Another Friday, another keynote abstract: the sweet life of celebrity. In his customarily astute and erudite fashion, Richard Dyer asks us to ponder the ontology of celebrity through a close analysis of the interplay between on- and off-screen celebrity culture in La Dolce Vita.
The Trevi fountain scene: June can’t come quick enough!
La dolce vita and the ontology of celebrity
Richard Dyer, Kings College London
La dolce vita has long been seen as a film about celebrity and has also sometimes been taken as a negative critique of celebrity. Yet while this may be present, the film is also exuberant and tender in its evocation of celebrity, clear-sighted but not detached. This relates to the complexity of the ontology of the people in it, who muddy the distinction between performers and characters. The film documents both pre-existing, overlapping celebrity milieu, aristocrats, intellectuals, night clubbers and hangers-on, and the developing apparatus for the mediatisation of these. It also constantly shifts the ontological ground in relation to them. Its central characters are acted by performers distinct from their characters in a traditional way, but many of the background characters are people playing themselves, the aristocrats aristocrats, the intellectuals intellectuals and so on. Many of the scandalous interludes are enactments of actual events that made the pages of the emergent celebrity journalism of the time. There are also, in the neo-realist tradition, non-actors playing roles, but not those they play in life, and also, for instance, a Swedish lookalike Marilyn Monroe playing the part of an American lookalike Monroe, interviewed by a bunch of actual movie journalists, and a rising Italian answer to Elvis Presley (every country had one) who really was that. In short, the film plays with the shifting ontological ground of celebrity, revealing it, making it available to critique, but also exulting in it.