by Marty Demarest

The title, 8 1/2 refers to the film's number in director Federico Fellini's output. It hardly indicates one of the most perfect artistic creations in cinema; but that's precisely what 8 1/2 is. There's hardly a moment in this 1963 classic that hasn't become iconic: Marcello Mastroianni brandishing a whip in a harem full of the women in his life; a hulking woman dancing the rumba on a beach; that overwhelming closing sequence of all the characters in the film dancing hand in hand.

At its most simple level, the story of 8 1/2 is about a film director, Guido (Mastroianni), who is caught up in the preparations for a movie that he has yet to write. Surrounding him are technicians eager to create, actors and actresses eager for work, intellectuals eager to theorize and his wife, eager to leave him and to love him at the same time.

Continually indulging in nostalgia and fantasy, Guido makes the process of creation an exploration of the forces driving him. Continually critical of both himself and others, every moment in the film resonates with irreconcilable truths, palpable emotion and loving humor, brought to the screen by one of its all-time great craftsmen.

Even though it's possible to see 8 1/2 onscreen regularly at art houses and festivals, Criterion's two-disk DVD set is required viewing for film lovers. Not only have they achieved a digital transfer of the film that is almost perfect, but they've also filled the disks with serious supplemental material that illuminates Fellini's masterpiece even further.

There are two smaller features, one made by Fellini himself, the other focusing on the brilliant composer Nino Rota; they'd be worthwhile purchases on their own. And rather than the usual fluff that exists under the guise of "interviews" on most DVDs, the discussions here -- with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro in particular -- make one rush back to the complete film for newly enlightened reviewings.

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