8 1/2

My favorite movie has long been Fellini’s 8 1/2. It’s a movie which seems designed to appeal to a computer programmer: it’s self-referential and recursive, a movie about the making of itself. It’s also about the difficulties of the creative process, and that is where it resonates most strongly with me. The director in the movie, Guido, is struggling to create something beautiful, and is winding up with a mish-mash of scenes, some of which mostly succeed and some of which mostly fail. Fellini, the real director, is struggling with the same thing, with the same results.

It’s the same thing I feel when I write a computer program. I start out thinking that this program will be beautiful, will do what it needs to do cleanly and elegantly. In the end there are a few successes and many failures, and the whole thing is deeply compromised and unsatisfactory. I never really like revisiting my old programs, because although there is the occasional moment of appreciation for how smart I was for a short bit, there is mostly the recollection of how the whole thing never really pulled together the way I wanted.

Fellini, of course, does pull together 8 1/2 at the end, and the movie becomes something beautiful, if not perhaps quite what he or Guido set out to make. But then Fellini is a great artist, and I am not.


  1. Octoploid said,

    March 9, 2011 @ 8:15 am

    >But then Fellini is a great artist, and I am not.

    You may not be a great artist, but rest assured you’re a great
    Pushing C++ into GNU-land surely wasn’t easy, but you’ve
    succeeded already in this regard. Gold is great; and we can
    now build gcc with –enable-build-with-cxx…

    These accomplishments will hopefully become much more
    visible in the future.
    (The only thing I don’t much care about is “go”.)

  2. ouah said,

    March 11, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

    >But then Fellini is a great artist, and I am not.

    I also like this movie and the “mise en abyme”
    in “8 1/2” makes me remind the famous Eternal
    Golden Braid of Hofstadter.

    I do personally think that software engineers are
    artist. They also create. In a poem I like, the 19th
    century French poet Theophile Gautier wrote this

    “Carve, smooth, chisel:
    Let your floating dream;
    Be sealed;
    In the resisting block!”


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