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Slice of La Dolce Vita comes to London

Seductive portraits show stars captured during the Golden Age of Italian cinema

A seductive slice of 'la dolce vita' opens in London later this week with an exhibition of early paparazzi photographs of Hollywood stars captured during the Golden Age of Italian cinema.

Taken by Italian press photographer Marcello Geppetti in the Sixties, eighty black-and-white images chronicle icons such as John Wayne, Brigitte Bardot, Charlton Heston and Audrey Hepburn taking time out in the glamorous bars and restaurants lining Rome’s most exclusive streets.

Geppetti is said to have been part inspiration behind the character Paparazzo in Federico Fellini’s 1960 classic film La Dolce Vita, stalking the streets by scooter for a glimpse of the decadent lives of the rich and famous.

Entitled The Years of La Dolce Vita: The Birth of Celebrity Culture in Focus, the exhibition at London’s Estorick Collection includes a notorious shot of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor engaged in an illicit kiss while holidaying on a boat off the Italian coast.

Both were still married to others at the time and Geppetti’s zoom-lens images caused a media storm, confirming rumours that Burton and Taylor had fallen madly in love on the set of Cleopatra (1963), filmed at the iconic Cinecittà studios.

Celebrating its landmark 77th anniversary this week, Cinecittà studios was home to several epic Hollywood productions and international stars, transforming Rome’s streets into what exhibition co-curator Roberta Cremoncini describes as “an open-air film set”.

“Geppetti’s work really captures the stars enjoying the nice, easy going way of life, for example enjoying spaghetti in a restaurant, free from the more conservative of the Hollywood production system,” Cremoncini says.

For better or worse, the high-octane allure of Geppetti’s paparazzi shots helped give rise to the modern cult of celebrity and the voyeuristic guilty pleasures on which the industry still thrives.

The Years of La Dolce Vita: The Birth of Celebrity Culture in Focus runs at the Estorick Collection, 39a Canonbury Square, London, N1 2AN from 30 April to 29 June 2014