When I was 16, I saw that TCM would be showing La Dolce Vita one morning, beginning at 3AM. I had never seen it before, but had discovered my love of classic movies a few years earlier. It was a weekend in late summer, so I dutifully set my alarm for 2:55AM, woke up, walked downstairs, and started watching Fellini’s classic.
In my dark living room under the blankets, I was introduced to Marcello and his eternal city. By the time La Dolce Vita finished, it was nearing dawn. I quietly made my way upstairs to sit and watch the sun rise over my neighborhood. No, I didn’t feel changed by the movie, but I vividly remember feeling calm and hopeful, energized by the characters in the film, hoping that one day I’d get to see the beautiful country in which the film takes place.
Since then, I’ve watched a lot more of Fellini’s movies and come to appreciate each of them more and more, each time I watch them. Satyricon I found to be visually stunning, and I loved the flashbacks and blasé struggles of Guido in 8 1/2, as well as the enduring strength we see in the main character of Nights of Cabiria.
As I started researching the neighborhood in which I would be staying in Rome (Quadraro), I read that Cinecittà was located rather close. It hadn’t occurred to me to look it up before, let alone that it would include an excellent exhibition of the films that had been shot in the studios. It was the least crowded museum I went to in Rome, making it feel like a hidden gem, only known to locals and Italian film buffs.
Cinecittà’s roots are interesting, to say the least. The studios were founded in 1937 by Italy’s fascist government for propaganda purposes. During World War II, the studios were temporarily moved to Venice in the German occupation and, soon following the war, they were then used as a temporary refugee camp, contributing towards the development of Italian Neorealism. Today, the studios have become privatized, but are still actively used for many productions, including American films like Gangs of New York and the HBO series Rome.
Federico Fellini is, of course, the star of Cinecittà. In fact, Cinecittà Si Mostra (Cinecittà Shows Off), the name of the studio’s exhibition, has an entire building dedicated to the dear FeFe, which was sadly closed when I was there. The primary exhibition building includes a sort-of behind the scenes look at what goes into making a move. And it’s magical.
From the very beginning, you walk into a hallway in which the floor is a moving picture and there’s a soft, sweet instrumental soundtrack playing. It’s dark, like being in a movie theatre. Off of the hallway, there are multiple rooms, filled with props, costumes, short films about production efforts, and a collection of information about the directors who’ve filmed there. I was particularly excited to see a section dedicated to Lena Wertmüller, one of my favorite directors. As cheesey as it sounds, I had to restrain myself from reaching out to touch the costumes previously filled by the likes of Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren.
The grounds were gorgeous, littered with props from previous sets. There’s a cafe and gift shop that were empty on an early Saturday morning. As you exit through the large studio gates, you can feel the magic receding behind you. There’s an air of possibility within the studio walls that can only come from the artistic vision of filmmakers and the actors who bring their imaginations to life.
Outside of the studio walls, there’s always more art to be found. It’s a common lament that Rome, and other Italian cities, are covered with graffiti and that it’s unfortunate because of the historical nature of so many buildings. But graffiti is an expression of humanness, of spontaneous art, and of public aesthetics — plus, it’s something we’ve seen since the Roman times, such as in Pompei, so it’s not surprising that the habit continues.
I, personally, love stumbling across street art. There’s small glimpses into where we stand as a culture, as an international world, the important messages of our day. It’s a beautiful, freeing thing.
Photo of Cinecittà from Wikimedia Commons