The movie industry has its bases, its studios and its famous names and certain locations and buildings that become synonymous with movie making, in England there was Shepperton, Bray, Pinewood etc etc, in the States it all comes under that glitzy and somewhat false persona that is under the Hollywood umbrella, but there is one European studio that seems to stand out and even now is mentioned and lauded by many, Cinecitta quite literally meaning
The City of Cinema was the base and location for the production of hundreds of films, and not just Italian titles. Films such as Ben Hur, Cleopatra, Sodom and Gomorrah etc all used the facilities the cast of thousands as in extras and the technicians, such as cinematographers, that the studio had on offer.
And the stunning locations also for more contemporary movies in the form of the city of Rome. So let’s take a look at the history of this hallowed place, where Fellini created masterpieces such and Leone cut his film making teeth as an assistant director, this was The Factory of Dreams, the production line of hope and the place where escapism and reality combined to create stunning cinema. Cinecitta was founded in 1937 by Mussolini, Il Duce intended to put to good use what he called the power of cinema in a way that promoted him and his propaganda.
But when WWll broke out the site was taken over by the Italian army and the country found itself without a central place to make movies, it was at this time that directors decided to take to the streets of Rome and other cities to commit to celluloid their hopes, dreams, and visions. Filmmakers such as Visconti and Rossellini who were to become known as the pioneers of neorealism, took to the streets to film in real locations, and shooting in natural light rather than under the gaze of artificial lighting, and producing movies that were seen as true to life in Italy at that time, rather than the contrived and flawless visions of utopia as conveyed by the Fascists.
These Golden age productions as they were also referred to included seminal Italian films, such as Roma Citta Aperta, Ladri di Bicicletti, I Vitelloni, La Strada, and Viaggio in Italia.
The movies often using unknown actors or even non-actors and setting the story in a amongst the poorest people in the country and focusing upon the struggles of the working class. This type of film was at its most prominent from 1943 to 1952 and showed a side to life that was directly the opposite to that which was being purveyed by Hollywood filmmakers, Ironically the films in is category proved to be more popular with audiences outside of Italy and appealed to audiences more in the States and the UK.
The success of Cinecitta literally took off as the 1950’s dawned, with American directors deciding to shoot their movies there because of its superior equipment and more affordable labour, the studios were to be the location for so many big box office movies which earned Cinecitta the name of Hollywood by the Tiber.
Films such as Quo Vadis, The Robe and Roman Holiday were all made there, and mega stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Charlton Heston and Richard Burton were all well known actors that filmed there. Taylor was an extra in Quo Vadis before reaching her mega star status, as was Sophia Loren.
Fellini focused upon the glitzy stars in his La Dolce Vita, satirising the beautiful people or so-called icons of the glamorous and opulent silver screen. I suppose one could also say that Cinecitta and Italian directors also parodied themselves in films such as After the Fox which starred Peter Sellers.
Sellers plays Aldo Vanucci (aka the Fox), one of the greatest criminals of the world and master of disguise. After Aldo escapes from the Italian prison, he was held in, he meets again with his friends and plans to retrieve the “Gold of Cairo”, a large shipment of gold that waits to be unloaded somewhere in Italy.
Aldo devises the perfect plan- posing as a famous director, he finds the ideal coastal village to unload the shipment and persuades the entire population of the village that he has chosen their home as the set for his new movie (actual location: Ischia Island, Perugia, Roma).
Everybody, including the idiot chief of the local police (Lando Buzzanco) are so excited, that they can’t even imagine that in fact they are helping the Fox to get the “Gold of Cairo”. Directed by Vittorio De Sica, the film also starred Britt Ekland as Gina Romantica, and Victor Mature as Tony Powell. It’s a great romp, and includes references to the neorealism movement in many of its scenes with the villagers, some of which were filmed without prior rehearsal.
The score for the movie was by Burt Bacharach with a title song performed by 1960’s pop group The Hollies and Peter Sellers.
Director Federico Fellini is known to just about everybody with films such as Roma, La Bidone, La Strada, The Clowns, 81/2, Satyricon, and so many more.
So revered was Fellini that he had his own studio at Cinecitta, which was the Teatro 5, in which the director lived whilst he created the wonderful sets for his movies that would become his trademark, the scene in La Dolce Vita, where Anita Ekberg walks into the Trevi fountain, was not filmed on location but on a purpose-built set that Fellini had constructed in Teatro 5. Cinecitta was one of the busiest studios during the 1950,s
and this continued to be the case into the early 1960’s, however audience tastes were changing, and the epic film and Biblical tales were beginning to become out of vogue, with audiences craving the likes of James Bond etc. So it was in this period that Cinecitta’s fortune were to take a nosedive, but because the American filmmakers had deserted Italy to return to tinsel town, a new genre emerged from the ruins that American studios left behind them, and the Italian western was born to great success.
And along with it came a new breed of directors, such as Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, and Sergio Sollima, plus the Italian film industry also began to stir once again with directors such as Pasolini and Pontecorvo entering the arena.
Along with these movies came a new sound as in the music on their soundtracks with the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, Stelvio Cipriani, Gianni Ferrio, Nico Fidenco, and Francesco De Masi, who along with numerous other composers and artists realised the Sound of the Spaghetti western. It was not until the 1990’s when the soaring production costs in Hollywood persuaded the American studios to once again look to Italy and to Cinecitta to make movies, it was the location of the studio and its enormous expanse its twenty-two stages and its forty acre backlot plus a gigantic 16,500 sq foot outdoor tank.
It was perfect for films that had hundreds in their cast such as Gangs of New York, which was filmed at the studios in 2001. It was this and a handful of other productions that put the studio back on the filmmaking map, and the new stars of Hollywood once again paraded around on its impressive sets. With movies such as The Passion of the Christ being shot there, and the The Life Aquatic utilising the vast outdoor tank.
The many craftsmen and women that work at Cinecitta play a vital part in its popularity, with many that worked on the likes of Ben Hur, still working there and also mentoring younger artisans in their craft of model making etc. Remember the Torch Holder in Ben Hur that stood high above Circus Maximus, and the huge Medusa head from Casanova, the Warrior Statue from The Last Emperor, these are as iconic as the movies that they were created for.
There are whole families of costume makers, mothers and fathers passing down their skills to sons and daughters, skills that are hard to find anywhere else.
In recent years the studio has adapted well and the gigantic Teatro 5, is on occasion used for variety TV shows such as the Italian version of Big Brother, and productions such as Rome, which boasted impressive sets with a budget that was rumoured to be over 100 million dollars. The craftsmen re-creating the Roman forum and taking it back to its former splendour looking as it did in 50 BC. Nowadays one can visit the studios, as it is the base for several attractions as this ad tells us- Transport yourself into the world of fiction and fantasy at the Cinecittà World, a theme park that combines the best of cinema and television in 40 attractions, 7 themed areas, and 6 shows. Head over to the many rides and attractions that are made keeping in mind every guest’s needs, from those who prefer adrenaline-filled fun to those who want to make a splash at the aquatic rides. Enjoy any of the 6 shows that run every hour daily, covering different genres.
So, it is still a studio that is giving and creating entertainment, may its memories never fade and may it reign supreme forever, in the hearts and minds of everyone.