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Old 24th July 2005   #1
HSG
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Default The Temptation of Anita Ekberg


There have always been moralists, and there always will be.

The real trick is discerning between the moral parameters that can give a society standards and discipline--keeping it "in form," as Spengler says--and the other kind, the kind that are mindlessly restrictive, and can sap its creative energies, and leave it a barren, cultural wasteland.

The past century, which was marked by the suppression of beauty in all of the arts--and most particularly, by the suppression of Classical femininity--exemplified the second sort, the pointlessly negative kind.

In past eras, moralists were often fanatical Puritans, while today, they are more likely to appear at the opposite end of the political spectrum. But the impulse, the personality, behind their actions is the essentially the same, regardless of the ideology to which they owe allegiance.

The conflict between these forces has never been better dramatized than by the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, in his "short" film (80min.) titled "The Temptation of Dr. Antonio." Produced immediately following the director's masterpiece, La Dolce Vita, this film likewise stars the legendary Anita Ekberg (that plus-size screen goddess who has been reincarnated today, in an even more beautiful form, as Charlotte Coyle). "The Temptation of Dr. Antonio" was released with two other short movies in an anthology film titled Boccaccio '70. But of the three works in the anthology, Fellini's film is the one that matters.

Boccaccio '70 was finally released on DVD in 2005 and Blu-Ray in 2011, and it is well worth taking the time to explore the Fellini chapter, and to consider how relevant it is to the topic of this forum.

* * *

The film introduces us to the eponymous Dr. Antonio, an unmarried, middle-aged moralist who has devoted his life to leading a crusade against the incursion of any form of prurience in an unnamed Italian metropolis.

His mission confronts its greatest challenge when a new billboard appears in the centre of town, right outside his fourth-floor apartment.

The ad, which is nominally a dairy-industry promotion ("Drink More Milk" reads the text above the billboard), shows Anita Ekberg reclining on a plush sofa, like a Titian Venus.

And from the moment that the billboard is unveiled, Dr. Antonio begins a crusade against it--imploring everyone, from the Church, to town politicians, to the builders who assemble it, to take it down.

But the trouble is that no one can understand precisely what Dr. Antonio finds so objectionable about the image.

Undaunted, the doctor rails against the billboard, claiming that it will turn the city into a new "Babylon," or "Sodom and Gomorrah." And indeed, revelers do begin to assemble in the field around it. But their saturnalia is of a very G-rated variety. Instead of "debauchery," the billboard attracts balloon vendors, cotton-candy sellers, and a Punch-and-Judy show.

Nevertheless, Dr. Antonio continues to denounce the poster in the most hyperbolic terms imaginable.

And ultimately, he succeeds in getting the town to paper over this supposed affront.

But then, one evening, while his church group is assembled at his home, he receives a visitation from the decried goddess.

(Note the dragon-slaying painting in the background.)

Like the ghost of Banquo, this apparition is visible only to Dr. Antonio himself. His friends quickly depart, concluding that the doctor's wits have become thoroughly addled.

Antonio subsequently visits the billboard, and finds it empty. Thinking this a victory, he cries out in triumph,

but lo and behold, the goddess Anita has stepped right out of the image, and into Dr. Antonio's world. And she is, in every sense, larger than life:

She strolls around the field, delighting in her newfound existence,

and romping in the grass like a child.

Dr. Antonio accuses his 50-foot nemesis of every manner of transgression, but she expresses only pity towards him,

and after he denounces her for her . . . size, she prompts him to turn around,

and shows him that she has reduced herself to human stature.

She approaches the doctor in a romantic manner, but he initially spurns her advances.

(Note the earrings--the same kind that Christina Schmidt wore to the Young Artist Awards ceremony in April.)

And at this point, it is worth pointing out that this film demonstrates a very particular characteristic about Anita Ekberg, one which confirms her as an actress in the mould of a Classical goddess (the first and, in some ways, the last, until our own time).

Her distinctly plus-size figure is not that of a modern anorexic celebrity with silicone implants in one area, and a gaunt body otherwise. Fellini's muse has the all-over curves of someone who is visibly outside the Hollywood standard (even by the less waif-oriented 1960s measure).

And now, the promised "temptation" truly begins. Dr. Antonio's resolve is weakened by this sight of this enchantress,

and, in a paroxysm of emotion, he confesses his attraction to her.

Anita feels that her triumph over her adversary is complete. She returns to her 50-foot stature, and reveals her true identity,

She exults in her triumph over the professed moralist. But he, newly resolute, appears clad in armour--like a dragon-slayer (remember the painting?), ready to combat his adopted foe . . .

We will not reveal the outcome of this final confrontation, but will leave it for readers to experience for themselves--if they care to view the film--and only remind them to keep in mind the religious motif of the martyrdom of St. Anthony . . .

* * *

The film raises a number of issues that are particularly significant, in light of our usual discussions.

First of all, it is a credit to Fellini that, in order to embody the essence of feminine allure, he selected an actress who was not built strictly in the "bombshell" mode of the time (e.g., Sophia Loren--busty, but with a disproportionately narrow waist), but one who exhibited a generally fuller figure, with a visibly curvaceous midriff.

And in the character of Dr. Antonio, the film exposes some of the unspoken motivations that underlie the last century's thoroughgoing suppression of plus-size beauty.

Dr. Antonio's actions exemplify the kind of missionary zeal that fuels both the overt fanaticism of modern "weight hysteria," and the invisible determination behind the ongoing suppression of plus-size beauty in the media. The "success" of his crusade against beauty is a cautionary tale, showing how a small group of like-minded individuals can (re)shape society, even if their viewpoint is rejected by the majority. His blinkered self-righteousness is still very much among us today, even if it expresses itself in different terms.

The fact that "Anita" is not dressed especially provocatively at all, yet still provokes a frantically defensive reaction from the moralist, indicates the power of the womanly figure to incarnate essential femininity in such a way as to inspire the most extreme reverence--or antagonism--depending on the predilections of the viewer.

Even fully dressed, this goddess is perceived to be dangerous. And what does it say about the threat of this figure type that today, nearly forty years later, while every manner of genuine vulgarity has been "accepted" in the mainstream media, the voluptuous female figure remains as forbidden as it was during the making of this film?

During her exchange with Dr. Antonio, "Anita" pinpoints the essence of the conflict between plus-size goddesses and their modern antagonists. Underscoring the flaw in the "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" myth, she tells Dr. Antonio that he is "the one with the problem," and that there is nothing objectionable about her beauty--except to him.

How this foreshadows today's "culture wars." Even though the general public--and younger women especially--consider Hollywood's artificial starlets terribly emaciated, media journalists steadfastly cling to a world of their own devising, in which natural aesthetic beliefs are inverted, and in which they feel justified in berating any actress who gains weight.

The film also offers us a rare example of a plus-size character who is utterly ideal, in conception and execution, and provides a fine template for any writer to follow, who wishes to create genuinely celebratory depictions of curvaceous goddesses. Whether Anita's character is conventionally "good" or "evil" is irrelevant. The point is that she is a potent, powerful, irresistible being, who, in her soft luxuriance, inspires the most ardent reactions--both of worship, and of apprehension.

Modern culture calculatingly suppresses plus-size beauty not only but banishing it altogether--as Dr. Antonio wishes to do--but by crafting its presentation in such a way as to deprive it of the kind of subversive energy that Fellini's temptress possesses. On the rare occasions that full-figured women are presented in Hollywood, they are cast in self-pitying "victim" roles, which do more harm than good, and are played by actresses who are carefully selected because they do not possess the dangerous, all-consuming beauty of an Anita Ekberg--or of a plus-size model.

Not until subversive roles such as this are written for actresses who exhibit genuinely timeless beauty--who by their aesthetic presence can "shake convents" (or political ideologies)--will the fuller female figure return to cultural prominence.


Last edited by HSG : 23rd February 2012 at 23:57. Reason: Adding Blu-Ray link
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Old 25th July 2005   #2
Micki
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Default Re: The Temptation of Anita Ekberg

Thank you for posting stills from the film. When will Hollywood or a well-financed independent film producer start making films featuring women that look like women instead of underfed children? A movie with a beautiful, well-dressed, full-figured actress could be an instant hit with both men and women.
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Old 25th July 2005   #3
MelanieW
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Default Re: The Temptation of Anita Ekberg

Quote:
Originally Posted by Micki
a beautiful, well-dressed, full-figured actress
It seems so natural to group those words the way Micki does - and yet think how seldom we see these qualities together - if ever. Why shouldnt we have representations in the media that are all of these things? Yet they are often made to seem mutually exclusive. But they shouldnt be.

The other sad thing about the Dr Antonios of the world is that their overboard fanaticism gives any attempt to maintain real decency in the media a bad name. An ad with artistic qualities, like the poster in that movie, is so different from the obscenity that actually exists in the world today. Its depressing when people cant distinguish the two, and either seem to want to have no standards at all, or to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" and decry any kind of feminine beauty at all.
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Old 26th July 2005   #4
Kaitlynn
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Default Re: The Temptation of Anita Ekberg

I really love how Anita scorns her critic when she says:

"You're the one with the distorted vision."

It reminds me of Terri standing up to the bully who criticized her on Degrassi.

It amazes me whenever models or actresses talk about how they have their self-esteem crushed when some tabloid criticizes them for weight gain. I mean, they're rich and powerful and beautiful, but whether it's Alicia Silverstone or Hilary Duff or whoever, as soon as they get some insigifnicant reporter making a negative comment about their size, they suddenly start killing themselves with weight loss.

I wish more of them would just brush off their critics the way Anita does, here. It would make it easier for curvy women everywhere to do the same.
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Old 26th July 2005   #5
HSG
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Default Re: The Temptation of Anita Ekberg


One way to understand this film is to view it as a 20th-century retelling of the opera Tannhäuser, except with Wolfram von Eschenbach encountering Venus, instead of Wagner's eponymous minstrel.

As for legitimate standards of decency versus excessive prudery, the point has been made here before, but bears repeating, that the suppression of the curvaceous figure may be largely responsible for the vulgarization of female imagery in our time.

A century ago, the height of "sex appeal" would have been represented by an image such as the one below--a turn-of-the-century reproduction of an Asti painting. It possess a very sweet, gentle sensuality. The model's peaches-and-cream complexion, and her exquisitely full features--the soft, rich look that only comes from not starving--would have been considered dizzyingly attractive. There would have been no need for her to disrobe any further. The hint of decolletage (no more than Anita exhibits in the Fellini film) would have been provocative enough, by far.

But if this were an image of a modern celebrity, it would possess none of these attractions. The face would be hollowed and sunken, the neck narrow instead of full, and as for decolletage, it would either be absent altogether, or have the glaringly artificial look of plastic spheres attached to a flat surface.

Therefore, it is little wonder that in order to provoke any kind of reaction, modern celebrities resort to tawdry exhibitionism, as if seeking by their supposedly "shocking" immodesty to distract viewers from the fact that they aren't attractive in the slightest.

Ironically, therefore, the actions undertaken by the Dr. Antonios of the world in suppressing the curvaceous feminine figure (which was actually accomplished by a very different interest group than religious conservatives) may have had the opposite effect of what was intended, and pushed the culture towards vulgarity, instead of away from it.

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