Friday, January 25, 2013

mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home: the tragedy of Marcello Rubini

I had forgotten that La Dolce Vita, Federico Fellini's 1960 cinematic masterpiece, was three hours long. Admittedly, at 10:30 last night when we were leaving the theater, I was wishing we'd sat through an edited version of the film that trimmed down all the scenes of empty decadence because it seemed at the time that Fellini was beating his drum a little too loud, a little too long, his point having been made already. This morning I'm happy to have seen the entire uncut film because so much of it is a gorgeous feast for the eyes. The silhouettes of the late-night party goers against the windows of the empty beach house? Beautiful. The processions through the abandoned villa? Likewise beautiful. Anita Ekberg's long ascent up the stairway of the Vatican? Etc. Etc. I'd never really noticed how choreographed this movie is, how black, white and grays are so carefully balanced in each shot. None of this is what I wanted to say.

La Dolce Vita is a tragedy, the story of a gossip columnist whose life once, possibly, had the promise of meaning and happiness but that promise has been abandoned by the time the film opens. Marcello Rubini, the gossip columnist, is adrift in a world of meaningless hedonism, disconnected from everyone around him, disconnected from himself. Voyeurism, cynicism and meaningless sex are the things that fill Rubini's life, or rather they are the things that fail to patch over the holes in Rubini's empty life. La Dolce Vita is not a sweet movie. Fellini wisely leavens his tragedy with lots of humor, generally pointed at his hedonists and their parasites, the press. Paparazzi swarm over the scenes like flies, crawling into fresh wounds, emotionally unengaged with whatever they see through their viewfinders. You can learn all of this in five minutes with Google, so I don't know why I type it out here today.

I saw La Dolce Vita for the first time when I was a little boy, late at night. Inexplicably, this film was broadcast on television (in the 1965 dubbed version, probably) in the late Sixties and possibly even more inexplicably, my mother let me watch it with her. She cried. I fell asleep before the end, I think. The image of Marcello Mastroianni walking around Rome in dark suits, sunglasses and thin ties has stayed with me all my life; Fellini pretty much supplied me with my idea of what an adult man looks like. I have a closet full of dark suits. I've seen La Dolce Vita three times since then, once in the Eighties and once in the Nineties, and again last night. The real-life story of my mother and me sitting up long past midnight, watching this movie on television, plays a pivotal role in my latest novel. I'm just relieved that the movie lives up to my memories of it.


  1. Funny what memories stay with you after all these years.

    The first movie I remember seeing was the Rogers & Hammerstein Cinderella with Lesley Anne Warren and Damon Stewart. A beautiful staged musical done for color television (which we had just gotten). Is it any wonder I write romance novels?

  2. I watched a lot of musicals when I was a kid. And westerns. And war movies. The first film I saw not at home was the Jerry Lewis farce "Birds Do It" about, I think, a guy who could fly. My family watched it at a drive-in. We also watched "True Grit" at a drive-in. I am unclear about the influence these early films have had on me, but it's worth thinking about.