La Dolce Vita, or “the good life”

I have been moved by a combination of new and old films in a rejuvenated surge of film viewing. I’ve liked the endearing characters of Pedro Costa’s strange urban landscapes, the monologue outside the museum by a construction worker who helped build it in Colossal Youth (2006), the neighborhood of Vanda’s Room (2000), the comical baptism of a donkey in Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), and especially the argument between a daughter and her father over purchasing a hearing aid for the latter in Mysterious Object at Noon (2000)—a film I’m now watching for about the tenth time. And on the idiot box I like what I’m seeing in the new AMC series Rubicon, where its opening scene inaugurates the series as a meditation on ‘time’ through a visual reference to the “deep focus” shot in Orson Welle’s Citizen Kane—a high angle shot from the window capturing children playing in the snow. But the film I enjoyed, minus a few parts, most was Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). The film is, as one of the voice-over commentator’s notes, “episodic”, which means the film can be unfolded into a variety of parts that are both independent and a part of the larger film body. Two of the episodic parts are memorable not just for contributing to this amazing film but for shuttling my memory toward other film parts and everyday fragments—the process of temporal spatialization Victor Burgin calls the “cinematic heteratopia”.

First, when watching this film you realize that many contemporary scenes, that have become classic, are but a homage to La Dolce Vita, a film that critics at the time called “humanist decadence” (Holland 1970). The beginning scene, of a giant Christ statue been lifted by helicopter over Rome—that some say represents a shift from the sacred to the profane—is very much like the more recent climactic scene from Goodbye Lenin! (2003) where a helicopter evacuates a statue of Lenin from the landscape to make room for images of capitalism.

But it’s the final scene of La Dolce Vita lends toward a social commentary of the cover of Green Mind, the 1991 album by the indie rock band Dinosaur Jr. Fellini’s film ends in the protagonist’s inability to communicate with a young woman gazing back at the camera. The young woman is a messianic figure, the symbol of redemption and the future, the possibility of the character’s return to humanity and away from the glitz of spectacular images. The symbol of hearing is the basis for communication, demonstrated through the film’s consistent analogues that echo through the film, but are never heard. The image and the sound never agree. The Dinosaur Jr cover is kind of like this, of a young woman on a beach similarly indifferent to community. Beach scenes, as in 400 Blows (1958), are often like this, an enclosed state of the solitary. The protagonist of La Dolce Vita is named Marcello, the Italian adaptation of Camus’ Marcel in The Stranger.

“Water” by Dinosaur Jr (Click here to hear song)

I saw you down across the water
You’re floating safely in the way you do
Then I scrammed before you saw me
I’ve gotta keep thinking you wanted me to

By the shoreline, will you be fine?
Or will it cover you?
And when you taste it, will you embrace it?
What will you let it do to you?

Grab a look across the water
We grab a smile and then you’re gone a while
With you it’d be across the water
When I’m losing it, I like your style

By the shoreline, will you be fine?
Or will it cover you?
And when you taste it, will you embrace it?
What will you let it do to you?

Come on baby and drive me out of mind
And mind if I come home along with you
And see what you do

This is crazy and nothing more I want to
The sea is not the safest place to sit
And be so spacy

Scary things across the water
You’d never know till they have their way
with you
You won’t catch me dip in the water
However much I want to play with you

And don’t stay in long
No one’s that strong enough, not to
Whenever the water wants you

Don’t be so crazed, I’m just trying to see you
And if I’m losing everything you’ve got
This is no time to rot

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