

  • Fellini, Federico. Scenariusze: “La strada”, “Słokie życie”, “Osiem i pół”, “Amarcord.” Edited by Maria Kormatowska. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1982.

    A translation in the Polish language of the screenplays of La strada, La dolce vita, 8 ½ and Amarcord.

  • Fellini, Federico. “8½”: Federico Fellini, Director. Edited by Charles Affron. New Brunswick/London: Rutgers University Press, 1987.

    Together with critical essays and information concerning the production of the film, this text offers the first English translation of the dialogues and the first exhaustive continuity script of 8 ½, obtained through a frame-by-frame analysis, which is also compared with the shooting script.

  • Fellini, Federico. Fellini o Fellini. Moscow: Raduga, 1988.

    Together with the translation of an interview with the director, it contains Russian versions of the screenplays of 8 ½, Roma, and Ginger and Fred.

  • Fellini, Federico. 8 ½: Drehbuch. Edited by Christian Strich. Translated in German by Toni Kienlechner. Zurich: Diogenes Verlag, 1994.

    A German translation of the screenplay.

  • Fellini, Federico. 8 ½: scénario bilingue. Translated by Jean-Paul Manganaro. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1996.

    This bilingual edition presents the screenplay of 8 ½ both in Italian and French.

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