Friday, January 15, 2010

From 8 1/2 to NINE

When Arthur Kopit and Mario Fratti set about adapting 8 1/2 for the stage they cherry-picked Federico Fellini's masterpiece for elements that would suit their project. For the film of the musical Rob Marshalland his have team have done the same. The source material then, anOscar winning autobiographical 1963 meta-film starring Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi, a victim of director's block who is told by is doctors to get some rest but who (like Fellini himself) is so restlessly inventive and has somuch to say that he's found himself in the unlikely position of not being able to say anything at all. As Guido becomes more and more creatively impotent and his production is gathering speed, Guido all but disappears in a world of memory and dream. Nine seesFellini's magical dream sequences transposed into fantastical song and dance routines featuring a harem of beautful, alluring women and, of course, the maestro himself...

Fellini's Guido was played by the great Marcello Mastroianni, whose underplayed affability and seemingly effortless screen presence made his externalisation of the character's internal mental life not only natural but compelling. Rob Marshall lucked out in securing the services of the best actor working in film today to play his Guido, who in the film is even more of a sexual predator than Mastroianni's charmer. 8 1/2's Guido was not only surrounded by a harem of women but but also a number of male characters such as his friend Mario Mezzabotta (see slide 8), his producer, a critic and, of course, the cardinal, and although the stage version ofNine was famous for its Guido being the only man on stage, the movie has toned down a bit. Still, Daniel Day Lewis remains the sole embodiment of every woman's desire.

Luisa was once Guido's leading lady but as his wife is now forced to play second fiddle to the other temptations and other women in his life. As played by Marion Cotillard Luisa possesses the same beautifully strong and intriguingly insecure traits that Anouk Aiméefound in the original film as the woman who Guido needs more than any other but who he can't be loyal to or honest with. Cotillard - who won an Oscar for her performance in La Vie en Rose (making her only the second French actress to win the award) - turns in a performance, including the show-stopping new number 'Take It All', which is sure to win her even more plaudits and fans.

Sandra Milo won awards for her pitch perfect performance as Guido's needy and rather vulgar mistress who he's hidden away on her own in a different hotel to the rest of his film's cast and crew.Penélope Cruz brings an extra dose of lustiness to the tempestuous role but remains the exact opposite of Guido's libidinous intellectual: where he is complex, taciturn and thoughful she may be chatty, small-minded, childish and impetuous... though always, always ravishing.

Nicole Kidman may have seemed an odd choice to fill the delicate boots of Claudia Cardinale as Guido's image of perfect femininity but the Squidman has form when it comes to musicals. Having starred in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! she was seen as a shoe in for the role once Catherine Zeta-Jones had dropped out. While inFellini's film the director Cardinale's Claudia expresses through her willingness to do anything for her director a certain vain stupidity,Kidman's Claudia seems more assertive. Having built her career on the success the roles Guido has given her and despite professing her love for him, she still sends him plummetting by turning down his offer of the lead role in his lost film.

Rob Marshall reportedly told Sophia Loren that he wouldn't do the film unless she agreed to star as Guido's mother, a minor role in 8 1/2 which has been somewhat fleshed out here. Sophia Loren of course has the history of Italian cinema flowing in her veins and her presence here sets apart the upstarts from geniune showbiz royalty.
Speaking of showbiz royalty, Dame Judi Dench stars as Lilli, Guido's costume designer who - like everyone else in the movie - is totally committed to him and his ideas, but where every other character in seems determined to drag the director deeper into his mire she's trying to help him pull himself out.

Kate Hudson is the only key cast member not to be an Oscar winner(poor her! though she was nominated for her fine performance inAlmost Famous) she is also playing the only character who doesn't appear to have a direct antecedent in 8 1/2. Perhaps the closest was the character of Gloria, the beautiful and intelligent young bride of Guido's friend Mezzabota, played by the striking Barbara Steele who precociously quizzes Guido on the themes and ideas of his films. Hudson's character Stephanie is a reporter for Vogue who is researching a feature on the director but quickly becomes yet another member of the circus surrounding him.

The Grammy award winning singer best known for performing withThe Black Eyed Peas plays the role of Saraghina, a Roman prostitute from Guido's childhood who appears in his memories and dreams as both the cause of his religious troubles and his mentor in the ways of sex and women. In 8 1/2 Saraghina - the 'devil woman' - was played by American opera singer Eddra Gale and the scene where she dances a mambo on the beach for the school-boys is one of the most striking and memorable moments of the film. It's hard to believe that the ever so slightly terrifying Fergie will fail to make the role her own.

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