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Fellini 100 - "8 1/2"

Andrea is a film scholar who obtained his Masters in Research of Film (Mres) at Edge Hill University by analysing the music biopic genre.


With the year 2020 marking a century since the birth of one of the most influential directors of all time, it would be difficult not to write a piece that celebrates the great Federico Fellini and his relation to film music. Throughout his oeuvre, Fellini has worked closely with composer Nino Rota. Without any doubt, Rota’s music is crucial in mediating themes in many, if not all, of Fellini’s films. According to Claudia Gorbman;

Fellini deliberately blurs the line between diegetic and non-diegetic components of his filmic discourse, and he particularly loves to music to serve this purpose. (Claudia Gorbman, 1980: 197)

It’s clear that Fellini works within and “blurs” dichotomies, particularly focusing on the ordinary/carnivalesque. Blurring the line between diegetic and non-diegetic music enhances these two critical themes depicted on screen. In Fellini’s surreal modern classic film, 8 ½ (1963), two scenes illustrate this blurring process.

“Saraghina! La Rumba! La Rumba”


A great example of Fellini’s blurring process is utilized in a bizarre yet beautiful dance scene in 8 ½. The film is not considered a musical by any means, but as with all Fellini films, carnivalesque music scenes are injected into ordinary narrative moments. In this point in the film’s narrative the protagonist and essentially Fellini’s alter-ego, Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), continues his struggle in directing his latest feature film. In harking back for inspiration from his personal life, we are presented with a meta-diegetic memory of his childhood. The robust and loose rumba from Eric Harden mit seinem Tanz-Orchester’s Fiesta-Bianca orchestrates the introduction of a character who embodies the carnivalesque, Saraghina (Eddra Gale).


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Aesthetically she appears to be plucked from the works of John Waters several years prior to Multiple Maniacs (1970). She is conventionally grotesque. However, just like Waters, Fellini seeks to produce an appeal out of the grotesque. In Saraghina’s co-ordinated dancing to the rumba, she omits sexual liberation for religiously oppressed school boys. This looseness of the melody orchestrates Saraghina’s cabaret like movements, and as the music becomes more stentato, Saraghina erupts into a manically comic state as she drags young Guido into the dance. Guido’s enjoyment of this liberation is therefore punished as he is chased away from the dance by a priest.

The most interesting aspect of this scene is that the music is essentially “inferred”. There is no on-screen source producing the music, yet Saraghina’s dancing is perfectly synchronized. Therefore, the music is meta-diegetic; it appears to be diegetic, but it is not. It’s essentially produced by Guido himself as he reminisces over a happy memory which his repressive upbringing told him was immoral. This is why the music is distorted and loose. The line of diegetic and non-diegetic is continuously blurred throughout the film. Just as what is real and what is fabrication within the narrative, nothing is made to be structurally clear.

La Passerella di Addio – Final Scene


Even when the source is “given” on screen, Fellini still manages to blur the lines between diegetic and non-diegetic. It takes the narrative until its resolution to depict Guido in action as la regista; the director. Whilst receiving some final intellectual criticism from his critico cinematografico, Carini (Jean Rougeul), a circus styles tune from Nino Rota’s la passerella di addio begins to find a presence outside the diegesis… at least so it seems. After some surrealist self-reflection from the perspective of Guido, we are subjected to a wide-shot of a quartet of clowns led by a young boy dressed in white. Guido begins to direct the child in leading the walking-performing miniature circus. Shortly from his direction, Guido’s film finally begins to manifest. The mezzo piano music from the quartet transforms into a forte ruckus from a grand stand band.

During this transformation the camera focuses on the film’s cast all travelling down a large flight of stairs in synchronicity to a louder version of Rota’s song. At this point the line between diegetic and non-diegetic becomes blurred as once again the source of the music, and the diegesis as a whole, appears to be meta-diegetic. The film’s surreal imagery solidify this, as day turns to night, and the source of the music is given back to the clown quartet. The music slowly plays out as a spotlight remains on the child in white. Essentially ending the film with a surreal metaphor for Guido’s, and more self-reflectively Fellini’s, last remaining morsel of innocent happiness that was lost from being a distinguished filmmaker.

© 2020 Andrea Sciambarella

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