Art both reflects and creates culture.
I love that pithy phrase: so much truth in so few words. I first heard it circa 1974 when I was running around Manhattan performing home-grown drama with Womanrite, a feminist theater collective (another pithy phrase, but somewhat less truthful and praiseworthy). I thought about these words, and the idea behind them, after watching Fellini’s La Dolce Vita last night.
It was my first viewing, except for the famous scene of Anita Ekberg frolicking in a Roman fountain with Marcello Mastroanni—named Marcello in the
film as well. It’s frequently shown as cinematic homage or in nostalgic documentaries. Anyhow, it occurred to me that, while my generation and my mother’s went gaga over Fellini’s movies, a 20- or 30-year-old watching La Dolce Vita today probably wouldn’t think much of it at all. We were awed by all things Felliniesque—but now that the whole world is Felliniesque, his stuff doesn’t rock the way it did back in the day. Someone born into today’s world is likely to find La Dolce Vita unremarkable outside of its sociological context.
Art creates culture. How much of the world we live in sprang fully formed from Federico Fellini’s imagination? Art reflects culture. Was Fellini predicting the future, or simply portraying the times he lived in? My favorite writer-guru, Doris Lessing, says that predicting the future is merely a matter of studying the present with full consciousness, then logically extending that vision. Fellini saw hints of what was coming, and presented a logical conclusion, or rather evolution, in film.
When I visited Rome in the mid-90s, Federico Fellini had just died, and his funeral procession passed by my hotel. If I, who actually lived during Fellini’s lifetime, find La Dolce Vita unremarkable, younger people must surely see even less in it. Yet when it came out in 1960 it was considered scandalous.
Take a good look, kids, at today’s scandals. There’s your future.