News of Anita Ekberg’s death at 83 got Swamp Rabbit and I and other Federico Fellini fans thinking of Ekberg’s small but memorable role in La Dolce Vita (1960), her only good movie and one of the greatest movies ever shown at my shack in the Tinicum swamp.
I liked the photo of Ekberg in People magazine’s obit, but I took issue with how the writer described La Dolce Vita:
In the Fellini classic, which starred Marcello Mastroianni in what was essentially one long hedonistic romp through the Eternal City, Ekberg ignited her own eternal sex goddess image when she alluringly waded through the Fountain of Trevi in a black, strapless dress.
Calling La Dolce Vita a hedonistic romp is like calling Hamlet a revenge thriller — the description is reductive, to say the least. The movie’s anti-hero, Marcello, is an exceedingly charming fellow who parties non-stop because he can’t think of anything meaningful to do with his talents. His misery is compounded by the fact that he works as a journalist/publicist at a time when the media is evolving into an all-seeing monster that trivializes people, ideas and institutions.
“I don’t like that cat on her head,” the rabbit said as we watched Ekberg in the movie’s famous fountain scene. “But she’s one of them sex goddesses, for sure.”
I explained to the rabbit that Ekberg’s Sylvia is more than a sex goddess to Marcello. She’s the great novel he’ll never write, the undying love he’ll never experience, the faith — and faithfulness — that will forever elude him. Ultimately, she’s like the other loves in his life, in that she embodies his dread as well as his aspirations.
“Whatever you say,” the rabbit said. “But if she ain’t no sex goddess, I don’t know who is.”