Down and Out in Celebrity Swampland


For many Federico Fellini may seem to be the most dated and retrospectively overinflated of all the New Wave era’s headline acts, but La Dolce Vita (1960) is still a potent, expressionistic voyage into postwar Euro-emptiness that shares a rarely acknowledged helix with Antonioni’s L’Avventura, released five months later that same year. Outlandishly fashionable in its day thanks to the very decadence it critiques, the movie is almost Chayefsky-esque in its desolate portrait of a self-disgusted “society” reporter (Marcello Mastroianni) as he wanders in and out of the Roman celebrity-royalty-publicity swampland around him. Hardly just bourgeois target practice, Fellini’s movie is careful to focus on what had become of pop culture after fascism. The satirical attack blooms into a living nightmare whose primary source of horror was the manner in which gossip, stardom, and entertainment media had laid siege to the world consciousness. Fellini soon enough displayed a weakness for showbiz sawdust and tinsel, but in one movie, at least, the ethical baseline (heisted, you could argue, from Sweet Smell of Success) gave Fellini’s roaming, cluttered, hollering-background mise-en-scéne a chilling sense of gravity, an advantage he could rarely locate again. La Dolce Vita‘s welcome cynicism was powerfully influential, at least here—open season was declared on official cultural industries in so many films that it became an American New Wave motif. Coming in an embossed box the size of a Corn Flakes carton, this release offers up three discs, loaded with interviews and docs on virtually every major player involved (including Anita Ekberg, composer Nino Rota, and Cinecittà itself), Fellini shorts, restoration demo, postcard stills, two illustrated booklets, and more.

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