November 26, 2008

Once upon a time ... La Dolce Vita

I can’t honestly say that La Dolce Vita is one of my favourite movies, nor that it is my favourite Federico Fellini’s masterpiece (I prefer I Vitelloni, La Strada, and above all Amarcord), but I understand and respect the reasons why millions of people from all over the world tend to consider it as one of the best films ever. In any case, there is no doubt that La Dolce Vita is a cult movie which represents a watershed moment in the history of both cinema and custom.

That is why, since its half-century mark—Fellini conceived the film in November 1958, shot in 1959 and premiered in early 1960—is approaching, Rimini, the director’s hometown, is pulling out the stops to give the movie a two-year-long international birthday bash. The celebrations will eventually extend to Los Angeles in 2009 (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hold an exhibition in Beverly Hills from January 24 to April 19 on Fellini’s “Book of my Dreams”).

All this, the Guardian writes today,

is a world away from the furore when the film was finally released in 1960 - when Fellini was spat on "in the name of the fatherland" at the Milan premiere, challenged to a duel by an outraged Roman, accused of inciting vice and immorality by the Vatican newspaper and saw fights break out in the audience after showings.

But the film was not even universally admired by liberal critics:

An early Guardian review observed that the film lasts three hours, "of which two are superfluous", before offering the withering judgment that "even the best sequences rise no higher than the level of good journalism".

Light years away, actually. Another major British newspaper, the Independent, tells the story of how it all started, namely when an American billionaire decided to cheer up a penniless young Venetian countess by bankrolling a birthday party for her in a trattoria in Trastevere. It was then that on the dance floor the then almost-unknown Anita Ekberg started pulling down her suspenders …

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