After Francesco Rosi, cinema is mourning one of its icons of style, Anita Ekberg. The Swedish actress - remembered by many as Federico Fellini's muse - died yesterday at 83 at a hospital in Rocca di Papa, outside Rome.
A femme fatale, Ekberg entered film history starring as voluptuous Sylvia in La dolce vita, calling "Marcello, come here! Hurry up!" inviting Mastroianni to bathe with her in the Trevi Fountain, and sensually casting a spell on the journalists interviewing her by mentioning the three things in life she liked best "Amore, amore, amore" (Love, love, love).
Born Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg in Malmö in 1931, she moved to the States in 1950 atfer winning the Miss Sweden title.
She studied acting and got her first role in 1953 (after a tiny part in Mississippi Gambler), starring as a Venusian guard in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars by Charles Lamont. After appearing also in Nathan Juran's The Golden Blade (1953), she gained the nickname "The Iceberg" in Hollywood.
Further films followed - Artists and Models (1955) and Hollywood or Bust (1956), both by Frank Tashlin, and she won a Golden Globe as best upcoming actress in 1956, the same year she appeared in King Vidor's War and Peace (1956).
Ekberg arrived in Italy in 1959, when Rome was known as "Hollywood on the Tiber". She became an icon of style in Fellini's La dolce vita (1960), starring also in the director's Boccaccio '70 (1962), I clowns (The Clowns, 1970) and Intervista (Federico Fellni's Intervista, 1987).
She returned to Italy in the second half of the '60s, after a short break in the States, and was featured in several minor films and roles, beginning a descending parable in her career that saw her starring in secondary comedies, Spaghetti westerns and a thriller film, Suor Omicidi (Killer Nun, 1979) by Giulio Berruti.
Twice married and divorced (to actors Anthony Steel and Rik Van Nutter) and rumoured to have had numerous love affairs with celebrities and powerful men, she lived alone in a villa in Genzano, but, in 2011, due to poor health and dire financial constraints, she had appealed for help to the Fondazione Fellini in Rimini. She will be cremated and her ashes will be send back to Sweden.
Let's remember this voluptuous icon via some notes about a few iconic costumes/films, and with a special soundtrack - "La Dolce Vita Souvenir" (Kutmusic), a mini-album featuring highlights from the Nino Rota score conducted by Franco Ferrara, with appearances by Adriano Celentano & I Campanino and spoken excerpts by Anita Ekberg herself and Marcello Mastroianni.
From War and Peace (1956) by King Vidor
In the '50s Cinecittà expanded offering the chance to many Rome-based tailoring houses to work with the national and international movie industry. Around the same time, historical films became rather popular as this King Vidor movie also proves. Costume designer Maria De Matteis didn't want to dress up Audrey Hepburn, Anita Ekberg and May Britt in vintage costumes, so she turned to Italian fashion designer Fernanda Gattinoni who opted for empire line dresses in neutral tones or soft pastel nuances. Nominated to an Oscar for its costumes, the film had a huge impact on fashion, relaunching the "empire line". Ekberg wears in the film beautiful costumes (in velvet or with intricate embroideries and appliqued motifs) matched with rich accesories, including sparkling costume jewellery, bags and gloves.
From La dolce vita (The Sweet Life, 1960) by Federico Fellini
The legendary shots of Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni in the Trevi Fountain changed forever the history of Italian cinema, but actually originated in a rather bizarre way. Photographer Pierluigi Praturlon was following Ekberg around Rome. Anita was walking barefoot and she cut her foot, so she thought of washing the wound with the water of the Trevi Fountain. It was August and she decided to just walk into the fountain in her white and pink gingham dress with ample skirt and petticoats. As she entered the fountain she called back, "Pierluigi, come here!"
According to the legend, Fellini saw the pictures on a newspaper and went to meet her. No white and pink gingham dress appeared in La dolce vita, though. The black satin dress donned by Ekberg was actually inspired by Jean Louis' black satin strapless gown for Rita Hayworth in Gilda (the latter was based on the portrait of Mrs. X by John Singer Sargent). The film caused a huge debate when it was first released and the case even arrived in the Parliament where conservative MPs asked to withdraw it from circulation as it offended the virtues and integrity of the respectable citizens of Rome. Audiences loved it though and Fellini's film won the Golden Palm at Cannes and an Oscar for Best Costume Design.
A further note should be made about the "pretino" dress (little priest dress). Sylvia wears it to visit St Peter's, but the pretino dress was originally created in 1956 by the Fontana Sisters for Ava Gardner (devout catholics, the three sisters and fashion designers had actually asked the authorities for the permission to design the dress and the Vatican approved it). Voluptuous Anita Ekberg donned a similar version of the "pretino" in Fellini's film, disturbing the bourgeois consciences of the self-righteous (Krizia recreated two models of the same dress in the '90s; and a fake "pretino" was also donned by Victoire de Castellane as Anita Ekberg in a Pitti installation by Olympia Le Tan).
From "Le tentazioni del Dottor Antonio" (The Temptation of Doctor Antonio) by Federico Fellini
In Fellini's "Le tentazioni del Dottor Antonio" (The Temptation of Doctor Antonio), an episode from the film Boccaccio '70 (1962), Anita Ekberg wore a black evening gown, covered in a cascade of sparkling gems.
Shot in a sort of creative limbo after La dolce vita in the attempt of reviving the successes obtained with it, the short film featured morality crusader Antonio (Peppino De Filippo) fighting against a poster portraying a provocative image of a blonde woman (Anita Ekberg) inviting people to drink more milk.
Unfortunately for poor Antonio, the beautiful blonde steps out of the poster and turns into a 50 feet tall vixen, walking around the EUR area, teasing, pestering and driving crazy the morality crusader.
Though Anita's costume calls to mind the iconic one in La dolce vita, in this case her glamour doesn't enter into a contrast with a classical architectural feature (the Trevi Fountain), but with a modernly rigorous area of the Italian capital, making this short film more important from an architectural than a costume point of view.
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