A couple of weeks ago I, watched the Fellini film, La Dolce Vita. I was a Dolce Vita Virgin up until then, tho’ it’s been on the to do list for years. I’d read so much about it, but somehow failed to take in what a grim, tawdry tale it is, fittingly ending with a beached dead fish.

That isn’t to say it didn’t hold my attention. It did, right from the beginning, where the statue of Jesus, arms open wide, is flown across city of Rome, suspended from a helicopter, a piece of comic metaphor that fifty years on still packs its punch. What didn’t punch above its weight was the much vaunted scene in the Trevi Fountain, described on the dvd sleeve as ‘the now infamous scene of Mastroiani and Anita Ekberg frolicking.’ Either I’ve lived my life misunderstanding the word ‘frolic’ or the copywriter was watching different footage.

The film resonated with me, not so much for its hedonism, as for its Rome, which I visited for the first time, but not the last – I threw coins into that fountain – a year ago. The Trevi Fountain was under scaffolding and behind plastic sheeting when I was there.Under restoration, the stone, having been cleaned, showed its original whiteness, rather than the dull monotones of Fellini’s film.

But it was the street restaurants, where the Paparazzi hang out – named after the film’s ‘hero’ Marcello’s photographer sidekick Paparazzo – that took me back. There was one such restaurant next door to the hotel in which we stayed, so tempting, that on two out of our three nights in the city, we merely ambled next door for our supper, and watched the traffic roll past, much as it does – should that be did? – in the film.

It was at that sidewalk cafe we encountered a party of Americans who might have been lifted straight from Fellini’s old film stock. Friendly, talkative – from the culture that gives you its name along with the handshake, not waiting for any formal introductions – the unofficial spokesman of the group, pointed out to us a couple seated at a table across the pavement against the hotel wall.

They’re Americans, he told us. I’m going to buy their meal for them. He waved the waiter over and had a word, pointing to the couple, passing over his credit card. Make sure they don’t get charged twice, he told us, and then the group rose and left, and wound its way through the throng down the street between the crawling cars, beneath the five storey facades of the buildings, under the warm starlit  -actually it was mostly neon lit – sky.

When the couple finished their meal and it came to paying, the waiter splayed his open palms, and pointed across to us. The couple, middle aged, obviously not Italian – not even M & S Collezione Italian – came over to our table, looking bemused. It turned out they were from Cornwall.

Fellini’s hedonists are a miserable bunch. Their laughter, as it was supposed to do I hope, rings hollow. Throughout the film the attitudes of the players seems terribly dated, especially those of the men towards the women. Emma, Marcello’s long suffering girlfriend is the voice of ‘ordinary domesticity,’ but she is eventually shouted down, and Marcello’s one possible alternative model for life, Steiner, blows his own brains out, having shot his two children. Marcello’s own father, whom we learn was rarely at home when Marcello was a child, seems to fail him again. At the party near the end, Marcello becomes a sort of ringmaster, trying to turn the ‘flat’ event into some kind of orgy. One of the wives offers to strip – without any element of tease as it turns out. ‘I’m having fun’ she tells her sulking husband, but we are not convinced. That too falls flat, and Marcello’s circus ends with him scattering feathers from a punctured cushion, on each of the guests as they leave.

Outside, in the light of dawn – a recurrent motif throughout the film – which brings no really new day, the jaded partygoers drift down to the sea shore, where locals are hauling in the bloated corpse of the dead sea-monster. The final image of this sombre tale is of a young girl, separated by water, from the dishevelled Marcello, who has turned from her to drift off across the beach in the wake of his society friends. The girl -we saw her before at a ristorante where Marcello had gone to write – has tried to communicate with him, but the sound of the waves breaking has drowned out their words, in a sad echo of the opening scene, where Marcello and Paparazzo, shouting down to roof-top sunbathers from the press helicopter in which they are following the airborne Christ, cannot make themselves heard, nor hear what is being shouted up to them.

How does a film like this, now more than half a century old, stand up in comparison to modern day social mores, and, perhaps, should it have to? Those Paparazzi form a link. They are still with us, if taken more for granted now – they seemed especially shocking to me in the film. Sleaze and exploitation are still with us. Wealth exploits poverty, aristocracies of one sort and another behave in ways that they would deprecate in plebs. I wonder though, if one were to re-make the film in a contemporary setting, whether it would be the mis-en-scene rather than the scene itself that would change…whether our camera’s viewpoint would be different, its actual perspective and implied attitude, rather than the events it was recording that would be the most noticeable difference? And perhaps, whether or not it would be would be the most telling element of the comparison?

BHDandMe in his English Derby....

BHDandMe in his English Derby….

 

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