8 1/2, Art Forms of Nature, August Rodin, Ernst Haeckel, Federico Fellini, Frederic V. Grunfeld, Fritz Goro, Honore de Balzac, Ivan Turgenev, James I of England, James VI of Scotland, John Kenyon, Otte e Mezzo, Radiolaria, Scotland, Sculpture, Stanley Kauffmann, Stephen Jay Gould
More from Spring 1976!
That is the surface of 8½. But the film is carried forward in surface and depth, in a tapestry of the real and the non real (if we use real to mean the present waking moment). Three kinds of nonreality weave around and intersect the bare outline above: Guido’s dreams, daydreams and memories. He spends about as much time out of present reality as in it…We see enough of Guido’s past to understand some of his fixations and aversions; we see enough of his dreams to understand his fears and desires; we see enough of his daydreams to understand why he is an artist and just what the solaces and limitations of his art can be.
The artist becomes the subject. This mode has long survived the formal romantic era, has survived realism and naturalism, has in fact become intensified in our century. Many film exemplify this, but none so thoroughly as 8½. It is the quintessence of romanticism in the most serious sense: the artist as pilgrim, as both warrior and battlefield.
A note at the end shows how things were before home video: ‘A 16mm print of 8½, in Italian with English subtitles, can be rented from CCM Films, 34 MacQuesten Parkway South, Mount Vernon, New York, 10550.’
Compared with his glamorous and strong-willed predecessor Elizabeth I, James was not an effective ruler. He lacked the Tudor genius for self-advertisement and self-projection; he was basically a timorous man, not given to bold decisions and too set in his ways to initiate reforms…The major causes of the rebellion of 1642 were already present, and had been for several generations, and only a wholly original genius could have averted a crisis. James was not that original genius; but he was an intelligent and experienced ruler, competent and wise enough to avoid confrontations that Charles I later seemed to welcome.
Kenyon describes James’ view of the role of the king:
James had the highest opinion of that office; he showed it in a thousand utterances, as well as in his writings. But to suppose, with one historian, that his concept of monarchy was ‘one of the fundamental causes of the constitutional revolution of the net three quarters of a century’ is patently ridiculous. The divine right of kings was the basic, prescribed teaching of the Church of England, and had been vigorously if not so volubly practiced by unimpeachable heroes of the previous age. When James told Parliament ‘Kings are, in the Word of God itself, called gods, as being his lieutenants and vice-regents on earth, and furnished with some sparkles of the Divinity,’ he was not expounding anything original.
In ‘The Stately Mansions of the Radiolaria‘ Stephen Jay Gould writes about single-celled organisms that stretch back 600 million years. Most nonvertebrate marine mammals build shells of calcium carbonate:
The Radiolaria, however, along with a small group of ‘glass’ sponges and the diatoms…build their hard parts of silica, a mineral with the same chemical composition as quartz and glass, which rarely occurs in inorganic matter.
Gould also writes about the German evolutionist Ernst Haeckel, ‘the Thomas Huxley of Germany’, whose Art Forms of Nature devoted ten plates to radiolarians. But Gould points out that ‘Haeckel was so convinced of the unerring geometric regularity of radiolarian parts that he drew many perfect symmetries not quite attained by the real beasts’:
In ‘Rodin’s Balzac‘, Frederic V. Grunfeld writes about the struggle and controversy the sculptor had with what he regarded as his greatest work:
Auguste Rodin‘s sculpture of Honoré de Balzac is an imaginary figure, sculptured half a century after the writer’s death. Yet it stands there with an imperturbable authority that instantly establishes this Balzac as the definitive Balzac – the image that comes to mind when we wander through some immense part of that immense literary landscape, The Human Comedy. Not that it is a conventionally heroic monument: the monk’s robe is a dressing gown with empty sleeves, carelessly thrown over his shoulders; the feet, poised in mid-shuffle, are clad in what appear to be slippers. Even the roughhewn surface suggests that this is a workman-sculptor’s tribute to a workman-writer; Balzac as Prometheus, but corpulent and ink-stained, a morning-after Prometheus. ‘I had to show Balzac laboring in his study,’ Rodin explained, ‘his hair in disorder, his eyes lost in a dream.’