Sunday, June 03, 2007

buechner, bonsaver, bobby on la dolce vita

I'm going to watch LA DOLCE VITA later today, or tomorrow at the latest. A series of odd coincidences has led me to it.

I think the first radar blip was Friday, reading a terrific Sight & Sound article in the May Sight & Sound, Guido Bonsaver's You Must Be Joking, about Rossellini in general and FRANCIS, GOD'S JESTER in particular (a film which came to mind, by the way, when I watched ADAM'S APPLES. But I digress). Bonsaver surprised me with this perspective on VITA;
Fellini's La dolce vita (1960) should be seen as a film about the loss of innocence and values in those years of unexpected richness. It is ironic to think that for so many the film is thought to be about the beautiful life of 1950s Rome. Perhaps Fellini should have kept the discarded opening scene that showed the joyful swimming of a group of friends around their billion-Lira motorboats. It was a perfect picture of the hedonistic jet-set life until one of the guests on board dropped a cigarette into the water on to the pool of petrol spilling from a leaking tank. The scene was supposed to end with the horrifying screams of bathers burning alive but Fellini cut it and went for subtler tones. Yet the social critique and search for purity remained: hence Marcello and the girl in the final beautiful scene are unable to hear each other, unable to communicate. La dolce vita traces the end of any utopian idealism. And still, the urge remained.
It's strange to think of being surprised by anything one might read about a film one hasn't seen, but then, one can't help having an impression of certain films without having seen them, yes?

At any rate, that put me in mind of Frederic Buechner's piece "The Face In The Sky," which opens his anthology "The Hungering Dark;"
As the Italian film LA DOLCE VITA opens, a helicopter is flying slowly through the sky not very high above the ground. Hanging down from the helicopter in a kind of halter is the life-size statue of a man dressed in robes with his arms outstretched so that he looks almost as if he is flying by himself, especially when every once in a while the camera cuts out the helicopter and all you can see is the statue itself with the rope around it. It flies over a field where some men are working in tractors and cuases a good deal of excitement. They wave their hats and hop around and yell, and then one of them recognizes who it is a statue of and shouts in Italian, "Hey, it's Jesus!" whereupon some of them start running along under the plane, waving and calling to it. But the helicopter keeps on going, and after a while it reaches the outskirts of Rome, where it passes over a building on the roof of which there is a swimming pool surrounded by a number of girls in bikinis basking in the sun. Of course they look up too and start waving, and this time the helicopter does a double take as the young men flying it get a good look at the girls and come circling back again to hover over the pool where, above the roar of the engine, they try to get the girls' telephone numbers, explaining that they are taking the statue to the Vatican and will be only too happy to return as soon as their mission is accomplished.

During all of this the reaction of the audience in the little college town where I saw the film was of course to laugh at the incontruity of the whole thing. There was the sacred statue dangling from the sky, on the one hand, and the profane young Italians and the bosomy young bathing beauties, on the other hand - the one made of stone, so remote, so out of place there in the sky on the end of its rope; the others made of flesh, so bursting with life. Nobody in the audience was in any doubt as to which of the two came out ahead or at whose expense the laughter was. But then the helicopter continues on its way, and the great dome of St. Peter's looms up from below, and for the first time the camera starts to zoom in on the statue itself with its arms stretched out, until for a moment the screen is almost filled with just the bearded face of Christ - and at that moment there was no laughter at all in that teater full of students and their dates and paper cups full of buttery popcorn and La Dolce Vita college-style. Nobody laughed during that moment becuase there was something about that face, for a few seconds there on the screen, that made them be silent - the face hovering there in the sky and the outspread arms. For a moment, not very long to be sure, there was no sound, as if the face were their face somehow, their secret face that they had never seen before but that they knw belonged to them, or the face that they had never seen before but that they knew, if only for a moment, they belonged to.

I think that is much of what the Christian faith is. It is for a moment, just for a little while, seeng the face and being still; that is all.
Which put me in mind of another passage, I think in Rick Moody & Darcey Steinke's book "Testament" - but I don't see it at the moment, but I'll put it in here when I do - so I was thinking it's high time for me to finally taste "the sweet life," Fellini style. At least on a screen.

Then yesterday morning I'm putting together a summer playlist on my computer - summer hit a few days ago and we, the mole people of Vancouver, have emerged from our shelters, our blinking eyes regarding the blazing fire god in the sky and humming to ourselves, "Summertime, and the living is easy..." Or, "sweet," as the case may be. Coming up with a couple feel-good tunes that had been used in TWU's "Taming Of The Shrew," I also saw "La Dolce Vita Suite" and marveled that it should come along just when I had that movie on my mind, threw the tune on the list and gave it a couple listens.

Then last night I finally managed to fulfill the urge that hit me when the great weather hit and watch a personal favourite movie, a little gem, terrific performances, savvy screenplay with heart, lots of Dad-daughter stuff going on (and I'm a sucker for that), and the picture is gorgeous to look at, that pristine sixties SoCal bungalow with the light off the pool and all that pristine vinyl, Bobby Darrin's "The Good Life" (which is on my summer playlist), Frank's "Summer Wind" (also, of course), and... This slightly familiar, haunting theme. "La Dolce Vita." (It's not a big leap from "The Good Life" to "The Sweet Life," so I'm wondering if the soundtrack guy had something in mind there. Especially if Fellini is interrogating that life the way Bobby Darrin is...)

So anyhow, it seems like destiny. I'll let you know later how I like Italy.

No comments: