Ahh Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and its fountain . . . up on a shiny, black-and-white pedestal it sat, even before Marcello and the flying Jesus statue ushered me into the prologue. This time I strayed slightly from my cherished little process — anticipating nothing less than a single-worded reaction (some version of “glorious” was the assigned expectation), I set out to gather a few opinions about the film that introduced us to the word “paparazzi.” Once again I was happily surprised by just how wrong I could be; I found that in my tiny corner of the playground, I could hopscotch from words like “masterpiece” and “unsurpassed” to “pretentious” and “overrated” with one toss of the rock.
Some viewers find this film increasingly hypnotic with every viewing; others couldn’t make it through the first time. Being a bear of very little bladder, I’ll admit I didn’t stay seated for the full two hours and 55-ish minutes; when I made it to the finish line, I just couldn’t decide on how I felt about the race. Seemingly contradictory words from that hopscotch court felt applicable at different times — a pretentious masterpiece? An overrated film unsurpassed in what it achieves? Well . . . why not all the above?
With its commentary on the lifestyles of journalists, celebrities, and the endless religious themes revolving around the number seven, we could talk ourselves in shiny, glorious circles with this one. And of course no marketing campaign will sell more tickets than good, old-fashioned censorship — who doesn’t run to a film that comes with the stamp of disapproval from the Catholic Church? Varying interpretations of La Dolce Vita and Fellini could fill the bookshelves, and perhaps one day I’ll choose to intellectualize a film that so many have before I had the opportunity. As the film faded out on that famous beach scene, I was ready to dive into those dark, analytical waters and pick apart Marcello piece by piece by piece by piece by piece by piece by piece . . . but as it turned out, all I could think of was Gilda Radner. Huh?
A woman of phenomenal talent and humor, Gilda Radner remains one of my absolute favorite humans of all time. Another comic whose performances I’d commit to memory, she dazzled audiences as a member of Saturday Night Live’s original cast. Often my family would rent The Best of Gilda Radner on VHS (are family trips to the video store lost forever?) because it truly was the best . . . except one. Now filed permanently in the vaults of my memory bank, I didn’t understand a single thing about the three-minute skit, La Dolce Gilda. Suddenly she was all fancy like, speaking to mimes and whispering to the camera: “Dreams are like paper, they tear so easily. I love to play. Every time I play, you win.”
Now, for a nine-year-old kid determined to be letter-perfect in his recitation of Roseanne Roseannadanna’s weekend update, this was incredibly frustrating and a bit of a betrayal. How could she give me such ridiculous, incomprehensible material to work with here? I’ve made my peace with it over the years and the child within has forgiven Gilda, but I feel there may be some residual animosity towards all things dolce. Ridiculous, gorgeous, overpraised, genius, ostentatious, inexplicable . . . when it comes to La Dolce Vita, it’s always something!