The Italian “Elvis” Adriano Celentano’s performance of the Little Richard song, “Ready Teddy” in La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960) is raucous, unrestrained and pure rock. Moments earlier, jaded journalist Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) is slow-dancing with Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) to a moody ballad at a party held at the Baths at Caracalla:
You’re everything, Sylvia. You know that? The first woman on the first day of creation. You’re mother, sister, lover, friend . . . angel, devil, earth, home. That’s what you are: home!
The scene then turns into a wild party with the entrance of Frankie Stout (Alain Dijon). Fellini supposedly cast him because he resembled a sexual satyr who Michael Joshua Rowin describes as “a Pan-like figure with curly blond hair and beard whose appearance at the moribund party ignites a frenzy of bodies writhing.”1
Frankie is loud in gesture and loud in voice hollering to gain the attention of Sylvia. Breaking from Marcello’s embrace, she screams in exhilaration at Frankie’s arrival. From here Fellini prefers wider tracking and long shots than the tighter frames of Marcello and Sylvia locked in an embrace.
Sylvia strips away her heels and white furs to the mambo of “Caracalla” with shouts and cheering from the entourage. To conclude the performance, Frankie hoists Sylvia onto his shoulders followed by a headstand as if it were a mating call. Accepting defeat, Marcello leaves the youths to their dance, sitting at the table with the dejected and gloomy adults including, among others, Sylvia’s surly and drunk boyfriend, Robert (Lex Barker).
As this song concludes, Celentano is chanted onto stage to perform with a rejigged band who rip into a distorted but animated version of “Ready Teddy”. Different from other musical performances in the film – most notably Pagliaccio (Polidor) the sad clown who to the tune of Nino Rota’s “La tromba di polydor (La Dolce Vita)” leads a lonely balloon out of the room – Fellini seems disinterested in the rock ‘n’ roll spectacle. And unlike the beautiful orchestrations of other songs in the film, especially those from the hit parade – “Stormy Weather” and “Jingle Bells” – the song sounds amateurish with the instrument levels (especially the saxophone, perhaps intentionally) drowning out the vocals.
As Shawn Levy posits, Fellini had no real care for contemporary youth culture, with this scene “staged to look more like the fellow was having a drug fit or an epileptic seizure. The scene displayed rock ‘n’ roll as another symptom of the despair and decay the film anatomized.”2 In his chaotic performance, Celentano falls to his knees and gyrates before literally losing his feet and microphone, ending flat on his back on the dirt ground. It is hardly a flattering performance or portrayal. Yet, at least for those involved, the chaos is part of the appeal. As for Sylvia, she never seems as happy or alive as she does here.