Thursday, June 14, 2012

From Mussolini to Woody Allen

Cinecittà, the acclaimed 99-acre Italian studio that has seen a recent revival (see Windsor Detroit Film, May 2, 2011) and has been home to some of the late 20th centuries’ most famous movies – Ben Hur (William Wyler 1959), La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini 1960) and Cleopatra (Joseph L. Mankiewicz 1963), even Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) – may be a revered cinematic gem. But few in the film industry would pay respect, and rightly so, to its origins. It was founded by none other than 1930s Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini, believe it or not, had a passion for the arts and not simply as propaganda tool for the Fascists. But in this case the production of movies was very much a vehicle for his political cause. In fact the studio was given the slogan “Cinema is the most powerful weapon.” Cinecittà was partly destroyed by Allied bombings during the Second World War. After the war it was used as a giant refugee camp. The lack of studio facilities forced filmmakers out on the streets, creating the famed Italian neorealist cinema, “which amounted to a complete rebirth of the medium,” says art critic Robert Hughes in his recent book Rome, A Cultural, Visual and Personal History. Neorealist directors include Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini. In fact, Hughes says, great Italian art in the form of painting, sculpture and architecture, pretty much ended in the 20th century, to be replaced by the country’s genius in film.....All this simply heightens my interest in Woody Allen’s new movie, due out July 6 (at the Main and presumably in Windsor theatres), To Rome with Love, a romantic comedy (picture above left) in both English and Italian. Following on his other European pictures set in London, Barcelona and Paris, it will be interesting to see Allen’s take on the Eternal City. The cast includes Penélope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Judy Davis, Ellen Page and Allen himself in his first acting role since his Scoop in 2006.

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