“La Dolce Vita” – a Fellini classic – returns on Blu-ray
Updated: Mar 3, 2022
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni stars as litterateur-turned-gossip columnist Marcello Rubini.
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“LA DOLCE VITA”
Blu-ray; 1960; Not Rated
Best extra: Only one, a brief introduction by Martin Scorsese
WITH ONE of the most famous opening scenes in cinema, “La Dolce Vita” quickly sets its tone of cynicism and social commentary, albeit presented via the quirky perspective of Federico Fellini. A helicopter hovers over Rome dangling a rather tacky statue of Jesus to the awe, delight and ridicule of the citizens below. They include a group of bikini-clad sunbathers on the roof of an apartment, from whom Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), a passenger in the aircraft, tries unsuccessfully to get phone numbers.
Marcello is a popular gossip columnist and, over the course of several days, we watch him drive his sporty little Triumph to high and low gatherings on the trail of whatever tabloid fodder he can dig up. He’s often accompanied by “Paparazzo,” a freelance photographer, whose name was invented by Fellini and is now, of course, the pejorative term for all tabloid shooters.
Marcello seems to know everybody who’s anybody in Rome and, as he’s searching for his stories, we meet the two main women in his life: His histrionic fiancée Emma (Yvonne Furneux), prone to suicide attempts when feeling neglected; and Maddalena, a wealthy matron (Anouk Aimée), who also wants more from Marcello than he’s willing – or able – to give. His interest becomes aroused by Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), a voluptuous visiting movie star with whom he famously cavorts in the Trevi Fountain, but the infatuation doesn’t last long.
(1) The iconic opening scene of “La Dolce Vita,” in which a helicopter is en route to the Vatican, toting a statue of Jesus. (2) Rooftop sunbathers want to know. (3) Marcello and his photographer, "Paparazzo" (Walter Santesso), are interested in the bikini-clad women.
Attending one wild party after another, Marcello is brought back to reality by a horrific tragedy, involving one of the few people he respects and admires, which only serves to increase his cynicism. Some notable cameo appearances in the film include Lex Barker (who once played “Tarzan”); Nico, the German actress/singer who became famous as the lead singer for Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground; and Sondra Lee, who played the drastically non-P.C. Tiger Lily in the Mary Martin version of “Peter Pan.”
Italian archive Cineteca di Bologna with the Film Foundation handled the 4K restoration in 2011 from the original Totalscope 35mm camera negative (2.35:1 aspect ratio), and Paramount’s 1080p Blu-ray looks terrific, showing off the black and white cinematography of Otello Martelli to excellent effect. Sharp fine details, with plenty of gradation from deep blacks to bright whites, provide depth and complexity. Martelli shot the film on location in and around Rome, as well as on sets inside the Cinecittà studios. The Criterion Collection 2014 version was also sourced from the 4K restoration, has been out of print for some time.
Nino Rota, who composed the scores of most of Fellini’s films, wrote a memorable one for “La Dolce Vita.” It offers the perfect counterpoint to the visuals and action. The Italian (and some English) dialogue is always clear from the 2.0 mono restored soundtrack, with English subtitles. Plus, the original non-restored 2.0 English track is also provided. The audio for “La Dolce Vita” and other Italian films of this era were recorded later in a sound-booth, which made multi-language tracks possible by the actors.
The comedy-drama received four Academy Award nominations including Best Director (Fellini) and won the golden statue for Best Costume Design (Black & White film).
In Martin Scorsese’s recently-recorded three-minute introduction, he declares that the movie “expanded the notion of filmmaking” by making “all barriers between fantasy and reality dissolve.” He says “La Dolce Vita” suggests the “anxiety of the nuclear age” and its influence “affected the entire culture … It conquered the world.”
— Peggy Earle
(1) Marcello and Maddalena (Anouk Aimeé) drive an aging prostitute home. (2) The couple spends the night in her apartment. (3) Next day, Marcello visits his fiancée, Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt.
(1) Roman photographers eagerly await the arrival of a famous American movie star. (2) Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) poses for them. (3) Marcello is smitten with the voluptuous beauty. (4) A crowd has gathered where two young girls claim to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary.
(1) People bring their sick and dying family members to the site. (2) Marcello and Emma observe the sad scene. (3) Marcello chats with Steiner (Alain Cuny), an intellectual writer friend, at his party.
(1) At another party in an old castle, Maddalena expresses her love for Marcello. (2) The decadent party guests emerge the next morning. (3) Emma and Marcello have a bitter argument. (4) Yet another party, in which Marcello joins in on the humiliation of one of the attendees. (5) The final scene, in which the party guests gather on a beach to look at a giant dead stingray that has been hauled out of the sea.