Sweeten

Is Federico Fellini's 1960 film La Dolce Vita better seen when you're 22 or 42 years old? Well, the lady introducing the digitally restored print at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood about a month ago said a critic suggested seeing it every decade or so because one's view of the film's debauchery changes over time.

I was there mostly because baddest of the bad film reviewer A.O. Scott had said the film's plot about a would-be intellectual reporter slumming it in the world of tawdry entertainment news was the story of his life.

Hey, it sounds like a story near and dear to me too. So I plopped down in a cushy seat at the theater with popcorn and a half and half root beer/cola. Three hours later I cursed and thanked Fellini for taking me on a ride through the ancient, the modern, and the eternal as played out by a reporter with delusions of being an artist and drawn back to his sundry artist, socialite, and low-life friends. Wow, it sounds like the group I was slumming it with in the mid 1990s in San Diego, the artists around the 740 16th Street lofts and the various parties, openings, and watermelon-in-the-pool mornings of epic hangovers.

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Back to our blog. And now Marisela Norte's performance about 5 years ago, East LA Days/Fellini Nights, made so much more sense. I couldn't stop talking about the film. At point I'm sure those around me gave me a Coleridge stare, "unhand me, you grey beard loon." Who else could help me make sense of the imagery in the film, the signs, and tell me that all is lost for a public radio reporter in Losangelestitlan. Bill Nericcio, of course, the cultural studies professor at San Diego State University who I met about 20 years ago when I was writing for a college Chicano newspaper and he was brand new at SDSU, four years out of Cornell University with a comparative literature doctorate. Bill's the go-to man when talking about images in film of Rita Hayworth, the US-Mexican border, the film Touch of Evil, Latin spitfires, Salma Hayek, etc, etc. And he blogs about it. If not enlightenment, Bill could help me get some of these angsts off my pangst. Here's our email back and forth.



To: Bill Nericcio
From: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Thu, June 30, 2011 12:41:39 PM
Subject: Yo! Fratello.


Have you ever seen "La Dolce Vita"?



From: Bill Nericcio
To: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Tue, July 5, 2011 2:47:39 PM
Subject: here we go....

Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita changed the way I saw film. Already a lifelong student of literature, Fellini's masterwork singed my synapses with a visceral black and white power from which I have yet to recover. The last time I saw a print of the movie was at the British Film Institute on the banks of the Thames where I was shepherding SDSU undergraduates on a mad London study abroad adventure. The films searing sensuality, the product of a surreal optical collusion between director Fellini and his lensman Otello Martelli, seduces its viewers to rethink their relationship with film (even as it goads the minds of the less thoughtful with the lurid biography of a hack entertainment reporter with aspirations of being an Artiste--note the capital "A")....



To: Bill Nericcio
From: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Tue, July 5, 2011 3:09:12 PM
Subject: Yo! Fratello.

I didn't see it that early. I'd heard about it since I was a teenager but hadn't seen it until a couple of weeks ago at the Egyptian in Hollywood, a new digitally remastered print. WOW! That beautiful opening scene of the crumbling, almost Mexican adobe arches, the modern helicopters, silent at first then deafening as they approached. And that statue of Christ hanging from one of them (a reminder of my trips to Guanajuato and the Cristo Rey de La Montaña statue that looks exactly the same but much bigger, at the top of a mountain, kind of like in Rio de Janeiro). There goes Fellini preparing the viewer for a story skipping through the past, the now, and human foibles through time.

Ah, a story about a middle aged journalist with delusions of literature who has to face the daily reminders of being a hack reporter, talk about hitting close to home. The lady from the movie theater said a film critic urged viewers to see La Dolce Vita every 10 years because one's definition of hedonism changes with age. Did you see different things in the film in this latest viewing, compared to the first time you saw it? How old were you when you saw it?



From: Bill Nericcio
To: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Tue, July 5, 2011 3:22:18 PM
Subject: Re: here we go....

When I was a little boy growing up in Laredo, Texas, I was a little strange. I loved the NHL, the Boston Bruins, a favorite of mine, and I loved watching old films with my sister Josie--she went on to work in Hollywood as a sound editor. The NBC affiliate in Laredo, KGNS, had reels of old films and cartoons that they would throw on again and again and La Dolce Vita, was one of those movies--it was on at night, I think. I saw it again when I was 11 or 13 on KLRN, we had cable then, on a classic movies show they ran--I was introduced to Fritz Lang, M, and Jean Renoir, Beauty and the Beast, that way as well.

My viewing this time was worlds away different--the memories I have from my youth are of buxomy femme fatales and Marcello, the gallant rogue, with that insipid expression on his face. What I took away from my BFI screening was the poignant intimacy of autobiography.... how Fellini charts the passion many have for literature/arts and how we eventually sell it out along the way.....



From: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
To: Bill Nericcio
Sent: Tue, July 6, 2011 9:35:01 PM
Subject: Re: here we go....

I was so sympathetic to Marcello in the beginning, a ladies' man, debonair, but it seems several times in the film he has the opportunity to become a novelist, to work on literature, to do more than the celebrity writing he poo poos. And time and again he goes back to debauchery. After the third time or so I lost my sympathy for him. At the end when the teen girl from Umbria waves at him, beckons him to give it one more try, I'm no longer rooting for Marcello. I'm thinking to myself, you're gone, there's no hope, go back to your decadent friends. Marcello's turning point, and the point in the movie where my jaw dropped, was Steiner's killing of his two kids and suicide. Marcello had told Steiner that his wife and family, his job for a publisher, his salon-like gatherings with artists and writers provided a sanctuary for him. Steiner warns him that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. And Marcello can't believe what he sees when the cops summon him to the scene of the killings. I mean, wow, that scene really hit close to home, having my own family and balancing my own goals of literature and the daily grind of reporting. He broke under the pressure.

Is that your take?



From: Bill Nericcio
To: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Thu, July 14, 2011 9:57:48 AM
Subject: Fwd: Scanned image from MX-4501N

the best part about bfi in london are these
handouts they give you when you go to
screenings..... you'll love this one.... [PDF]



From: Bill Nericcio
To: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Thu, July 14, 2011 10:14:51 AM

But that's Fellini's "genius," though.... right? I mean it so so cliche to call Fellini a genius, but he really merits the overused palabra. Steiner's atrocity actually licences Marcello to embrace his "fetid", superficial life--if anything it might (though it doesn't) give him inspiration to give himself over to his narcissism and his hedonistic fetishism even more.

Watching the film, we expect certain things; have certain feelings. The power of Fellini is that he anticipates those emotions and toys with them.

In my literature and cinema classes, I differentiate between "movies" and cinema, "fiction" and literature --what makes the difference is the degree to which the work BOTH tells a story and, simultaneously, teaches us about "story," or, still rarer, changes the way stories unfold in the future.

For instance, Fincher's FIGHT CLUB is cinema; Bay's TRANSFORMERS: THE DARK SIDE is not...



From: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
To: Bill Nericcio
Sent: Thu, July 14, 2011 10:19:33 PM
Subject: Re: here we go....

Tell me about the students you took to London and what they thought of the film. For me, in my early 40s, a film from the early 1960s doesn't feel like ancient history so I'm wondering if someone between the age of 20-25 now is able to connect with it and what he or she gets out of it. Did any of their reactions to the film surprise you?



From: Bill Nericcio
To: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Thu, July 14, 2011 11:37:10 AM
Subject: Re: I had sent this one

it's funny--they were scary quiet; it took a couple of pints at the pub for them to loosen their lips and still they had very little to say about the movie; for me, LA DOLCE VITA is absolutely prescient, absolutely contemporary and vital; for them, I fear, the black and white medium alone is enough to bring about synaptic paralysis and silence. they really "like the film" or so they said, but the conversation on the tube back to our flats over near the Museum of Natural History was kind of a bummer.



From: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
To: Bill Nericcio
Sent: Thu, July 14, 2011 6:51:08 PM
Subject: Re: here we go....

Ah, say it ain't so. That confirms my worst fears that we may be the last generation connected to these old films in their original form. There were more than a hundred people at the showing of the film in Hollywood. Most looked like they were over 30. They guy in front of me was a 50-something year old bald guy speaking in Italian to his friends about cinematography.

You've heard the LA poet Marisela Norte talk about her father being a projectionist and that being her initial connection to these films, right? She loves La Dolce Vita. Did you see her East LA Days/Fellini Nights performance about 5 years ago? There's something in that Fellini interview you sent me from the London screening that makes me wish I'd seen this film before I saw Marisela's performance. Fellini talks about the Marcello character being "a somewhat cynical journalist, a witness, but at the same time implicated in what he witnesses" that's Marisela's writing. And isn't that what we aspire to in our work, my work going about SoCal making sense of art, artists, schools, the cacophony of Latino life, your work delving into images on film and the meaning attached to them?



From: Bill Nericcio
To: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Fri, July 15, 2011 2:20:08 PM
Subject: Re: I had sent this one

Absolutely, in Tex[t]-Mex, I came up with this ungainly, mouthful of a word, "Xicanosmosis" or "Chicanosmosis," it is a neologism (fancy way of saying I made it up) that critically attempts to seize/represent what happens when worlds Mexican and American meet up and fuse; and it is, at the same time, an example of what it purports to describe. Derrida meets Cantínflas, or something like that!

Norte has been chronicling this kind of thing for years in her poetry, photography, art, and performance--a xicanosmotic chica par excellence...



From: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
To: Bill Nericcio
Sent: Mon, July 18, 2011 12:25:13 PM
Subject: Re: here we go....

And cue that hauntingly upeat music at the end of La Dolce Vita...

On this YouTube clip a viewer says the girl at the end is the Madonna, giving Marcello one more chance to come with her. Fellini's great at laying out all kinds of objects and situations that are so open to interpretation. The huge sting ray beast at the end "eyeing" Marcello and all his friends. Are they looking in the mirror? Is it a sort of Picture of Dorian Gray?

And Marcello waves bye to the blond girl, and as he does so stares at his hand as if knowing that as a human he's fated to go with the sinners, not the saints. Ay Fellini, stop speaking so loudly!

Ciao Guillermo.



From: Bill Nericcio
To: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
Sent: Mon, July 18, 2011 12:34:07 PM
Subject: Re: I had sent this one

cut. print. >:-}

About the Author

Adolfo’s been a reporter at NPR affiliate KPCC since 2000. He’s reported on three L.A. mayors, four L.A. Unified superintendents, and covered the LAPD batons and rubber bullets flying at the May, 2007 MacArthur Park immigrant marc...
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The Xicano/a newspaper you wrote for was Voz Fronteriza
tambien estaba
Harry Barra, Gene Chavira, AGL, Anthony Navarrete, Ramon Garcia, Kelly Shumate, Rogelio Fernandez, Sabrina Enrique, Serena Enrique, Esther Valdez, Everado Gutierrez

Oh was I suppose 2 make a commentario about La Dolce Vita???
Have you ever seen "Follow Me Home" with Benjamin Bratt, Selma Hayek, Jessie Borrego..... Same thing see that movie once every 5yrs and you will something different cada ves