Saturday, 11 December 2010

Fellini's Dolce Vita again

Fifty 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 little cinema at Headington. I lived at Ruskin Hall, Old Headington 1961 1962 and then a short distance away from the cinema 1966-1967. I bought the film script with 96 pages of photos in a 1961 publication by Ballantine Books of New York. The English translation is by Oscar DeLiso and Bernard Shir-Cliff and this adds dialogue to the that subtitled on the DVD.

I experienced the film again some time later on TV and at the end of February 2007 I watched a DVD version though my Internet mail order subscription.

The film was regarded important at the time but is not included in the Barry Norman 100 best films, and my memory of previous viewings is that I failed to appreciate the significance, and was not emotionally engaged, understanding more later. It was Saturday evening late, after a meal when I decided to view again and found it difficult to concentrate, even dozing off. This was not the fault of the film but a condition developed over the last couple of years which can made going to the theatre, attending concert or going to the cinema after food in the evenings, problematic. I decided on a second viewing with a note book over lunch the following day March 1st 2007.

Asked by a relative what I wanted for Christmas I decided on a collection of Fellini films which included La Dolce Vita and deciding to review and re publish MySpace Blogs on Google, and finding that my Blog on the film was next, I decided to watch again today after lunch. 11th February, 2009. and that the 10th was on the experience of the film. Commenced a review, revision and addition of my original notes before going out for the Daily Mail DVD of the day, some other shopping and returning for Prime Minister’s Question Time and then having another viewing over lunch. I went to boots to look for creams and devices to work on my feet where the skin has become very rough and unpleasant to the touch. Nearby here were digital thermometers and I have been forgetting to get one since being unable read an old family mercury based one a year ago when I experienced a bad cold with breathing problems and a urinary tract infection with perspiration soaking my clothing at one point. I bought the second least expensive for under £10.

I begin by explaining why this film has continued to interest and haunt me. It represents a way of life which I reject, layer upon layer of decadence, yet I have also always been attracted to it.

La Dolce Vita introduced everyone to the world of celebrity and the paparazzi with its central figure an established columnist and would be serious writer, played by Italian heart throb Marcello Mastroianni. an Italian Cary Grant or Ray Milland, replacing their laid back humour with angst.
When released some did not like the film because there is no plot, no story as such, only a series of scenes, exploring through the eyes of one individual the society of the Italian and European celebrity, film star, aristocracy and intelligentsia, with an mixture of American, English and French accents as well as Italian. (These days some criticise films for conventional story telling- revised Para and added note 9.50 11.02.2009)

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, together with a girl a girls at a night club. There is one girl encountered at a beach side restaurant, and in the last scene of the film, who represents youthful innocence and idealism..

The opening sequence is that of a helicopter carrying an outstretched statue of Christ, possibly over the undeveloped ruins of ancient Rome, (The San Felice aqueduct) and across a development area of cold concrete post war flats for the working class, and then to a rooftop penthouse playground with young women sunbathing thrilled by the sight above and who attempt to communicate with Mastroianni and his cameraman, who are following in the second helicopter (He is called Marcello in the film as well as in life). They mouth to the girls that this is a statue for the Pope which is something which I believe actually happened, but do I know that or is it a mental trick? One of the girls comments that they want our telephone number. I miss that they ask the girls if they want to ride with them although the helicopter already looks overcrowded. For me the scene indicates that although this is something serious of religious significance, Marcello this is as just another event and of more interest are the scantily dressed young women. (Revised prior to watching the film at 9.55am when I was listening to a double CD volume of the originator of New Orleans Jazz, King Oliver and his Rhythm Kings and revised again at 1.45pm)

The next scene has Mastroianni doing what he does best, writing about the trivia of the personality in a nightclub scene. The film notes say this is a place for people with money but also place which attracts women and men of the night. I was struck that many individuals looked bored and this appears to have been intentional

Marcello tries to find out what is being eaten and drank at table sixteen. The prince is eating snails and the wine is Soave. Someone interjects Vapolicella and Marcello bribes the headwaiter for his assistant to take a photograph. There is uproar as a body guard intervenes. Marcello is summed to another table another table where one of the girls looks vacuous, probably paid for, and the man tells him off for organising the incident and say he has created a situation when the husband of the woman with the prince finds out. Marcello says he is doing his job

Marcello is a regular here and goes to speak to a woman Maddalena -Anouke Aimee who is upset because her date has not arrived (and has a black eye) and suggests the establishment be closed because it is so awful. They leave together going into the Via Vento, the Italian centre of high and low life, she drives and other paparazzi arrive and take photos of Marcello and Maddalena and one comments she is more photogenic than any actress. She says the same every night don’t t they get sick of their job and he says that she should be used to it. During the journey Marcello says she has too much money and she retaliates that he has too little.

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 who criticises that she had not fixed a price for the use of her room.

The hero returns to his live in girl friend, (Emma -Yvonne Furneaux) 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 Caligula which I remember well, but not the orgy 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. (It is true that the Church saw the film as an attack on itself as it was on contemporary Roman paganism- added 2.50pm).

Marcello is immediately back to work as he join the pack for the arrival of a blonde film star, Annita Ekberg who adores the publicity of the pack and has no problem ingratiating herself by eating from a platter of Italian meats, Parma ham, as someone is carrying a large ham but script says pizza. Marcello appears relaxed, refusing to participate in scrum and he chats airhostess for information or just chatting them up, although. A motorcade forms from the airport on to the city and then the press corps are invited to her hotel room. Marcello continues to be relaxed refusing to jockey for position, besieging the actress with the usual silly and simple questions. Marcello is more concerned about the condition of his girl friend who from a phone call learns she is in another state fearing he is alone with the actress in her room. The reason for being relaxed emerges as Marcello has the confidence of the director of the film which the actress is to star and he agrees that Marcello should show the actress something of the city. During this scene the male friend of Sylvia arrives, drunk, Robert.

The best bit is when an English voice asks the star, Miss Rank, if she has ever made a film in England. The rank organisation formed in 1937-1996 by J Arthur distributed films, acquiring Odeon and Gaumont Cinemas, studios at Borehamwood and Paramount Pictures. The trade mark was the Gongman.

Scene sixteen opens in the Dome of St Peters and as they go outside she loses her hat and a relationship between the two is established. They move to a night club transformed from the ruins of Roman Baths of Caracalla where the band is playing Arrivederci Roma. The camera shows as an old woman with a young boy and old fat man with a Chinese girl. As Marcello and the actress dances closely he utters the immortal seduction lines : You are everything Sylvia, Don’t you know that you are everything, everything, You are the first woman on the first day of creation. You are the mother, the sister, the lover, the friend... an angel, a devil, the earth, the home....Yes that’s what you are, Sylvia, the home... He continues while she sings the song, why did you have to come here? Go back to America please... Do you understand? What am I to do now?”

An American actor, who she already knows well enters and Marcello is abandoned as Sylvia and the new arrival dance exotically. The next arrival is a rock and roll star and this prompts Sylvia to initiate dance which involves just about every one present. Robert looks on sketching. As the party continues we understand that Sylvia is a media creation and Marcello has great difficult extracting from the party for himself. He takes on a tour of the city ending a bar where eh lead the actress outside in the car while he rings Maddalena and asks if he came bring the actress to her home with she shares with her father, and who like Marcello and others tends to wear dark glass indoors and at night. Close to the Trevi Fountains Sylvia takes an interest in 65 kitten. Then the two arrive back at the hotel where Robert is waiting, asleep drunk, photographed by the Paparazzi. Marcello arrives with Sylvia and Paparazzi turns their attention to the new arrivals. Robert hits Marcello in the stomach and he doubles up.

Marcello is in a church where he is approached by a friend Steiner or the other way round. One is there because the priest has found a book needed. Steiner compliments Marcello on a recent writings questioning why he does not write with such clarity more, revealing his true self. He invites Marcello to visit him. He takes Marcello up stairs with the approval of the priest to the church organ and becomes engrossed in playing the Bach Toccata and Fugue.

Accompanied by his faithful live in girl friend Emma and the photographer they travel 45 mins to where some children. There si a large crowd of media, locals and pilgrims. The children are locked in the police station for their own protection. A priest believes the children have made up the story for publicity and attention. ‘Miracles are born in solitude and not in such chaos.’ More and more media arrive at the spot where the miracle is said to happen and people ring their sick children and elderly elatives to be cured. Darkness comes but still the pilgrims and media from all over the world assemble. A relative of the children is interviewed. There is fresh excitement when Rome gives permission for the children to attend.

Marcello climbs a lighting scaffold to obtain a better view. The girl friend promises the Virgin Mary that she will come everyday barefoot if Marcello wants to marry her, but in the next breadth she admit he has changed and no longer loves her.

The children come and kneel down close to the tree where the Virgin is said to have appeared. The public also kneel and prey. One man preys for a win in the lottery. The rains comes and causes further chaos. The girls runs in one direction saying she can see the Madonna. The children now run in different direction with the crowd and media following them. The girls says where a church must be built if she is to reappear. The children are led away and the remaining pilgrims rush to the tree to take a piece, destroying it. Emma the girl friend of Marcello is among them. Dawn breaks and a pilgrim dies and is given the last rites.

Marcello takes Emma to meet Steiner at his home where he is having a soiree. I regard this as the pivotal scene of the film and is perhaps the major exposures of intellectualism on film. I have quoted at length from the translated text and stopped the DVD every few seconds of frames in order to ensure that I have faithfully communicated what Fellini wanted to communicate. The worlds plus the film and acting make the whole.

Steiner says to Emma that he knows her well although they have not met. She loves Marcello more than Marcello loves himself.

An oriental woman is playing a guitar and uttering sounds, a chant of some kind. Another guest says something inane. “I’ve always said so the only authentic woman is the Oriental woman.” His wife says why did you marry me and he says it was a great mistake. And goes on in the same vein as Marcello to the actres earlier, “Mysterious, maternal, lover and daughter at the same time. The Oriental woman delights you by crouching at your feet like a tiger in love. The joy of being submissive, of being dominated body and soul.” The host attempts to change the subject by introducing Marcello and his wife but the man continues. “I believe we have a great deal to elarn from these magnificent Oriental women, because you see they have kept close to nature, the nature they have conquered after centuries and centuries of Civilization. Civilization? Can you tell me what good it serves? “

Steiner explains to Marcello that trhe man has written dozens of books and speculates how he has remained so optimistic and in such good health.

A woman dressed in the habit of a monk calls out to Marcello, saying she she knows from Steriner that he ahs two loves and cannot make up his mind: Journalism and Literature. She tells Marcello to remain free to burn and not freeze. Marcello explains that he wants to write like a woman, Clear, honest, without rhetoric. The female poet says Yes we must all think of tomorrow. But we must not forgfet to live today.I believe that if one really lives intensely, with complete spiritual fulfilment, every moment becomes a year and every year makes one five years younger.

The poet turns to Emma recognising she is not an intellectual and who has challenged Marcello about his knowledge of the female and asks how she spends her time. Emma is embarrassed and cannot asnwer except to ask the poet, Iris, to respond who says, three oblivions, smoke, drink and bed. Steiner interjects “and you call that wisdom?”

Someone calls for quiet and turns on the tape recorder explaining that this is a dialogue between feminine wisdom and masculine uncertainty and replays what has been said but when Steiner is heard saying I am not any taller than that there is a clap like thunder. The recordings has been overplaying sounds of nature, thunder, the sea which Steiner has previously made. Emma is interested in the sounds. There is the sound of birds at day break. Emma enjoys the sounds while the intellectuals look for meaning and significance.

The two young children of the family arrive in their night clothes and they are Emma interact because they view rhe world the same way and Marcello understands the longing of his girl friend for marriage and children. Marcello tells Steiner Will ever accomplish anything? Once I had ambition but perhaps I am losing it, forgetting everything. Steiner “Don’t believe you must take refuge in yourself. Any life, even the most miserable, is worth more than a sheltered existence in a world where everything is organised, where everything is practical, everything has its place.” He offers to introduce Marcello to some of his contacts but it will involve giving up writing for semi fascist magazines.

He take Marcello with him to say goonight to his children and comments that “sometimes the night, this darkness, this calm weights on me. It is peace that makes me afraid. Perhaps because I distrust it above everything else. I feel that it hides only an appearance, that it hides a danger. Sometimes I think of the world that my children will know. They say the world of the future will be wonderful. What does that mean. It needs only the gesture of madman to destriy everything. “ His face eflected in threw window shows great sadness and pain. No we should live more in the spirit of those phrases I read just now........or rather we should come to love one another outside of time, beyond time. To live detached.

Marcello is at the seaside writing at a simple beachside restaurant a pretty innocent young waitress lays out the tables inviting him to stay for a meal as the food is good. He chats her up, flatters but she is unimpressed with his sophisticated ways. Emma rings to enquire when she will see him again. She is triumphant. His attempt to be a serious writers appears to have failed.

The film takes us back to the Via Veneto at Night. It appears Marcello has returned to his former life. On arrival Marcello is advised that his father has arrived, is eating and had been there for two hours He calls him Papa and Papa says he has been in Rome since the morning. He has been looking all over for him. He has been in Rome in a matter involving the government. He has a letter for Marcello from his mother. You could write more often and come and see once in a while. How long is it since you have been home?
After a little more father son family talk father indicates he is not ready for bed and Marcello says there is nothing more to do but nightclubs. Father mentions he has heard of a club called Chin Chow Chit Chat or such like. Marcello says it is Kit Kat and ld nightclub. Father insists on paying although Marcello earns five times more.

They go to the night club with the photographer assistant and where three girls dressed as cats are sort of dancing. Marcello would not go to this kind of club, not sophisticated enough but the impression obtained is that his father has been therefore, sometime ago, Nothing has changed he says just as I remembered it! It was 1922. Papa tells the story of a night club in Paris where a beautiful girl starts to strip and when she is naked it is a man. quickly evident that father and son know little of each other. One of the acts involves six girls in flapper dresses who dance among the guests and one of these is well known to Marcello and this intrigues his father. The girl, French, called Fanny accepts the invitation to join them for champagne. She tells Papa he looks too young to be the father of Marcello. Pap responds Lets not talk of age. Let’s not reawaken the desperate sorrow that presses upon my heart.” He continues do you know what makes us old Boredom. Now he sits home feels like an 80 year old. Handing a glass of champagne to the girl he praises her legs. The girl comments that Papa is much more charming than his son. They dance and father continues to flirt and the girl comments that after all he is like his son. The girl offers to cook then spaghetti and she take his father while they follow behind with two other girls from the club. They however go off into the countryside arriving at the apartment where his father has been over an hour later! Fanny is in street on her way to find a chemist because pap is complaining of feeling ill and has given her a note of the medication he needs. Father recovers and insist on taking an early morning train to be back home by 10am. Marcello is anxious about this and wants his father to stay. Father is determined to return home and foes off in a taxi leaving Marcello in the street, alone. (For evening meal I have three fish cakes and baked beans and after a salad lunch I eat not one or two hot cross buns but three.)

It is even more lively than usual in the Via Veneto and there are lots of cars and a fight breaks out. Marcello sees a girl her now who says she is on her way to the castle of her fiancé and Marcello accompanies her together with the younger brother of the fiancé, another girl who does not speak Italian and a an old woman Aristocratic. It is a long drive and when they arrive the party is ending. The castle home of the Prince Masclchi, don Giul has become a mausoleum. This is the old order of power and tradition and there are aspects of here which remind of Last Year in Marienbad.

The group, if they were young we would say a gang, but I prefer a tribe. 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. Some are drunk others are drinking more. Some dance. Marcello meets various people and then finds Maddalena- Anouke Aimee and she completes he introductions advising Marcello who they are- Jane with a fund of dirty stories-the she wolf who likes to give milk to the young- a couple who own half of Calabria and the best whorehouse in Rome- a young woman with 80000 acres and two suicide attempts, a man with two castle who is with his Swedish lover Nico. Marcello and Maddalena tour property looking at paintings and Marcello says he has been thinking of her and does not understand. She says she does not understand herself. The talk of marriage and love and Maddalena describes herself as a whore, that’s all I am and will never be anything other. She goes off with someone, possible the man who brought her.

The party carrying lighted candelabra make their way to the old villa at one end of the park and Marcello joins them. They are interested in Marcello because he works for a living. They are off to hunt ghosts. The younger son of the Prince says he would turn the building into a whorehouse but his father will not allow him. They see a rat passing by. Some try to hold a séance. The next scene is dawn the guests, some in costumes and ending their night of seeking entertainment and thrill, There is a priest passing with an altar boy, The fiancé wants to eat spaghetti. The Prince’s mother is on her way to Mass and asks the others have been up to. It all seems a pointless worthless experience. (23 15 after watching England outclassed by Spain at Serville 2.0 although we several good chances to score).

Marcello and girl friend Emma are in car stationary in the country having a disagreement; She is wanting commitment from him accusing him of being a egotist with a closed and empty heart, She gets out of the vehicle and runs away sobbing when he tells her leave him for good. Marcello takes the car to where she is and tries to explain that he cannot spend the whole of his life loving her. She gets back in the car still trying to make him understand how she feel and he her. They are upset with themselves for not being the other person the wants and needs. This time Marcello goes off leaving her alone walking in the middle of no where. Dawn finds her still walking and then the sound of a vehicle approaches.

The couple are asleep in their apartment, Emma looks blissfully happy. The telephone rings and Marcello is called out. Steiner has shot his two children and shot himself. Marcello gets into the apartment because he is a friend rather than a newsman. The police Commissioner has to leave to meet Mrs Steiner who is returning home by bus. Marcello accompanies as he knows the woman. While it is difficult to engage or feel sympathy when any of the characters in the film so far, apart from the ordinary living people to which Marcello’s father has to be added we not come to one moment of unbearable experience as Mrs Steiner oblivious to what has happened does not understand why the media has gathered, is first reassured seeing Marcello and gradually realises that something is wrong, my children she pleads. Then we learn that although shot they are not dead and will survive.

The final scenes commence as cars race to the coast in the night full of lawyers, dancers millionaires, transvestites, hangers on and whores. They a breaking into a beach villa for a party. Marcello is here. Marcello toast a woman who has annulled a marriage and announces that he is no longer a writer or journalist, Marcello says that the party is a bore and he has never been with such boring people. A couple of transvestites dance. A girl offers to strips but others say they have seen her naked already. The woman whose marriage has been annulled offers and the offer is accepted. But when she is topless on the floor the owner of the property arrives. The party begins to break up, people insult each other. There is sexual horseplay. A girl becomes very drunk. And Marcello smothers her with feathers from a cushion to make her into a chicken. It is dawn again.

The guests prepare to leave but they see something at the edge of beach and they go down to explore. Fisherman are bringing a giant Schooner fish that is said to have been dead for three days after break the fisherman‘s net. While the party members examine and comment on the fish Marcello’s attention is diverted to seeing the girl he encountered when he was attempting to write his novel. She calls out Hey Mister but what she says cannot be heard because of the wind and distance. Marcello signals to her to join him in his car or is referring to when they were in his car? One of the girls in the party comes and leads him away. The girl continues to look at him as they move away. One interpretation is that the girl represents his youth and idealism and she is calling to him saying there is still time if he makes the effort to join her. Marcello realises it is too late and continues with his life of one layer of decadence upon decadence.

I am reminded of the saying when the Gods decide to punish they give us what we wish for.

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