Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: 8 1/2 Women

By Mike Everleth ⋅ May 26, 2000

Many moons ago I used to worship Peter Greenaway.

The film school I went to was located in Rochester, NY which was the home of the guy who founded Kodak, George Eastman. So, being an important person to the city’s history, his home was converted into a museum. While I never visited the museum portion of his mansion, I did frequent the small movie theater that was attached in the rear. I don’t know if the theater was there while George was living in the place, but it was there after he was dead. That would be cool, to have your own private theater. It had a balcony and everything.

The Eastman House showed an eclectic bunch of films. Lots of foreign movies that weren’t released theatrically in America. Hollywood classics. Films by the pioneers of the avant garde. And sometimes director retrospectives. One of these retrospectives I went to was Peter Greenaway.

He’s had a few films that became semi-popular. One of them being THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER that began with a man being smeared with dog excrement and ended with a scene of cannibalism. Most of Peter’s movies aren’t that outrageous, but they’re usually pretty out there. A really good one he made was A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS which is about two filmmakers who make movies about decaying animals who both fall in love with the same woman who has lost her legs in a car accident.

Greenaway is British and when critics want to dismiss him they say, “Oh, he was originally trained to be a painter” (which is true). They say that because while each of his movies is visually hypnotic, emotionally they’re usually pretty cold and distant. But that’s why I like him. While his films look harshly realistic, they are a very stilted and contrived distortion of reality. However, he lost me with PROSPERO’S BOOKS, a surrealist adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. It was too inaccessible a film for me to enjoy and since I figured that’s where his work was heading, as PROSPERO did seem like the logical progression from THE COOK, I haven’t paid much attention to Greenaway.

So, it was in that light that I went to see 8 ½ WOMEN. I really wasn’t jazzed up to see it, but nothing much else was playing and I decided to give it a shot. Which I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed it. It’s about this rich old Geneva widower who, upon the advice of his playboy son, stocks his mansion with eight and a half concubines – the half being a woman with no legs, but she’s never really shown on film too much. Somehow Japanese pachinko parlors figure into the plot, too, but that would get too complicated to get into here. The overall feel of the film reminded me mostly of A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS, but not necessarily a retread of Greenaway’s earlier work.

I’ve seen a few movies and TV shows recently about unusual sexual/romantic entanglements. Two days before I saw 8 ½ WOMEN I was stuck in my apartment, laid up with the flu. Not feeling up to much except watch bad TV, I caught an episode of A&E’s “Investigative Reports” about lonely American guys trying to hook up with mail-order brides from Russia. Well, it’s not really a “mail-order” business these days, but there are these international dating services that get American men to travel to Russia and go to these socials where they can hopefully meet their future wives.

While the show was trying to promote the more lurid aspects of the business, it didn’t seem that sleazy just kinda sad and pathetic. In the process of being too excited to get to the story where a gullible guy was murdered by the woman he brought home and her true boyfriend, the show completely skipped over its interview subjects who were the most fascinating. Most of the “investigative report” was videotaped at one of the socials where the men were cruising for mates. When these guys spoke to the camera you could tell why they couldn’t find the love of their lives in America and were instead trying to fall for these fantasies that were being sold to them. Obviously, the big question asked of the men was “What are you looking for in a woman here?” There were two answers that positively frightened me.

I don’t remember entirely what one guy said because he had one comment that seemed so odd I couldn’t pay attention to anything else that came out of his mouth. In regards to finding the perfect woman, his main comparison was “My best friend is my mother.” I mean, I suppose that’s a sweet thing to say, but I can’t help to think that it’s actually totally creepy. After that first initial horrific shock, I wanted to find out everything about this guy’s life. I probably could have interviewed him for hours and I definitely wanted to see what he could possibly say to these women to make them fall in love with him. But, like most reality TV shows like this, the filmmakers don’t really know what’s interesting.

This guy also sort of reminded me of this dude I used to work with who was in his mid-twenties and lived at home so his Mommy could take care of him. He used to talk to all the women about the kind of girlfriend he wanted and he generally thought his fantasy chick should stay home and do his laundry and pack his lunch everyday. We all also called him “Otto” behind his back because he looked like Bart Simpson’s bus driver. He would unfortunately also sit with us at lunch outside sometimes at one of the picnic benches. He kept his baloney sandwiches under his desk all day because he was afraid of the communal refrigerator and then he always had to eat an apple that had its entire skin peeled off by his mom. There wasn’t anything Otto did that wasn’t creepy or nauseating.

The other awesome comment I heard on this “Investigative Reports” was a guy I’m afraid I’m going to have to paraphrase. Had I known I was going to be writing about him a week later, I would have copied down exactly what he said. But approximately it was: “American women don’t need men anymore. They’re all self-sufficient. Most of ’em are lesbians anyhow.” *Whew* And I thought I was the most bitter man in the world! And then after this guy made this ridiculous comment, the show cut him off and then never showed him again the entire rest of the program. Again, here is probably the most fascinating guy at the party and the show just ignored him. The dude probably had an angry opinion about everything. Could you imagine some poor Russian woman coming to the United States to marry him? Did he even find any chick to talk to him for more than five seconds? Man, I needed to see him in action on a date. “What do you mean you won’t blow me? What are you, a Russian dyke? I’m from America, godammit!”