The meaning of style in La Dolce Vita and the Triumph TR3A
“Marcello, come here. Hurry up!” “Si, Sylvia, vengo anch’io. Vengo anch’io.”
In these early morning hours of a rather cold March in 1959 the baroque beauty of the Fontana di Trevi is about to become conquered by Anita Ekbergs exuberant Blonde in her long black dress.
Sylvia’s call for Marcello and the following scenes last just a minute, then the stream of water suddenly stops. This movie still became part of the collective memory as an epitome for the Italian Bella Vita in the 1950is. The short sequence, a few frames long, is just a tiny part in the intricate storyline of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. The complex structure can be subdivided in seven episodes with a separate introductory chapter and a separate conclusion. I recommend the work of Peter Bondanella “The Cinema of Federico Fellini” (1992, Princeton University Press) for further investigations on the symbolism underlying “La Dolce Vita”. What’s confusing on first sight, is the sometimes disruptive nature of the consecutive episodes. There’s only the figure of Marcello Rubini performing as a unifying character. But it would be an act of negligence ignoring the dark Triumph TR3A, one of the few imported directly from the UK in 1958. In their research, published in 2016 as ‘La Spider Ritrovata – 1959 tra boom economico e dolce vita‘, the journalists and vintage car passionate Francesco Arcieri and Roberto Chiodi reconstruct step by step the history of this great piece of English craftsmanship. Please enjoy discovering with us here the most important milestones in the timeline of this car: registered for the first time in Rome on July 15, 1958, it was one of the first ‘spider inglese’ in Italy, bought for 1,9 million Lire by Armando Berni, the nephew of the Roman ‘Re delle Fettuccine’ Alfredo Lelio. As a side note, the average salary in 1958 consisted of 45,000 Lire, just to get an idea of the real value of this kind of commodity in Italy in 1958. After a few months though it was spotted by Fellini, then already an accomplished director. He bought the car for the production company Riama Film, the company involved in producing La Dolce Vita. As Fellini himself recounts, between Marcello Mastroianni and him, it was a sort of constant challenge for who owned the fanciest car: “Marcello comprava la Jaguar e io la Triumph, lui la Jaguar e io la Porsche.” After the completion of La Dolce Vita, the TR3 was sold in the following years into different collections of historical cars and once even repainted white, it’s original color. During this period the link to the movie was lost and, when the car was purchased in 2016 for 30,000 Euro by Filippo Berselli, himself a collector of historic cars, nobody knew of it anymore. As all passionate collectors Mr. Berselli had developed a specific sense for vintage cars in his constant hunt for historic treasures. After a short inspection he found some further information on the real history of his recent purchase. The black number plate was indicative for this being a car imported directly into Italy and not first from the UK to the US and then back to Italy, as with most foreign cars in the 1950is. Berselli managed to get hold of the English ‘Heritage’ certificate and all the documentation regarding this ‘wide mouth’ (this nickname refers to the enlarged grille on the front) Triumph TR3. Restoration took place at Racing Color near Rimini, where the TR3 became black again, got new electrics installed and equipped with the original red upholstery.
Back in 1959 the Fellinian Triumph with Marcello Mastroianni in the driver’s seat represents one of the few constants in La Dolce Vita. The other recurring theme can be identified with the modernist scenery of Via Veneto. In the 1960is this venue celebrated already their purveyors of the luxurious life of stardom. It became the ideal debauchee backdrop for the hedonistic gossip journalist Marcello Rubini and Paparazzo, his photographer and sidekick. But the Cafés and restaurants, like the Strega, Harry’s Bar or the Doney, were already overcrowded by the particularly fashionable and popular, so Federico Fellini had to rebuild this sidewalk with all his dehors and details at the Studio 5 at Cinecittà. The only difference between Pietro Gherardi’s, the production designer, reconstruction and the original venue was, that the real Via Veneto was slightly uphill while the Studio’s setting was in level. But exactly this detail caught the cinematic spirit professed by Fellini, his fantastic realism: cinema shouldn’t recreate reality, it should summon its own reality.