Alex in Wonderland is about a crisis in the life and art of a young film director in Hollywood, searching for a new project and life style with the success of his first film just behind him. If one were simply to place a value on it, a price tag reading “marked down from 8 1/2” would be about all that was called for. Alex in Wonderland simply wouldn’t exist without 8 1/2, for all of the differences, and, no matter how it may attempt to forestall or disarm such criticism by mocking its indebtedness to the Fellini film, the self-mockery in no way diminishes the degree of dependence.
And yet the curious thing is just how little like 8 1/2 Alex in Wonderland really is. This is not simply a question of the latter film’s inferiority to the former, though I think even those who admire 8 1/2 less than I would have to admit that, compared with the self-indulgence of the imitation, the original is a model of toughmindedness. Nor is that inferiority itself inherent in the relations of imitations to originals, as Modern Times’s indebtedness to A Nous la Liberte might remind us. In any case, were one to press charges of plagiarism of 8 1/2, Fellini himself has more to answer for than Larry Tucker (co-author of Alex in Wonderland) and Paul Mazursky (co-author and director). If 8 1/2 can be made to look bad, it is more by the desperate self-exploitation of Juliet of the Spirits than by the frank homage of Alex in Wonderland.
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