8 1/2 Women (1999)
'If every man is supposed to think of sex once every nine minutes, what on earth does he think of in the other eight?'
'A beautiful woman only serves to frighten the fish when she falls in the water.'
John Standing plays Philip Emmenthal, a banker who has just gained control of some pachinko parlours. His odd son Storey is looking after them in Japan, while Philip resides in his mansion in Geneva. When Philip's wife dies, he tells Storey to return to Geneva to console him. While there, Storey takes Philip to see Fellini's 8 1/2, and it gives them both an inspiration to use their mansion as a bordello. They go back to Japan and bring an assortment of women back to the mansion.
The women are all unusual. One of them, a nun (Toni Collette), has her head shaved, and speaks in a weird Dutch-sounding language. Another one keeps getting pregnant; one falls off her horse; one has a huge pet pig. Storey, and especially Philip, have both found a new lease of life. There are plenty of nude bodies on show, although hardly any sex. The two men continually talk about penises. Greenaway seems to have indulged himself in this film with sexual wallowing, with plenty of talk about sex, and nude bodies. But the film is not all that bad. Certainly not nearly as bad as it was poorly received in Cannes when released. It is yet another Greenaway film that is handsome to look at. The setting is nice, it was filmed in Luxembourg. Not one of Greenaway's best films, but certainly worth watching.
"In 8 1/2 Women, the schematic, clinically analytical director has come up with a surreal comedy about sex that comes as close to charming as Greenaway ever gets... Along the way, there are precisely rendered surrealistic images (of a naked woman riding a horse, for instance, or in a tub with a hog) and absolutely luminous black-and-white images from Fellini's 8 1/2, with Greenaway matching his own fantasies of women with those of the Italian director." - Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle
"Yet this film, one of Greenaway's most amusing and accessible, actually arrives at moments of tenderness, even love, fleeting though they may be. 8 1/2 Women finds Greenaway in a contemplative mood, musing about the interplay of sex and love and mortality, and the bonds between father and son -- within the context of mordant absurdist humour, to be sure." - Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
"Like all other Greenaway movies, 8 1/2 Women transpires in a surreal setting that reflects our reality as seen through a looking glass darkly. Greenaway's characters exist in a vacuum, and the consequences of their actions, if any, rarely extend beyond the boundaries of what's shown on screen." - James Berardinelli **1/2
"The film's the usual collage of lists, perverse conceits, strange images, arcane illusions and nudity, but far more lazily assembled than previously. The writing is without wit, the pacing clumsy, the 'surrealism' forced and clumsy, the whole pretty pointless." - Geoff Andrew, Time Out
"Peter Greenaway's masterful meditation on grief, sexual indulgence and power might just be his masterpiece... If 8 1/2 Women isn't the best film of Greenaway's career, it ranks with anything this obsessive and utterly distinctive filmmaker has ever done." - Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com
"It is not possible to 'like' this film, although one admires it, and is intrigued." - Roger Ebert ***
Peter Greenaway on 8 1/2 Women:
"It is an elaboration on the subject of eight and a half stereotypes of male sexual fantasy. We have seen and heard of these fantasies for a long time in literature, painting, theatre, in folk and newspaper culture and certainly in the cinema. The Madam Butterfly syndrome is a strong candidate; the apparently passive, Eastern female seduced by the Western male and then abandoned. Delacroix, Ingres, Flaubert, Strauss and Matisse painted, wrote and composed on the theme of the Eastern harem and the odalisque. The Eastern sexual fantasy is still alive. It has passed ever eastwards from Morocco and Alexandria to Byzantium and Bagdad. It is now in Bankok.
Grien, Rembrandt, Diderot and de Sade dreamed, painted and wrote of the sexual fantasy of the unobtainable chaste nun in starched linen; and the woman obsessively astride a horse is no especially clandestine fantasy only available to Gainsborough and Stubbs. There is the female male impersonator - in this instance associated with the conventional female secretary competing in a man's suit, in a male world. There is the everpregnant Mother Earth - ubiquitous from della Francesca to Joerdans, Rubens, Klimt and Picasso to Henry Moore. Sexual excitement in a painted pregnancy stimulated Van Eyck, Corregio, Vermeer, Dürer and Chagall. There is the dutiful, faithful, loyal, always available whore with the heart of gold that shaped and manufactured countless fantasies from Mary Magdalene to Lulu, Louise Brooks, Harlowe and Monroe.
All expert forebears. Fellini can join them in re-indexing and re-shaping the collection. And the fact that these fantasies are so familiar in the cinema makes the title relevant, because this film is of course a modest homage to Fellini who invented and created so many memorable females in so many films, and most particularly in the celebrated piece of self-reflexive cinema - Fellini Eight and a Half - which has its own famous male fantasy sequence revolving around Mastoianni, once thought of as Fellini's alter ego. There have been innumerable films about film-making, but Otto e Mezzo was a film about the processes of thinking about making a film - certainly the most enjoyable part of any cinema creation.
The geographical axis of the film is Kyoto-Geneva - two wealthy cities by-passed now by political history but centres of quiet, look-the-other-way amoral culture. Two particular ideas in those cities set the film rolling. In Kyoto, Japanese females made themselves repeatably susceptible to sexual blackmail by their Pachinko Parlour gambling habits, and, at the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Geneva, for a time, became the prostitution-clearing capital for those females who wanted quick access to the West with a valid, few-questions-asked passport.
But this is no documentary. And hopefully more than a list of archetypes. All the material is fictional and develops its own eight and a half private, coelesced journeys, where, perhaps not unexpectedly, the females can run faster than the men and trade their freedoms by exhausting the male sexual fantasies and replacing them by some of their own. A Darwinist could say that such fantasies that are represented here might be an evolutionary necessity for both sexes."
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Philip: "You aren't gay are you?"
Storey: "No. I like my own cock well enough - but I've never been able to work up much enthusiasm for anyone else's."
Philip: "How come you haven't got plans to marry?"
Storey: "Perhaps because I'm too much in love with my own prick to share it permanently. It's probably your fault?"
Philip: "My fault!?"
Storey: "Ever since I was eight and you put that full-length mirror in my wardrobe door and I wanted to be double-jointed so that I could kiss my cock good-night before I went to sleep."
Philip: "All this narcissism is rather boring, isn't it? Find yourself a woman. Get someone else to kiss your cock for you."
Storey: "Let's go to a hotel."
Philip: "No - it's too far away from her and she might want me."
Storey: "How's that possible?"
Philip: "I might want her. You've never slept with a corpse I take it."
Philip: "Contemplating my father's prick, I often think that's what got me interested in engineering."
Philip: "Watching his Eiffel Tower, his Empire State building, perhaps made me a good engineer."
Storey: "Shut up father - and watch the film."
Philip: "The penis - if you think about it - is the most enterprising engineering feat imaginable -hydraulics, compression, propulsion, heat sensitive - it has practically every engineering characteristic - towers, draw-bridges, rocket-ships - no man-made engineering structure to match it. My father's involuntary anatomy instructed my career prospects. Do I have that much influence on your career?"
Simato: "Watch out, Storey. I am jealous."
Storey: "You have no right to be jealous of a woman who wants to be more of a woman by watching a man dressed up as a woman."
Philip: "No orgies, Storey - I get sexual indigestion - I can't stand more than one naked woman at a time - reminds me of a pig-farm or a cattle-market or one of those terrible concentration-camp films."
Palmira: "I think you can say with safety that nowadays women have finally acknowledged their position of not liking men. We could say that women don't like men. They acknowledge that they prefer the company of their own kind. I think we can also say that most men don't like other men. Most men prefer to like women. So women are the most liked by the most people. Men love women, women love children, and children love hamsters. It's a one-way slide. There's little going back the other way."
Philip: "Simato's complaining again - she's sitting on the top step, demanding attention - complaining when I don't wash my prick - says she's frightened of cervical cancer - where'd she get that idea from?"
Philip: "Oh. Good God! My prick gets more washing than a dishcloth in a laundry! Ask Griselda - she fills her mouth every morning with soap."
Palmira: "I want my bottom smacked tonight - real hard - with a tennis racket."
Philip: "She had such a beautiful opening number... so small, so delicate, such a beautiful colour - it was like plum blossom - it was like pushing your prick into a plum blossom flower."
8 1/2 Women DVD
8 1/2 Women DVD 2
Peter Greenaway makes a brief appearance in 8 1/2 Women. Near the beginning when Storey is in the pachinko parlour, the camera looks at women on the machines, and in the background Greenaway walks across.
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