It’s the first blog entry. All of those stories of writers facing blank pages come to mind. And the only way to overcome the blank page, is to write. So, here goes.
Dolce Vita Confidential by Shawn Levy, published in the UK by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, is an entertaining and very informative account of the period of Italian cinema that gave rise to such starts as Sophia Loren and spawned classic films like Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, perhaps the most well known of the period and from where the book takes its title.
If Italian cinema of the 1950’s isn’t really your thing, don’t worry. What Levy has skilfully managed here, is to examine and present a period of cultural history that resonates today. Rome at the beginning of the 1950’s was a wounded city, the effects of the second world war still highly visible and deeply felt. From this damaged capital came a new breed of cultural inventors, not only film makers but fashion designers, photographers, actors and a huge cinematic industry that fed the city back to health.
Levy takes us through the doors of Cinecitta, the large movie making centre outside Rome, where the workshop of film making was based. Originally built under Mussolini and the Fascists, Cinecitta became a centre not just for Italian film making but for the might of US Hollywood as well. Cheap labour, large numbers of willing extras and a clever financial plan created by the Italian government meant that US studios supported this ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’.
If the ‘Confidential’ of the title sounds familiar, think LA Confidential and the vice and sleaze that that film represents. Levy is also the author of Rat Pack Confidential, the story of Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. et al and their alcohol fuelled hedonism. Wherever the film industry succeeds and creates stars, there the public interest is piqued and opportunists, hangers on and money will flow. Levy shows how often ordinary people became huge international stars. Actors like Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni and others all emerged from humble roots to become glamorous world stars. Then there are the directors, the producers, the locations, all pulling in huge interest and demand. And with such demand come riches and with such riches come
That demand, for news, for stories, for the gossip and tittle-tattle from the underbelly of the film world generated a new phenomenon for the times, what became known as the ‘paparazzi’. Levy’s book is at it’s most lively when he describes an emerging band of street photographers, who, with the limited technology of the times, must get close to their target in order to get a decent photograph. So they stalk their prey along the Via Veneto, catching stars in all sorts of compromises and with the inevitable reactions. Fellini, tapping in to this new culture, creates the character of such a photographer in La Dolce Vita. He calls him ‘Paparazzo’. The character encapsulates the film star chasing photographer and before long such photographers acquire a group name, Paparazzi.
There is so much to enjoy here and much to learn. The film star culture of the 1950’s resonates today, and one could ask, ‘has anything changed, moved on?’
Well worth reading.