Friday, 20 February 2009

Fellini's La Dolce Vita

For five years ago, I saw La Dolce Vita either just before or while I was at ..Ruskin College. If it was before Ruskin, or out of term it would have been at the Academy in Oxford Street, while at Oxford it would have been at the cinema old Headington. I have watched a TV showing some and I may even have a video somewhere.

It is a film regarded as important at the time but not included in the Barry Norman 100 and my memory of previous viewing is that I failed to appreciate the significance originally and was not emotionally engaged, understanding more later. It was Saturday evening late for me tired and after a meal and therefore difficult to concentrate with perhaps a mini siesta along the way and therefore I decided on a second viewing with note book over lunch today.

The importance of the film now is that it introduced everyone to the world of celebrity and the paparazzi with the central figure an establish columnist and would be serious writer, played by Italian heart throb Marcello Mastrioanni an Italian Cary Grant or Ray Milland but without their laid back humour, and with angst.

At the time some did not like the film because there is no plot, no story but a series of scenes in which each explores the society of the Italian and European celebrity, film starts, aristocracy, intelligentsia with American and English voices and the actress French? This is a bleak film with desolate landscapes devoid of ordinary people and even the working class characters are a couple of ladies of the night and their gentlemen minders or a couple of girls, one from Paris who work in a night club.

The opening sequence is that of a helicopter carrying an outstretched statue of Christ, possible over the undeveloped ruins of old Rome, across the a post war development area of cold concrete post war flats for the working class and then to a rooftop penthouse playground with young women thrilled by the sight and the flirtatious telephone number seeking hero and his cameraman in the second helicopter signalling the chase for the next celebrity scoop, (the Vatican statue) and a spirituality of his own.

We are then transported to what our hero does best write about the trivia of the personality, a prince sitting with two women one a vacuous young woman bored with the implication that she is purchased company. Our hero learns that he is not eating snails but this neither may nor be accurate because he told the wine which is corrected by cameraman who we assume witnessed the bottle being taken to him. The Prince summons the invader and tells him what he thinks. Our hero then meets up with Anouk Aimme, a star of the time, with whom he has more than a passing relationship, despite she having more money than she knows what do with and he has only his journalist earnings. They encounter two ladies of the night with their gentlemen protectors and take one on them to her partially flooded basement flat in the city area of dead souls. They make love, spending the rest of the night, this is by implication, there is nothing explicit shown in this film of 1960, and it has to be presumed their hostess spends the night with her protector. But these are essentially night people frequently going home with the dawn.

The hero returns to his live in girl friend who has taken an overdose. Her role is to represent the mother type love of the traditional wife although it is evident that she is too self obsessed with her predicament and that he is never there except occasionally for bed, so that when she offers to make a ravioli she remembers that she is missing the salad. She recovers but he has to square the situation with the police for Italy is a post fascist (in theory) Catholic country and attempted suicide is both a crime and a mortal sin.

One reviewer of the film, Rumney Taylor makes the point that the opening sequence is intended to remind us of the pagan origins of Rome, and there are subsequent scenes of orgy although nothing of the order of those of Satyricon and Calligua which I remember well, but not the brother sequence of Fellini's film a decade later of Roma, while he suggests that the flying Christ is intended to remind that Rome remains the seat of Catholic power.

He then breaks cover from the night to join the pack for the arrival of a blonde film star who adores the publicity of the pack and has no problem ingratiating herself by eating from a platter of Italian meats, Parma ham, but I cannot be sure. This scrum scene ends with our hero chatting up airhostess for information or just chatting them up, although he has already set his sights on getting as close as possible to the star and he is seen hovering at as the euro film press corps are invited into her hotel suit where an English voice is heard asking Miss Rank if she is to make a film in England.

His attention is successful because we next see him and some of the pack, taking up to the top of the Dome of St Peters where dressed as a cleric she looses the hat overlooking St Peters Square thus revealing that long blonde hair showing what is behind the public pretence. By we are soon to see that she is nothing more than a media creation as we move to an odd spacious night club where she meets an American film actor friend also in Rome making a picture reminding of one of the Rat pack whose name I cannot immediately remember. His behaviour and that of our hero annoy the American boyfriend and co star of the actress but not as much as the flamboyant attention seeking antics of the actress. Our hero now whisks the girl away for a night tour of the city ending in the Trevi Fountains and could it be that he is smitten or is he just doing what the job demands to get that exclusive interview for he says things like you are the first woman of creation.

However he accompanied by his faithful live in girl friend Emma and the photographer we are off to the scene of the latest miracle where children who have seen the Virgin Mary are locked in the local police station for their safety. The media ensure a great circus of true believers from the dying praying for life to the woman who calls out for lottery win. The children return and rush off in all directions claiming they can see the Virgin and concluding at one point that this is where a church shall be by a small tree. As darkness descends a great storm threatens to explode the floodlights and in the crush an old man dies and once everyone is departed we see Emma praying that she will return every day barefoot if he marries her.

This the point when our hero encounters the first of the intellectual with wealth and public standing, sufficiently for him to be able to play the church organ as he wishes and he gives a rendition of the opening of the Toccata and Fugue. This contact reminds him of his idealistic artistic dreams and later we see him taking Emma to an evening soiree where at least two of the intellectuals English or is it a Dylan Thomas poetic type welsh accent, was it a year ago before or after coming hear that I did the work on Dylan? Some of the guests are talking pretentious nonsense but our hero is impressed. Emma sensing she is losing him says that he will one day have a flat and lifestyle as his host, but the damage has been done, despite the host warning when hero asks to visit more often because he feels secure, that great work will not emerge for order.

There is also a warning of the tragedy to come when the host says we should love each other outside of time. Our hero goes of to the seaside, perhaps out of season because he seems alone working with his typewriter as a pretty innocent young waitress lays out the tables inviting him to say for a meal as the food is good, but he is not working because he has spent too much time in the artificial world chosen for a living, and this makes him even rattier when Emma rings to enquire when she will see him again. The young has a significance which is yet to come. Is this when the tragedy first occurs, or his father arrives for the day in Rome because of a visit to the Ministry.

It is quickly evident that father and son know little of each other. We are taken to a night club where father has gone before and we sit through three acts, one involves a girl who our hero knows and Dad is interested so she is invited to sit with them. We learn that father once sold champagne to half of Italy. Father goes back to the girl's flat while his son, the ubiquitous photographer and a girl who shares the flat. Father is ill and decides to leave. His son wants him to stay and talk but father goes home having had his little adventure, to life in retirement where has the cinema to break the boredom. It is this point I lose my recollection of the subsequent.

There is a the scene perhaps after the pseudo religion event when Emma presses for marriage and a conventional life, they row the fight physically he abandons her in the middle of nowhere in the darkness but return saying he is sorry and they make love. Was it at this point that horror strikes?

They go to the castle home of the Prince the old building is a mausoleum of a place. This is the old order of power above convention and there are aspects of here which remind of Last Year in Marianbad

The group, if they were young we would say a gang, but I prefer a tribe because their behaviour is tribalistic. They need to party unable to bear the reality of themselves alone, and having already gone to party on party they are all seek a different kind thrill. The cause is the celebration of a new life for Anouk Aimee; they have broken into the property of someone who they believe is away and she is easily persuade to do a strip, with other rejected because they have done it before or considered too professional in approach. At the vital moment, shot at a distance, the owner returns and throws them out

The final scene is the party go to the beach, the same beach where he tried to write his great work. The go to see a giant fish that has been caught another experience, he then sees the waitress, at distance she is calling to him to join her, youthful idealism and hope for a better future, but he turns away, perhaps he understands and knows he is lost it is too late to turn back, perhaps he is already lost and does not recognise the opportunity that is being offered, the ending is ambiguous but for me he has become a dead soul not ready for redemption

However I have left to the end the scenes which sum up this film. On the visit to the home of the intellectual, he plays records of nature storms and birds and this awakes his two children who portrayed as two angels. I believe it was and it should be that he awoken from what may have become a marital bed by the news that the intellectual has killed his two children and then turned the gun on himself while his wife is away. The media is there, the other flat dweller it was now emerges to be a vast tall block of posh accommodation and I remember the phrase loving each other out of time, but we are left with no explanation or understanding of the state of mind but it appears to have been an cold calculated intellectual act not caused by some major event. Our hero goes with the family doctor to advise the wife who get off the bus amazed and flattered by having the paparazzi come to greet her. They have become ghouls unable to discriminate between events in search for the big picture to make then known world wide. For our hero who gets into the flat on the basis of being a friend but quickly distances himself from the police enquiry. He is not there to grieve but you feel he is still working and abandoned once and for all time so it appears he had disregarded and then forgotten the plea of the deceased, you must devote yourself to your true interests, to which I would add once you are certain, and even then be prepared to be flexible and for disappoint failure and further change and you change and circumstances occur over which to you have little control or influence…its is not therefore the interests that are important but being true, and with experience fearing, understanding and be prepared for the consequences. I heard recently the saying when the Gods decide to punish us they give us what we want.

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