October 22, 2004

Coming to terms with the "La Dolce Vita" DVD.

I've complained about subtitles before. I like to fixate on the photography of a movie and constantly moving my eyes to the bottom of the screen is quite irritating. I don't mind reading. I spend much of the day reading. But I go to the movie theater to look at the moving pictures. If the pictures are worth looking at, they are worth feeling resentful about being compelled to look away from. There is a special problem with DVD if you have a widescreen television and a widescreen movie. The subtitles are placed on what would be a black band on an ordinary TV. On a widescreen TV, they are off the screen unless you size the movie image so that it has fairly wide black bands on the sides as well as the top and bottom!

I was trying to watch my new DVD of "La Dolce Vita" yesterday. The photography is very beautiful, and I just wanted to stare at it, so I was already annoyed by having subtitles, but it's also a very widescreen picture, and I was forced to watch it sized way down to be able to read the subtitles. I was losing the beauty of the images. And the subtitles are yellow, which was atrocious under the black and white photography. The DVD has no dubbed English track. The assumption must be that the kind of people who watch Fellini movies are the kind of people with the hostile attitude toward dubbing. The only English track is commentary by film critic and historian Richard Schickel, and I tried putting that on. It's not bad, but it brings you down a bit. Plus, he mostly talks about what we're seeing, not what they are saying, so who needs him?

Maybe the best option is just to keep the subtitles off and listen to the original soundtrack, which includes some English along with the primarily Italian dialogue. I do understand a little Italian. "La Dolce Vita" lines like "Ciao, Marcello!" are easy enough to pick up, and it's a sprawling, episodic story, where the images may contain most of the meaning. The spectacle is the thing here: the grand city of Rome, the wonderful face of Marcello Mastroianni, and the entire physical presence of the human divinity Anita Ekberg. Whether you understand the Italian or not, the sound of the language is beautiful (and, of course, dubbing would deprive us of that) and the music soundtrack, by Nino Rota, is perfect. What will be missed by watching the film without understanding the dialogue? Lines like: "By 1965 there'll be total depravity. How squalid everything will be."

And let me add this, since I've been thinking about Bob Dylan, whose "Chronicles" I just finished. I know Dylan took a lot of inspiration from films, so let me point out the two references to "La Dolce Vita" in Bob Dylan songs. The first is from "I Shall Be Free":
Well, my telephone rang it would not stop,
It's President Kennedy callin' me up.
He said, "My friend, Bob, what do we need to make the country grow?"
I said, "My friend, John, Brigitte Bardot,
Anita Ekberg,
Sophia Loren."
The second is from "Motorpsycho Nightmare":
Then in comes his daughter
Whose name was Rita.
She looked like she stepped out of
La Dolce Vita.
I think we can see what kind of inspiration Dylan got from "La Dolce Vita." He thought Anita Ekberg was fabulous. And she was. More subtly fabulous is Marcello Mastroianni, who is reunited with Ekberg, much older, in "Intervista." There is a really nice little documentary about him called "I Remember." He's really quite hilarious. I recommend staring at his face the entire time he's on screen.

UPDATE: The problem with the subtitles was cured by going into the DVD settings and adjusting it to correspond to a wide-screen TV.

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