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Dolce Vita Confidential /Shaun Levy

I very much enjoyed this affectionately appreciation of Cinecitta, the great rise and contribution to world cinema by Italy, which is also known as “Hollywood on the Tiber.” I am a huge fan of Italian cinema and the book is a worthy addition to my film library. Yet it is more than just a film book as it will engage and inform the follower of fashion, media, gossip, social and political history.

Italy was broken and destitute after the war.

There was little work and massive poverty but this generated two cinematic happenings: the neo-realist films of Vittorio de Sica (Bicycle Thieves) and Roberto Rosselini  (Rome-Open City) and two great beauties and stars – Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

Perhaps I really should add one male Marcello Mastroanni. Federico Fellini, a cartoonist from Rimini, came to Rome and wrote the script of Open City. 

He and Luchino Visconti, a count from an aristocratic Milanese family, became eminent directors and then came the younger talents alike Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paul Pasolini and de Rosi.

Cinecitta was very much based in Rome where where for a few years the Via Veneto was the place to be seen and to be snapped by the ubiquitous  photographers.

This is the world that Fellini captures  in his masterpiece La Dolce Vita with its famous scene when Anita Ekberg throws herself into the Trevi Fountain.

She was mirroring her earlier wild dancing at a party.

The film, though castigated  by the Pope and moralists worldwide, in fact derides the hedonistic world of Via Veneto .

If La Dolce Vita reflects best that world, then the co-Italian/American productions reaches their zenith with Roman Holiday. 

It’s a paradox that the wiles of the photographers to snap the rich and famous at play should be the polar opposite of the film where Gregory Peck protects his princess as they drive round Rome on a scooter – the Vespa scooter being another great  contribution that Italy made at that time.

Cinecitta – the name of the studios – and Via Veneto’s reign were short-lived.

Television, the shift to England in the sixties that embraced and kindled a youth music explosion of talent, the drying up of Italian/American productions as Spain offered tax film breaks – these all contributed to its decline. Sophia Loren, furious she could not marry Carlo Ponti, lived outside Italy and became Hollywood royalty.

Visconti did go on to make two of his best films The Leopard and Death in Venice, Fellini after a barren spell made 8 1/2, he called it this as this was his ninth film but he was not too sure about it. Italian directors continue to contribute first rate films with Il Postino and Cinema Paradiso.

The only real omission in this enjoyable account is the lack of any reference let alone appreciation of Claudia Cardinale. She appeared in 8 1/2 and The Leopard and David Niven was much taken by her beauty in The Pink Panther, the first Clouseau film which made the fortune of Peter Sellers.

Otherwise Levy’s account is comprehensive bringing in fashion icons like Emilio Pucci and the geopolitcal and fashion context.

My own personal favourite of that period is Fellini’s Le Notte di Cabiria . His actual wife plays a feisty streetwalker working the Via Ardhelogico in Rome and brilliantly reflects both the neo-realist epoch and his sense and feeling for sexual fantasy when she is taken to the palatial home of a  famous Italian rock singer.

His  later film Amarord, reprising his boyhood memories, won him yet another Oscar – he holds the record for foreign director, as Marcello Mastroanni does for foreign actor.

Italian cinema as this book attests has contributed so much to cinema.