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Musician Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell on a Life in Music

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell reflects on her life and her 30 years in music. She has two new anthologies: Dreamland collects well-known recordings; The Beginning of Survival showcases lesser-known works.




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Other segments from the episode on October 20, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 20, 2004: Interview with Joni Mitchell; Review of 2-DVD versions of Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.”


DATE October 20, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

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Review: New two-DVD version of Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita"

When Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" came out in 1960, it became an
immediate international sensation. But it hasn't always been easy to see.
Now after years in a legal no-man's-land, this most-desired of all video
releases has just been released on DVD. Critic at large John Powers says this
new DVD prompted him to rethink his original opinion of the film.

(Soundbite of music)

JOHN POWERS (Critic At Large):

If you're like me, you may rebel a bit when you hear something called a
classic. I don't know how many times I've turned up at some revival house
with uncomfortable seats and sticky floors only to be disappointed by a movie
I was supposed to bow down to. I remember that happening with "La Dolce
Vita," perhaps the most famous foreign film, and surely the most famous
foreign-film title of all time. Sure, Federico Fellini's movie had some
amazing scenes, but still its party sequences were interminable. I spent
decades thinking the picture wildly overrated.

But one great joy of our exploding DVD culture is that it's now easy to
discover, or rediscover, old movies in your living room. The other night I
gave "La Dolce Vita" another chance on a gorgeous new two-disc version. And
though the party scenes remain tedious, deliberately so, its vision of la
dolce vita, the sweet life, seemed far more potent today than when I saw the
movie in the 1970s. It really is a classic.

In the role that defined him, the incomparable Marcello Mastroianni stars as
Marcello, a world-weary society reporter who spends his nights mingling with,
and digging up gossip on, a second-rate collection of aristocrats, celebrities
and millionaires. A born observer, Marcello drifts through his life,
temporarily attracted to various women, each of whom represent some aspect of
his psyche: his suicidal fiancee, a promiscuous society girl played by Anouk
Aimee; a free-wheeling movie star played by the startlingly buxom Anita
Ekberg; and a young woman from the provinces who hasn't yet lost her
innocence. As Marcello glides between parties, orgies and nightclubs, even
taking his own father out on a bender, we wonder if he'll ever act on his
awareness that he's wasting his life and not following his dreams of doing
something worthwhile.

"La Dolce Vita" is shot through with a pervasive sense of sin, a vision of the
fallen modern world. Yet what makes it so watchable is that Fellini, who had
once been a reporter just like Marcello, feels no superiority to this world.
He himself was always drawn to luxury, fleshy pleasure, great music, here by
Nino Rota, and above all an absolute delight in spectacle. The movie contains
two of the most famous scenes in film history. The action begins with a
helicopter carrying a huge statue of Christ aloft over Rome, a scene later
sent up in Steve Martin's "LA Story" where the same thing happens to an
enormous hot dog. Later, Ekberg's actress wades into the Trevi Fountain,
where she's joined by Marcello in his tightly cut suit. On the worst day of
his life, Fellini knew that only a monk wouldn't enjoy splashing around in a
fountain with a voluptuous blonde. That scene builds to an unforgettable
moment, when Ekberg asks Marcello to just listen. What Fellini gives him to
hear is magnificent: absolute silence.

"La Dolce Vita" came out in 1960 and certain aspects of it are dated, like the
use of prancing homosexuals whose mere existence is treated as a symptom of
decadence. But in other ways, Fellini was ahead of the cultural game.
Forty-four years ago, he was already suggesting that society was being led
astray by a media culture obsessed with trivia about celebrities. That's why
it's so fitting that those iconic figures of our tabloid age, the paparazzi,
should take their name from Marcello's comrade Paparazzo, a photographer who's
always turning up to get shots of the latest scandal.

There is, of course, something too easy about the irony that the sweet life
should actually be sour. I once scoffed at the film's moralistic suggestion
that affluence makes you empty and corrupt. And I agreed with critic Pauline
Kael that Fellini's image of what she called `the sick soul of Europe' was
essentially a joyless cliche. But these days we live in a culture that serves
up a very different cliche. It tells us that wealth and fame are the purpose
of life, that Paris Hilton and Donald Trump are role models, and that it's as
easy for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven as for a Hummer to run a
red light. I don't know about you, but I think I like the old cliche better.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue and author of "Sore Winners."


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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