Arts & Entertainment

Scene Discussion: 8 1/2

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 03:31 min

Martin analyzes Federico Fellini's choices in composition and lighting in this scene from 8 1/2, and shows how these impact our understanding of the protoganist. Watch and learn as Martin breaks down camera movement and the blocking of actors.

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Topics include: Scene From 8 ½ (1963) Directed by Federico Fellini


8 1/2, for example, is a very surprising film. Once you get the idea, once you begin to feel that these are memories or these are fantasies, it's all right. But you try not to. I remember seeing it. I was about 18 years old. So you try not to follow it. You were sort of along for the ride, so to speak. And the beauty of the ships back and forth in time or the shifts to fantasy, the effortlessness of the cut, for example, even the cut of him standing in line for the special water that's being given out at the spa and the wonderful way he moment where he moves his glasses down like so and then sees, it cuts to Claudia Cardinale dressed as one of the nurses coming out and offering the water to him. It's an obvious flashback, or I should say a fantasy, in a way. But one looks at the composition on Mastrianni, his costume, his glasses, the use of Rossini music, and ultimately the cut to Claudia Cardinale is overexposed too. It's overexposed, and it becomes very quiet. He was able to play with the image in such a plastic way, kept stretching the images and stretching the cutting of the film so that it exists in some subconscious level. These seemingly neutral frames, if you take a really close look at that picture, have a composition or a lighting effect that throws one off in a sense, that it is somehow imbued with the perception of Guido, the director, in the film, his perception, which might be off, might be emphasizing one thing over the other. And when he goes to the steam baths to try to get to some sort of spiritual guidance from the cardinal, just the shots of him going down into the bath and how everyone's talking to the camera, talking to him, saying, he can fix my Mexican divorce. He can do this. The guy who's going to support us. And this is what we need for the film. It's how one chooses to show impressions of that encounter. And his choice of angle and his choice of lighting and his choice of the composition and the size of the people in the frames are all something that becomes fluid. These are things that because Guido is feeling so strongly about the need to have some sort of guidance or maybe to have some sort of spiritual guidance, it's what he takes back from this meeting. He remembers the shadow. He remembers the frail body of the cardinal, this god-like figure who is judging him almost, in a way, the steam, which is from Dante's Inferno, all of this hallucinogenic perception of the filmmaker.

About the Instructor

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.

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Martin Scorsese

In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.

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