La Dolce Morte

Posted by drew On January - 15 - 20152,651 views

ekberg1The last week I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts of film, time, life, and death. It all ties together with Federico Fellini’s famous film, La Dolce Vita and the death of famed bombshelter-era bombshell, Anita Ekberg this last weekend. I’m not a Fellini expert, my tastes in vintage movies tend to run more towards the Universal monster movies starring Lon Chaney Jr. Nor am I a devotee of Ekberg, but rather a more casual fan. And yet here I am, moved to write in effect about her death and her place in classic cinema.

So how did we get to this point, then? Going off my previously described affection for classic monsters, it should surprise no one that I also devour my share of horror and vampire novels. Most recently, I’ve become a fan of Kim Newman’s vast alternate history series, Anno Dracula. The first novel set naturally enough in Victorian London, using the Jack the Ripper murders as a setup for the horrorific goings on. The second novel takes us into World War One and deals with none other than the famous Bloody Red Baron of Germany. Finally, the third novel (Dracula Cha Cha Cha) takes us to 1959 Rome or more to the point, the Rome seen in films such as Roman Holiday or, you guessed it, La Dolce Vita. I received the novel as a Christmas present and recently started making my way through it.

ekberg2The book pays a tremendous homage to Fellini’s film, with it’s own variation on Ekberg’s famous dip in the Trevi Fountain ending in coupious amounts of vampire grue. I was familiar enough with La Dolce Vita to pick up on the references. But I admit to my shame, that despite being a self-proclaimed film buff, I had somehow managed to never see the movie, possibly due to it’s lack of vampires or werewolves. Maybe I’m just inheritantly some weird form of a low-brow snob? Whatever the reason, wading through the novel finally pushed me to get over that hump. On January 9th, I ventured into the Vulcan Video and rented both the Bill Murray military comedy Stripes and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. I could almost feel Murray’s eyes gazing over the cover image of Ekberg as I left the store, DVD’s in hand.

Much of what I’ve been thinking about involves time and the way we choose to pass it. I decided to watch Stripes, a film I’ve seen dozens of times, first. My wife and I fell asleep shortly after the film was over. We did not get around to actually watching La Dolce Vita until late the nigh of January 10th. It was a cold night outside and the escape into Fellini’s stylish time capsule seemed just the thing. And what a time capsule it is!

The movie not only showcases another time, but another country during this point in time. But also how American culture was viewed at the time. A perfect example of this is the party scene when they bring in a “Rock ‘n’ Roll” singer. This is post-Elvis but pre-Beatles, so of course the guy looks like a warmed over version of Gene Vincent. He warbles his way through a version of “Ready Teddy” that can only be described as punk, two decades, too soon. It’s a brief but fasanating scene that reminds us that at one point Rock ‘n’ Roll was brand new. The only other default music for the night life was Rock ‘n’ Rolls older second cousin, Jazz.

ekberg3So, let’s talk about Ekberg and her character Sylvia here. Ekberg’s combination of full-figured sensuality and pixie-like charm is so overwelming that it’s easy to forget that she isn’t actually in the movie that long. While Sylvia has a gritty reality to her, she also feels dream-like. The famous fountain scene does indeed have the quality of dream-logic to it. It’s not something a normal person would do, but Sylvia is so inheritantly whimiscal, that it almost seems natural. Least we forget, this is the same young lady who previously put a stray cat on her head. But alas, all who dream shall someday wake, and immediately following the fun in the fountain, the rise of dawn brings confrontation from her abusive, alcoholic boyfriend.

Fellini apparently wanted his film confection sweet, but dark enough to not go down easily. It’s with thoughts like these that I put myself off to bed. The awoke the morning of January 11th to a darker reality. Anita Ekberg had died.

Watching her most famous film, so close to her death made me feel quite introspective, to say the least. As lovers of vintage culture, we spend a lot of moments focusing on images of a bygone era. The death of famous bombshell, has me realizing that we’re all time travelers in our way. Mere hours apart, I was focused on Ekberg, young, strong, and in the role she’d be remembered for. Ekberg was most likely dying while I was doing just that. I will never know Anita Ekberg as she lived, but I can see Sylvia any time I want. Like a vampire, the motion picture camera has insured us that that version of her, that moment in time, will be captured forever. will always be young and beautiful, even though she lived to be 83. Both versions are equally real, as future generations will no doubt discover. My only real regret is taking so long to finally meet this charming woman.

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