Few movies have given such an unsympathetic and unromanticised view of the film industry as Federico Fellini's seminal 8 1/2. Dispelling the dream that movie-making is something of a constant wonderland where you sit in a director's chair, yell 'Action', watch magic unfold before your eyes before screaming 'Cut! Perfect', and walk off grinning like a particularly sprightly Ed Wood. Somewhat based on the directors own life and experiences, Marcello Mastroianni gives a bone-deep portrayal of a film maker so exhausted by his recent project that he can't even bring himself to work on or even talk about his new one. The frustrations of the cinema industry are personified by the constant stream of acting hopefuls, producers, screenwriters, and even Cardinals, all of whom have or want involvement in the project, but Mastroianni is too shut down to really care. There's a lot to admire in the direction, editing, acting, atmosphere and, in particular, its use of flashbacks, which begin and end with almost no transition, reinforcing the movies theme of reality blending in with fantasy, and help establish the movie as one of the first true 'surreal' pictures.
I didn't entirely enjoy the film. The disjointed story and frantic, almost non-stop dialogue get very irritating after a while, and as the movie draws to a close you can feel how exhausted you've become simply trying to keep up with it. But with stellar film-making, timeless themes and a willingness to tackle its issues head-on, this is a movie which, while admittedly dated, is still a landmark of avant-garde cinema.