In the movie “La Dolce Vita” Marcello Mastroianni played a sleazy
celebrity journalist, someone who by the film’s conclusion can and will
write most anything if he thinks it will serve his career or fatten his
Proof of the movie’s continued relevance can be found in an article in the current Harper’s Bazaar in which Ben Affleck writes about John Kerry’s quite attractive but by no means gorgeous daughters:
“Alex Kerry is a filmmaker and an actress in Los Angeles. Vanessa goes to Harvard Medical School in Boston. The two of them are so absurdly beautiful, well-spoken and intelligent and such phenomenal achievers that, if you didn’t know them, they might come off as the too-perfect prep school girls who are invariably the villains in John Hughes’ movies.”
Yes, having been the constant subject of nonsensical stories in the tabloid press, Affleck is now writing nonsensical stories of his own. (The victim becomes the victimizer; the abused child is now an abuser.)
As writer Toby Young pointed out in his bestselling book How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, it’s now fashionable to be a gossip-monger; being a gossip-writer is a means to get into the hip parties and to get reservations at the trendy restaurants. Yet, if the people you’re writing about are famous and have a powerful publicist, you’re obligated to kowtow if you wish to succeed.
“La Dolce Vita” was the film that coined the term “paparazzi”, and it remains the most inspired and psychologically perceptive examination of the contemporary process by which journalists and writers switch from being people who question their own character to people of questionable character.
A current revival showing of the movie at New York’s Film Forum is a reminder of this — and also a reminder of both how much and how little there can be in the best films.
Like all of the great Fellini’s movies, “La Dolce Vita” is a spectacle, making brilliant use of striking locations (most notably the Trevi Fountain and St. Peters) , beautiful and fascinating faces (Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee) and imaginative editing. Its dialogue is suggestive and evocative. The performances and the actors are memorable. And, episodic though the film is, it manages to sustain interest — truly to dazzle— for almost the whole of its near three-hours. Surely, it is among the most extraordinary films ever made. Seeing it again, one can’t help but be scornful of the hyping of the current rank of so-called hyphenates — writer-directors — making “socially engaged” films. To compare, say, Spike Lee to Fellini is to embarrass oneself.. “La Dolce Vita” wasn’t made to court headlines, and yet the scale it works on — visually and imaginatively — has rarely ever been equaled in film history. Its minor characters — the crapulent husband of an American movie star, a rich industrialist’s promiscuous daughter, a waitress in a coastal resort — are as vital and memorable as those in “Children of Paradise” or “Rules of The Game” but the film’s sweep and style is as great, or greater, than that of even “Lawrence of Arabia”. “La Dolce Vita” is at once funny and melancholy, acidulous and exalting.
And yet…and yet the film’s weaknesses are almost as noticeable as its strengths. One of the film’s central subplots involves an existential murder-suicide which is depicted with a pretend thoughtfulness and a seeming world-weary understanding that, at its heart, is utterly bogus. Moreover, though we recognize its characters we do so without ever really knowing them from within in the manner that we know the best characters in novels.
But perhaps this last failing is not accidental, but rather a prescient look at the emptiness too often engendered by our new culture of celebrity, a phenomenon that “La Dolce Vita” vividly identified before it had even come entirely into being.