Saturday, April 6, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "LA DOLCE VITA"

LA DOLCE VITA (1960)

Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli and Brunello Rondi



After hearing about Roger Ebert's untimely death, I thought it would be appropriate to change my planned "Canon of Film" blog to a film that would be a perfect tribute for Roger Ebert. The problem was trying to decide which one. A critic for over 40+ years, he's written on many films. Many times, his reviews have made and broken films. Films like "Fargo", "Hoop Dreams", "Million Dollar Baby", "Monster", even "2001: A Space Odyssey",  he was way ahead of the curve on championing those films long before the rest of the world was, and becoming incredibly influential in bringing those films to a wider audience. Often the case, his most famous movie reviews were negative ones however. Who hasn't read and pawned over his review of "North", for a great laugh, and a lesson on how to let your true emotions spew into your work. He also panned many films that have become important classics like "A Clockwork Orange", "Blue Velvet," or one of my favorite negative reviews he wrote, "Fast Times at Ridgemone High," even though I completely disagreed with him, I can't argue his review. He also wrote the Russ Meyer film "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls", and while I enjoyed the film, and some consider it a classic, I really don't think it's this great. I could pull my review of Meyer's "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!", but that hardly seems appropriated. I've already posted my Canon of Film blogs on many of the films he's already written on so eloquently, and helped define his importance, but I finally narrowed it down to "Bonnie and Clyde", which he famously was the only major critic to recommend when it first came out, but instead, I thought about the films he really loved. The films he most associated himself to,one of those films that was not only great, but that he personally loved. Most people would consider "8 1/2" to be Fellini's greatest film, but when he filled out his "Sight & Sound" poll every ten years, including this past year, he would put "La Dolce Vita", on there instead. He first gave the film, only a 3 STAR (Out of 4) review, when he wrote for the Daily Illini, the University of Illinois's newspaper, it's one of the first reviews he ever wrote, yet he kept coming back to review that film over the years, and the genuine affection he had for the film, in many ways mirrored and reflected his own life. I believe he associated himself with Marcello Mastroianni's character quite strongly, and his repeated viewings of the film, changed with his age, and he reflected upon that, when he wrote his own Great Movie review of the film. I don't normally like to quote, but this is the last two paragraphs from that review:

"Movies do not change, but their viewers do. When I saw "La Dolce Vita", in 1960, I was an adolescent for whom "the sweet life" represented everything I dreamed of: sin, exotic, European glamour, the weary romance of the cynical newspaperman. When I saw it again, around 1970, I was living in a version of Marcello's world; Chicago's North Avenue was not the Via Veneto, but at 3 a.m. the denizens were just as colorful, and I was about Marcello's age. 

When I saw the movie around 1980, Marcello was the same age, but I was 10 years old, had stopped drinking, and saw him not as a role model but as a victim, condemned to an endles search for happiness that could never be found that way. By 1991, when I analyzed the film a frame at a time at the University of Colorado, Marcello seemed youger still, and while I had once admired and then criticized him, now I pitied and loved him. And when I saw the movie right after Mastroianni died, I thought that Fellini and Marcello had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal. There may be no such thing as the sweet life. But it is necessary to find that out for yourself.

So, this one is for Roger, and I'll post my own tribute to my thoughts on Roger Ebert before my Movie Reviews later. For myself, "La Dolce Vita", is somewhere between that world I dream of, and that cynical weariness, and in many ways the films is like that too. In some ways, I wonder if the film represent Fellini's transition from romantic to cynic. The beginning, he seems to be that romantic outsider looking onto a world that he dreams to be apart, and by the end of the movie, he is apart of that world, and is now finds himself disgusted with it, and himself.

The films of Federico Fellini are so distinctive; his name is now an adjective. (Felliniesque) They ponder on such things as clowns and high-wire acts, and dancing and performances, almost as though he’s too distracted to ever get to the actual story. That’s not the case at all, the distractions are the story in his films. His characters are bored and are looking for something, anything to make their lives bearable. In this case, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) is a paparazzo, (The first known documentation of the word, used in this context) whose in search of “The Sweet Life,” aka “La Dolce Vita.” He goes everywhere looking at the house of a prostitute, searching for it with his suicidal girlfriend, Fanny (Magali Noel), and instead finding a socialite with the sex drive of Mrs. Robinson, without the shame, in Magdalena (Anouk Aimee); he searches with a visiting American movie star, Sylvia (Anika Ekberg) as they spend a dreamlike night walking around Rome, and he even searches for it, through the eyes of a child who claims to see the image of Mary near a tree. Fellini battled with the Catholic Church for years so church symbolism is unmistakable, from the first shot of Marcello in a helicopter delivering a cross of Jesus while trying to get the phone numbers of some sunbathers. This beautiful image is a stark contrast to the end of the film, after he arrives at a party/orgy at a high-class house where even the thunder doesn’t exist. (This may have been an inspiration for certain moments in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.”)

Most everyone’s favorite sequence is when he follows the movie star, and who wouldn’t, through the streets of Rome late at night somehow ending up dancing in the Trevi fountain. Religious metaphor alert: Cleansing, rebirth, baptism? Of course, what does that mean when Sylvia comes home in the morning and immediately gets slapped around by her alcoholic boyfriend, Robert (Lex Barker) Supposedly the film with its seven distinct and memorable segments represents the seven deadly sins, and also each of the scenes taking place on the Seven Hills of Rome. I haven’t watched the film enough times to completely confirm this, but there’s probably some truth to it. Really though, we mostly are just following the main character on his journeys, doing everything he basically can to not do anything and desperately trying to just live. The fact that a photographer, and a paparazzi at that, has to feel this way, is what will through people off. Marcello Mastroianni portraying the internal thoughts of Fellini himself is a more thought out idea when you watch “8 ½,” but here though you can make the same assumption. Is he bored, forgetful, insipid, gluttonous? What does the monster that came from the sea actually mean? That’s for you to decipher, not me. Whether the monster is the image of the sweet life, or the helicopter carrying Jesus is, we must judge for ourselves. Certain things Marcello does, I like, other actions I don’t. Are they simply contradictory or just parts of his life’s journey? Our life’s journey? Fellini’s life journey? Marcello’s life journey? Well, whomever life it is, if he is complaining, he can trade life with me any day. Well, some days. 
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