One of a handful of masterful films Fellini made during the '60s, including La Dolce Vita, Giullietta Delgi Spiriti, and Satyricon, 1963's 8 1/2 is arguably the director's best work and one of the high points of 20th century cinema. Eschewing many traditional narrative devices, Fellini presents his biographical portrait through a prismatic and fantastical series of flashbacks and "real time" scenes, both professional and personal in content. As usual, his longtime musical collaborator, Nino Rota, substantially enhances the dreamy proceedings with a music hall melange of jazz, classical, lounge, and circus music. By way of his usual and seamless stylistic shifts, Rota moves the Sousaesque main title theme through a mix of operatic interludes, cabaret swing, polka romps, and organ combo ditties -- often in the space of one number. While done in less dramatic fashion, Rota similarly stretches out the bouncy and self-explanatory "Carlotta's Galop" theme, even pairing it on one piece with Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and a lively, Edith Piaf-inspired vocal. On the same high level of Rota's other popular Fellini soundtracks, 8 1/2 works both as an essential soundtrack title and an optimal first-disc choice for newcomers.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook