On 16 March 1959 at 11.35 a.m. in theatre 14 at Cinecittà, the first take of Federico Fellini’s masterpiece, ‘La Dolce Vita’. It was scene 39, the sequence with Anita Ekberg climbing the steps of St. Peter’s dome. The scene marks the beginning of the shooting of a film that changed the history of cinema forever and to which the Fellini Museum in Rimini has dedicated an entire room.
Of course I was excited, but I didn’t make a mistake, I didn’t say “Motor!” instead of the first helper, or “Take action!” instead of the camera operator, or “Action!” instead of the director, and I didn’t squeeze my fingers between the clapper boards. I was diligent, I did my homework and retired into the shadows. This is how assistant director Gianfranco Mingozzi described the first take of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
Federico Fellini’s film, which won the “Palma d’Oro” at the Cannes Film Festival in the jury presided over by George Simenon, an Oscar for costumes (Piero Gherardi) and dozens of other international awards, is now 63 years old and just as influential culturally. It is included in all the film charts in the history of world cinema and, despite negative critical reception, requests for ecclesiastical censorship and bans on under-16s, it is the sixth most-watched film in Italy from 1950 to the present day. In the year of its release alone, 13 million 600,000 people saw it and the photos of the queues outside the cinema are immortalised in Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style and Giuseppe Tornatore’s Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.
A masterpiece film, a source of inspiration for years to come (Paolo Sorrentino’s La grande bellezza, the most recent homage), and a made in Italy icon, almost a brand: yoou say La dolce vita and you think of Italy, of Anita Ekberg’s seductive ‘Marcello come here’ bath in the Trevi Fountain, of Mastroianni, indolent and beautiful.
And they think of him all over the world.