On January 12, 2010, the good folks at Criterion released 8 ½ on Blu-ray, smartly capitalizing on the release of Rob Marshall's musical Nine in order to raise awareness among contemporary moviegoers (particularly non-cinephiles) who might not be aware that the musical in part based its story on Federico Fellini's 1963 film. I didn't own Fellini's film prior to its release in high definition, and hadn't seen it in many years – which meant that Marshall's interpretation of the material was unfortunately foremost when thoughts of any version of the story came to mind.
But despite Marshall's award-winning success shepherding Chicago to the screen in 2002, he failed this time to overcome the most obvious challenge inherent in his source material – namely, finding a way to make his main character compelling, much less sympathetic. Less an oblivious, distracted visionary than a self-absorbed megalomaniac, Guido Anselmi in Marshall's film was singularly, consistently unlikeable, and offered few clues why anyone would consider him an artist, much less a "significant" one; if leading man Daniel Day-Lewis' performance evoked anything, it wasn't Marcello Mastroianni's work as Guido in Fellini's film or even Raul Julia's turn in the role on Broadway, but the menacing, failed charm of Robert De Niro as saxophonist Jimmy Doyle in Scorsese's stillborn 1977 opus New York, New York.
In which case, watching the original film wasn't merely preferable, it was necessary. Was Guido always a petulant, irresponsible, irredeemable philanderer? Or did Fellini find greater depths within the character's seemingly superficial heart? And moreover, discover that the tapestry of inspirations and experiences Guido has in the film actually exert some influence over his creativity, intellect, and his passions? It was these questions that lingered as I popped in Criterion's new Blu-ray and sat down to watch 8 ½ again, for the first time.