Guido Anselmi, a film director, finds himself creatively barren at the peak of his career. Urged by his doctors to rest, Anselmi heads for a luxurious resort, but a sorry group gathers—his producer, staff, actors, wife, mistress, and relatives—each one begging him to get on with the show. In retreat from their dependency, he fantasizes about past women and dreams of his childhood.
A philistine in the art film business, Jeremy Prokosch is a producer unhappy with the work of his director. Prokosch has hired Fritz Lang to direct an adaptation of "The Odyssey," but when it seems that the legendary filmmaker is making a picture destined to bomb at the box office, he brings in a screenwriter to energize the script. The professional intersects with the personal when a rift develops between the writer and his wife.
A NYPD officer imprisons and tortures an admitted cop-killer, but finds the tables turned when his victim refuses to break and in fact urges more punishment.
The story of Italian cinema under Fascism, a sophisticated film industry built around the founding of the Cinecittà studios and the successful birth of a domestic star system, populated by very peculiar artists among whom stood out several beautiful, magnetic, special actresses; a dark story of war, drugs, sex, censorship and tragedy.
The silent cinema had already created colossal movies based on ancient civilizations, but it is in the 1950s when peplums reach their apogee in Hollywood. Then, peplums take root at Cinecittà studios, in Rome, where cheap cinema is produced with bodybuilders as heroes. The genre decays in the late 1960s, but rises again decades later, when a modern classic is released in 2000.