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From 8 1/2 to Nine

From the cover of Vogue magazine to Oprah Winfrey's stage, the cast of the upcoming movie musical Nine are everywhere. The film does not open in wide release until Christmas Day, but anticipation is high. Directed by musical master Rob Marshall (of the Oscar-jaggernaut Chicago), the cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Dame Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, and Fergie. Between them all, they boast an incredible amount of Oscar nominations and wins, not to mention an accumulation of beauty that promises to literally stun.

There is no doubt that this film will be a visual treat. Early reviews say it is a masterpiece. But, what is it actually about? Behind the gossip fodder of Kate and A-Rod, Nicole and Keith, and Daniel Day Lewis's method acting, it is hard to get a sense of the plot. Nine the film is based on a Broadway musical that opened in 1982, won a number of Tony Awards, and enjoyed numerous revivals. The original starred Raul Julia as Guido Contini, a film director facing a midlife crisis that is giving him severe writer's block and a panic when it comes to the complicated web of relationships in his life. The musical was based on a book by Arthur Kopit and Mario Fratti, itself based on the autobiographical film of Federico Fellini, 8 1/2.

Fellini is a legend in film, known for a distinct style that blends fantasy and baroque imagery. He got his start writing radio sketches in 1940s Italy before moving into the world of screenplays. Caught up in the politics of Fascist Italy, Fellini struggled to avoid the draft while working on his bourgeoning film career. Fellini found great sucess in the 1950s and 1960s with films like Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, Juliet of the Spirits, and of course 8 1/2. Often controversial and known for pushing the envelope, Fellini was nominated and won countless awards, but provoked protests and condemnations as well.

8 1/2 was born out of a crisis Fellini experienced when he suffered severe creative block in 1962 while starting a project where he could not land on a plot for his central character. After serious soul-searching, he decided to make the film about himself and the process of creative struggle, and to explore it from both the perspective of reality and the fantasy happening in his mind. The title itself comes from the total number of Fellini's projects up to that point, including this incomplete project with which he so struggled. Nominated for four Oscars, 8 1/2 was named the Best Foreign Film (his third time receiving that honor).

Nine, the book and Broadway play, explore and expand on these themes (hence the numerical graduation from 8 1/2 to 9). The central character, Guido Contini, faces a crisis both in his career and in his marraige, and realizes they stem from the same issues of committment and focus. As Guido struggles to find a story for his film project, he becomes increasingly pre-occupied and retreats into his fantastical head. Balancing the demands and desires for his wife, his mistress, his muse, his mother, his producer, an American journalist, and a prostitute he met during his youth, Guido has to reconcile the damage he has done to the women he loved most throughout his life. It is a story of creativity and romantic integrity and a man struggling to cope with his failures to those he cared for most.

A fantasically successful and much beloved Broadway production, the theater world was thrilled when Rob Marshall announced a film adaptation of the story. After his success with Chicago, Marshall has proved adept at the transition from stage to screen, and has a visual flair up to the task at hand. The screenplay was written by the late Anthony Minghella, one of the very last projects he undertook before his untimely death. Bringing together several-time Oscar winning costume designer Colleen Atwood and hair and make-up master Peter Swords King, this film was a visual dream even before the first of many A-list beauties was cast.

For fans of burlesque, costume, dance, and beauty, Nine looks to be our greatest gift in years. Each trailer I see gets better and better, and I have not gone a day without humming the song "Be Italian" at some point. The holiday season is busy with family obligations, social functions, football, and the Oscar movie season, but make time to experience this vision on the big screen. It promises to be a true gift, a story about the creative and personal demons we all struggle with, wrapped up for us all in a gorgeous burlesquified bow.

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