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RIMINI, Italy (Reuters) - Federico Fellini's classic film "La Dolce Vita" is approaching the half-century mark and the director's hometown is pulling out the stops to give it a Felliniesque two-year-long international birthday bash.
The celebrations for the film, which Fellini conceived in 1958, shot in 1959 and premiered in early 1960, will extend to Los Angeles in 2009 in a fittingly drawn-out tribute to the man who liked to say "why use two words when 10 will do?"
As part of the 50th-anniversary initiatives, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, will hold an exhibition from January 24- Apr. 19 on Fellini's "Book of my Dreams" at its headquarters in Beverly Hills.
But Rimini kicked off the party last week with an international convention on "La Dolce Vita." It included speeches by critics, a sociologist, a psychoanalyst, a composer, an etymologist and even a priest.
For two days they discussed, dissected and debated every aspect of a 178-minute long, black-and-white film that changed cinema history.
Fellini, who died in Rome in 1993, is a god among film buffs and the "La Dolce Vita" is an icon. So it was no surprise that for some the convention was akin to a religious experience, a chance to venerate a relic along with fellow believers.
"Our role is to conserve and transmit the historical memory of Federico Fellini," Vittorio Boarini, director of the foundation that bears the late director's name, said solemnly.
The foundation holds seminars and exhibitions, publishes books and even has a quarterly review of "Fellinian Studies," including such weighty topics as the significance of trains and the sea in Fellini's expressionism.
"Fellini was an artist whose influence, whose cultural and intellectual power, went far beyond cinema. His creativity, his drawings, his writings, the music he chose, influenced art and society in general," said Boarini.
Last week the foundation opened an exhibition called "The Books of My House," where devotees can see the volumes he kept at home that influenced him -- from comic books and murder mysteries to Freud and Socrates.
"La Dolce Vita," starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg and Anouk Aimee, was considered scandalous at the time of its release but is quite tame by the standards of today, where more flesh can be seen in a television deodorant advert.
In seven loosely connected episodes, Mastroianni, playing reporter Marcello, covers the escapades of residual nobility, nouveau riche, starlets and hangers-on of the cafe set on Rome's Via Veneto as he struggles to find meaning in his own life.
A bored rich woman (Anouk Aimee) takes Marcello in her Cadillac to the squalid house of a prostitute because making love there would be more exciting than in her palatial estate.
In its emblematic scene, Sylvia, a towering phosphorescent blonde diva played by Ekberg, lures Marcello into a sensual midnight wade in the cold waters of Rome's Trevi Fountain.
In the film, Marcello chronicles events with his inseparable sidekick, a photographer whose last name is Paparazzo: the name now in dictionaries in nearly every language meaning aggressive street photographers.
"The phrase 'Dolce Vita' or 'the sweet life' and the word paparazzo have become part of every day American language," said Ellen Harrington of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in California.
"The film really foretold where we are at with the celebrity culture in America, which is so saturated and so over the top. The paparazzi are everywhere and my small children know the word already because our lives in Los Angeles are kind of impinged by the existence of these creatures," she said.
Fellini based the role of Paparazzo on the real-life antics of Tazio Secchiaroli, a legendary photographer who died in 1998.
Various explanations for why Fellini chose the surname Paparazzo exist. One is because its last syllable -- azzo -- rhymes with "cazzo," the vulgar Italian slang word for penis.
When the film came out, the Vatican said it should be re-titled "The Disgusting Life" and an irate elderly woman even grabbed Fellini in Rome and told him to "tie a stone around your neck and drown in the deepest sea."
The notoriety only helped raise its profile outside Italy. "La Dolce Vita" went on to influence scores of directors and still leaves its mark on new generations.
"Even my students today say it has a moral message," said teacher Luisa Rizzo, taking her high school class to the convention. "They identify the false values, superficiality and anxieties of the film's characters with the society they live in today."
The Academy's 2009 exhibition, on "Fellini Oniricon-The Book of my Dreams," will open at its headquarters in Beverly Hills two days after the Oscar nominations. Fellini won five Oscars.
"There have been very few filmmakers who were able to transcend their moment in time and transfer their work across borders the way he did," said the Academy's Harrington.
"I think Fellini was a very moral filmmaker. He was very prophetic but at the same time he examined the range of human behavior. 'La Dolce Vita' inspires a range of emotions -- lust, envy, desire, horror, repulsion," she said.
The huge two-volume work that will go to Hollywood consists of the nocturnal notes and sketches, many of them sexual, which Fellini quickly put to paper on waking in the night.
It is full of drawings of the type of big-busted and curvy women who populated his fantasies and films.
One entry is about a 1963 dream in which he has oral sex with Anita Ekberg while riding on a train in Italy.
"It would have been unthinkable to publish some of these 50 years ago when 'La Dolce Vita' came out," said Gianluigi Rossi, an Italian lawyer who was instrumental in the Academy show.
"Today, I don't think anybody is going to bat a eyelid."
Editing by Sara Ledwith