CINEMA: La Dolce Vita Turns 50

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LA DOLCE VITA (1960, directed by Federico Fellini, 174 minutes, Italy)

On Fri, Mar 6, 2009 at 10:26 AM, Dan Buskirk wrote:
Subject: Re: Slacking…

Sorry for this undesired sabbatical, I got frozen out of Tuesday night THE WATCHMAN screening and missed the midnight screening last night.  Will be back on the horse very soon.

-db

Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2009 13:14:59 -0500
Subject: Re: Slacking…
From: jonathan.valania
To: dbuskirk1

Grrrr. You can pay penance by giving me an appreciation of La Dolce Vita on the eve of its 50th Anniversary for this weekend.

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BuskirkByline_REV.jpgBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Come up with something new to say abut La Dolce Vita?  Now there is a film that is so canonized that everything about it has probably been said, no?  It is like asking a music writer to come up with something new to say about Sgt. Pepper.  By now Federico Fellini’s rambling, episodic week-long jaunt through the Rome of the late 1950’s has been dissembled, inspected, interpreted and placed on the alter of inarguable works of cinematic high art.  It would seem that the only thing left after 50 years is to drag it out in film classes to frustrate and annoy distracted college students.

To which I say, pity the poor fool who thinks he has advanced beyond the great master Fellini.  Throwing on La Dolce Vita again, for my fifth or sixth viewing I find that it hasn’t ever seemed more relevant to our world than now, despite the fact that Western society is in many ways one hundred and eighty degrees away from the situation the film documents. This is Rome 12 years after the post- World War II devastation seen in DeSica’s 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves.  In that time Italy went through “The Economic Miracle” and a new feeling of hope and comfort had come over the society.  In La Dolce Vita, Marcello Mastroianni is the journalist who has a front tow seat for “The Sweet Life.”  Over a week’s time he is pursued by the heiress played by the beautifully unreadableAnouk Aimee, he witnesses the spectacle of a soaking wet Anita Ekberg cavorting in the Fontana di Trevi and he attends mad orgies filled with The Beautiful People.  Life is great!

Years ago, like many first time viewers, I went in expecting the joyousness that Mastroianni & Fellini effortlessly nicofrozenborderline.jpgproject, taking the title at it’s face value.  The film is certainly full of humor, among its charms it is fun to see Nico, a few years before the chanteuse would be grafted onto The Velvet Underground (“Where are you from?” asks an confounded Marcello.  “I’m an Eskimo” she replies, her VU ice queen persona already established).  But as the circus unspooled I was originally set off-balance by the darkness that slowly emerged; if there is a single word to describe this jam-packed film it would be “disillusionment”.  Marcello’s journalist is aware of everything Italy’s population has lived through, yet despite the tragic repercussions of the war, the Italian denizens seem to have emerged no deeper or wiser.  Instead they are completely self-absorbed in decadent, fleeting and superficial pleasures.  It is the party not as celebration but as mere narcotic escape.

It was this disillusionment that made today’s viewing of La Dolce Vita‘s seem the most direct and relevant yet.  As a nation, we are not arising from a nightmare, instead some unimaginable nightmare seems intent to engulf us.  Marcello, as a hack journalist, is part of this sick charade and slowly he becomes disgusted with it as well, appalled to see up close and firsthand a society consumed by it baser instincts. Today, as the wealth drains out of American society at unfathomable speed it is a similar disgust that is rising, a knowledge that the former head of NASDAQ is really a criminal con man, the pharmaceutical companies conspire to make us sick and the people who are making our kid’s peanut butter could care less if they die eating it.  At the end of the film, Marcello stands over that unrecognizable sea monster the ocean has spit out and looks into its dead eye.  The question is left to linger: “What for heaven’s sake has nature spit out and washed upon our shores?”  Fellini made La Dolce Vita 50 years ago, and yet its moment is now.

NICO: Femme Fatale

With Lou Reed and John Cale, Paris, 1972

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