La Dolce Vita Frederico Fellini (1960 Italy) Marcello Mastroianni; Anita Ekburg
Viewed: Mubi streaming 29 June 2020
Filmed as a series of psychic fragments Fellini’s (FF) film is an oracular vision of the shape of things to come: the transformation of all areas of life into hallucinogenic spectacle with no distinction between the participant and onlooker. Spectacle fed into the amplification circuitry of the media who both feed off and feed into the images they produce. Fellini’s Dolce Vita is an initiation rite into a Western World driven and controlled by ‘image’ whose present dynamic takes the form of Berlusconni as a demonic hybrid apotheosis of the world of politics and media. As I watched Dolce Vita unfold I was awed by FF’s visionary clarity in relation to the convergence in shape and form of the control apparatus.
The opening sequence of the movie is a statement of intent. We see, flying low over Rome, a helicopter with a huge statue of Christ slung by ropes beneath its undercarriage. The apparition causes everyone to look up at this giant airborne caricature. La Dolce Vita (DV) introduces Christ as the clown of the skies, a cosmic Christ for our entertainment and amusement Ladies and Gentlemen…… The flying Christ merges publicity stunt with religion, marrying the two worlds in a spectacle that presages the movies underlying theme.
A thought: where did FF get this statue? It looks like it was made for the movie, for the brave new world of 1960. More interesting where/ how did he get the idea? Perhaps it was something he actually saw or heard about; anyway, ‘as idea’ it perfectly and succinctly predicates what follows.
In DV, FF uses the structurally broken filmic fragments of action as a mirror to catch Marcello’s reflection as he is transformed and bent into shape by the images and social forces that come to define his life. An early fragment of the film sees him, an inveterate womaniser, spend a night trying to seduce and bed the American film star Sylvia (Anita Ekburg who’s a shoo-in for Marilyn Monroe). In the mirror fragment we see clearly that narcissistic narcosis induced by publicity and media attention have totally absorbed this Diva. Marcello discovers (he takes a little time to get it) that Sylvia is not really of the flesh. She has a body, central to her image but an appendage to her life. She may seem present in the flesh but actually she lives inside an endlessly projected movie of herself.. She isn’t really present; sex with her can only be a two dimensional movie. Sylvia is machine for absorbing fantasy and projecting desire onto the white walls of life. For people like Sylvia life doesn’t flow; rather it takes the form of a sort of eternal recurrence: the same people sets and situations repeated time and time again. This recurrence is only broken by the momentary irruption within Sylvia of fleeting impulses that are for an instant totally insistent, but immediately fade. Time in her life doesn’t flow rather it is compressed into a crystallised everlasting and overwhelming present, bolted like the image of the flying Christ, to an unchanging image of herself.
Marcello has the chance to avoid being trapped in the recurring movie of his projection as an image in two dimensional photogenic space. He has a chance to chose to live through time as he is pulled by his girl friend to accept her love to share her carnality. But each glimpse in the DV mirror fragments shows him drawn further into the spectacle by the fascination of himself as an operating image. Through the shattered fragments of time Marcello develops the idea of himself as an increasingly self referential and narcissistic object. An increasingly emptied out self, refined through the rectifying forces of the media, into a being of pure surface. A centre of attraction and repulsion in the endless parade that he joins to replace the tedium of life.
The music as in all FF’s films complements in form the content of DV. It’s surging rich gorgeous encompassing. Parade music that is intended like the Pied Piper’s flute, to draw in everyone who hears it, to disarm resistance and allows the children to completely abandon themselves to the show. The music is an amalgam of mood feeling and thought swamping and bypassing the human mental faculties as FF fills out DV with sequences of extraordinary fluid shots that capture small and large crowd situations and scenes.
DV opens up worlds as spectacles that absorb, disarm and finally infiltrate the individual. The world of religion filmed as a hysterical fusion of media frenzy and religious hysteria. Catholicism experienced as a testing ground for experiments that would later be internalised and finally replicated by the profane secular order. Marcello cannot see the hilarious farcical religious and media circus caused by two young children claiming to have seen the Virgin. He is absorbed by it, and excited by the prospect of living and working outside time. He breaks (or rather the mirror fragments suggest that he does, for there is no convention of continuity in DV) with his girlfriend and joins the parade of partying which is the gateway to a sort of immortality. The movers and shakers the money and the power exist in a never ending spectacular that engulfs life and pulls everything along with it in a frenzied dance lived out in image and gesture, a saturated narcissism that ends in death. But of course death does not stop the show.
The final sequence on the beach shows the party goers descend onto the beach to gaze at the lifeless form of a huge dead fish. A young innocent girl, introduced earlier in the film as working in the beach café also looks on. Both exist outside the spectacle,