31 October, 2011Issue 17.2Film & TVPhoto EssaysVisual Arts

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Temple of Dreams

Jane Han

Rome, Italy—These days, Cinecitta is a place entrenched more in the mythic imagination than the geographic one. The birthplace of a bewildering number of accomplished filmmakers from the likes of Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Franco Zeffirelli, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Vittoria De Sica, the fabled Italian film studios are a virtual pantheon of cinematic history. Reaching a peak of activity in the 60s and 70s, its lore was augmented by the glitterati while films such as Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita passed through its lots. In 1987, it became a character in its own right in Fellini’s Intervista—a love song of sorts to the place he once called his “temple of dreams”.

As I walk through the empty lots one spring morning, however, I am struck not by its storied glamour but by the crumbling facades and general state of disrepair. Once impressive props are now skeletal frames exposing the thin foundations of their artifice. Sets appear to be assembled then abandoned, entrusting time and nature with the task of their dismantling. The vast, 100-acre plot of land located on the outskirts of Rome is generally empty, eerie, and beleaguered by a sense of reality belying a motto which touts itself as the “factory of dreams”.

I am quick to realise, of course, that this is precisely the ruse of the movies—to emolliate the hard stuff of life with the sweet tonic of fantasy. Undoubtedly, here, in the shroud of nostalgia, it is easy to overlook the very origins of the place, founded in 1937 by Benito Mussolini for propaganda purposes under the slogan “Il cinema è l’arma più forte” (“Cinema is the most powerful weapon”). In the front lot, a large head from Fellini’s Satyricon is half-buried in the ground, its wide, curious eyes averting the direction of a small plinth erected as a monument to the National Fascist Party. Etched with a fasces—a bundle of sticks bound together with rope—the image is a simple but effective symbol of the idea of strength through unity. I think how alluring this concept is, a pictorial parable of Biblical proportions, and how cleverly it has been reified into the easy veneer of the image.

I continued to wander through the lot, camera in-hand, letting the wilderness of my thoughts pave my trail. Circling through the maze of the back lots, I walked until I became increasingly less sure of my whereabouts, ultimately unable to distinguish between a dilapidated set-piece or the crumbling façade of a studio building. I was, nonetheless, diligent about snapping shots, happily abandoning myself to the small window of the camera.

This series of photos reveals my journey through Cinecitta over the course of one day. Though my intention was, in the most journalistic sense, to capture some documentary sense of the place, it became obvious that the camera could mask as much as it could reveal. The results are a series of images in which I leave the viewer to distinguish which space is imaginary and which is real.

Il cinema è l’arma più forte…

 

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Jane Han is a filmmaker and photographer. She is completing her DPhil in Fine Art at Christ Church, Oxford. Most recently, her films were shown at Modern Art Oxford, and her photographs exhibited in Treviglio, Italy. Her documentary Urban Scribe won the CINE Golden Eagle prize for best documentary and was broadcast on Comcast on Demand (USA).