Breakfast at Cinecittà’s: Italy’s Glocal Studio Tours 

By Carla Mereu Keating

As recently observed in the case of Britain, Germany and France, film studio tours featured prominently in studios’ promotional agendas and attracted significant media attention over the years. Following on from previous STUDIOTEC posts on the subject, this section casts an eye on film studio tours in Italy and explores the wide range of encounters that the press offered to public scrutiny.  

In the late 1930s Italian newspapers and film periodicals reported on several high-profile visits to Cinecittà, Italy’s jewel ‘city of cinema’ and Europe’s largest film studio at the time of its inauguration in 1937. Distinguished film industry visitors in the early years of the studio’s activity included RKO’s head of foreign sales Philip Reisman, who was invited to a colazione [breakfast] in the studio’s newly-opened restaurant in September 1937 (Cinema Illustrazione [CI], 29 Sept 1937: 12). In Rome after attending the film festival in Venice, Reisman was reported to have been favourably ‘impressed’ by the Italian welcoming party: 

I believe Cinema City has the most complete studios I have ever seen in my life (…) Italy is very anxious to get outsiders to produce there (…) and they are working to this end

Motion Picture Daily, 28 Oct 1937: 3

In the following months a number of well-known Hollywood figures, such as director Rouben Mamoulian (CI, 1938: 11), were reported to have toured the studios accompanied by Italian state representatives and film experts. 

Mamoulian visits Cinecittà 

If these business receptions meant to promote Italian studios’ modernization and to assert their competitiveness on a global scale, in the unsettled political climate which led to the outbreak of World War Two studio tours also aimed to reinforce Italy’s geopolitical orientation. For example, in December 1937, a Nazi delegation headed by Reichsleiter Rudolph Hess visited Cinecittà and watched the shooting of L’allegro cantante (1938). In early June 1940, only a few days before Mussolini declared war on the side of Nazi Germany, a Japanese diplomatic mission was shown around the newly-opened state film school located across the road from Cinecittà.

In these same years, Italians also travelled abroad to visit foreign film studios. For example, in August 1938 Benito Mussolini’s son Vittorio toured Berlin’s UFA studios in the company of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels (CI, 10 Aug 1938: 10). Cinephile Vittorio was neither a novice in studio tours nor was he unaware of their controversial politics. Infamously, in the summer of 1937, Vittorio had been invited by US film producer Hal Roach to visit his Culver City studios after the latter had announced an unpropitious co-production deal with the Italian. Roach’s invitations to a dinner party in honour of his guest were met with some embarrassment in Hollywood, with the anti-fascist Motion Picture Artists Committee reportedly

call[ing] on the decent people of Hollywood who emphatically dissent from the welcome accorded Signor Mussolini to redeem the name of our community by sending a carload of medical supplies to Spain

Photoplay, Jan 1938: 72

A new movie Mecca

As Italian film companies gradually resumed activity after the end of the war, studios reopened their doors to visitors. Because of its status as a displaced persons camp, Cinecittà was slowly restored to its splendour during the late 1940s. Eager to demonstrate its health and safety standards, in June 1949 a visit to the iconic studio was organised for an international delegation of scientists, in Rome for the Second World Health Assembly (Araldo dello Spettacolo [AdS], 23 Jun 1949: 3).   

Health scientists visit Cinecittà

Cinecittà was not the only film studio attraction worth sightseeing. Other film studios in Rome had their chance to shine. Film company Titanus, for example, was particularly keen to show off their recently renovated Farnesina complex and invited film industry personalities and the press to cocktail parties and tours of its state-of-the-art projection and dubbing facilities (AdS, 15 Sept 1949: 1). In October 1950, LUCE’s refurbished newsreel studio opened its doors to representatives of the Syrian government, visiting the publicly-owned institute to study their organization in the light of building a similar one back in Syria (Cinespettacolo, Oct 1950: 18). Scalera’s studio similarly welcomed illustrious visitors to raise the company’s international profile. In June 1949, for example, India’s Ambassador to Italy Dewan Ram Lall and family visited the studio and attended the filming of Al diavolo la celebrità (Fame and the Devil) in the company of tenor Ferruccio Tagliavini and the film’s international cast (AdS, 27 Jun 1949: 2).

Indian diplomats at Scalera 

Postwar studio tours appear to serve two main film-industrial purposes: to increase opportunities for in-country co-production and to find new commercial avenues for marketing and distributing Italian films abroad. Attracting interest from various regions of the globe, tours also offer a glimpse into Italy’s changing domestic and foreign policy and the emergence of Rome as an international movie Mecca.  

Many are the examples in the early 1960s. In June 1961, a Brazilian film delegation, in Rome for the Brazilian Film Week, visited Incom’s modern studio complex. In October of the same year, the president of Argentina’s national film institute Enrique Taurel and a film delegation, after an audience with the Pope at Vatican City and various meetings with the Italian film industry association ANICA, were shown around the Cinecittà sets of Cleopatra (AdS, 27 Oct 1961: 1). In November 1962 Pakistan’s Minister of Education and Information Fazlul Quader Chowdhury visited Cinecittà to restart talks of co-production between the two countries (AdS, 15 Nov1962: 4).

Built on the outskirts of Rome between the late 1950s and the early 1960s, producer Dino De Laurentiis’ imposing new facilities (known as Dinocittà) soon rivalled Rome’s aging film studios. Visits took place one after another, including that of a French film delegation in October 1964, a Scandinavian film delegation in November 1964, and the Spanish Minister of Information and Tourism Manuel Fraga Iribarne in December 1965. These tours played a significant part in De Laurentiis’ wide-ranging financing and promotional campaigns, serving to establish and strengthen links with major international investors and to generate media frenzy for his ambitious projects such as the religious epics Barabbas (1961) and The Bible: In the Beginning (1966). 

Having a good time?

If foreign guests attracted publicity to the studios, so did film stars, who were amply used as a vehicle to promote film business in Italy. The presence of charismatic and attractive women, in particular, enriched studios’ aura of fascination and reinforced their status symbol. Several actresses appear in press photoshoots of Italian studio tours of the 1950s and 1960s. One example is Lucia Bosé, photographed at Titanus in the company of RKO’s vice president Philip Reisman (a veteran of Italian film studio tours!) and European manager Joe Belford (AdS, 6 Nov 1951: 3). Owning the foreign distribution rights for Miracle in Milan(1951) and Roma Ore 11 (1952), RKO’s representatives were in Rome to secure further business deals.

Bosé and RKO’s reps at Titanus

Film fans or young girls aspiring to have a career in film were also lured into the studios via a number of beauty contests and prize competitions conducted by fan magazines under film industry patronage. Here is one telling example. In September 1949 the Araldo dello Spettacolo published news of Patricia Patrick’s visit to Cinecittà as guest of Universalia’s film producer Salvo D’Angelo. The 21 year-old-model had recently been elected Miss Cinémonde by a French jury of film actors and directors and was rewarded with a trip to Rome and London (where she was chaperoned by Arthur Rank). If up to 1949 the prize offered by Cinémonde was a trip to Hollywood, in 1949 the desirable destination became Rome ‘because the Mecca has moved here, and the trip costs a lot less’ conceded the Araldo (24-26 Sept 1949: 2). 

Miss Cinémonde 1949  

It is hard to say how these foreign studio tours were envisioned to practically support young women in pursuit of a career in film and fashion, and whose commercial (and unrelated business) interests these trips ultimately served. Commenting on the experience in Hollywood of Janine Marsay, the winner of the 1948 Cinémonde competition, Box Office’s critic keenly remarked that while acting as the girl’s escort, RKO Radio advisers were also ‘generally showing her [Marsay] a good time’ (15 May 1948: 57). One can hauntingly speculate what ‘to be shown a good time’ might have actually meant for a young (and likely vulnerable) woman navigating for the first time a foreign environment alone, under the auspices of male film industry ‘advisors’.    

From sound stage to world stage

Affirming their cultural and social capital at home and abroad, Italian studio tours reflect the changing relationship that Italy’s film industry established with the print and screen media, with the powers that be and with society at large. If, in 1930s Italy, studio tours signalled a turn towards the development of a more solid production infrastructure and of new film commerce opportunities, studio activities were soon to be curbed by Mussolini’s autarchic and warmongering policies. Post-war studio tours, on the other hand, witness Italy’s unprecedented film-industrial growth and establish Rome as a global film-tourism destination. 

Studio tours speak of the different ways in which the cinema industry exercised its sphere of influence far beyond the boundaries of the studios and their immediate film-industrial purposes. As mediated, symbolic and experiential encounters, tours offer an insight into film studios’ glocality. Opening their doors to a selected few, but reaching a vast audience through sponsored media channels, 20th-century film studios sought to project their industrial, cultural and diplomatic role onto the world stage, striving to become global players while being firmly rooted in their locality. 

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank the Modi, Memorie e Culture della produzione cinematografica italiana 1949-1976 project (MIUR-funded PRIN 2017, PI Prof. Mariapia Comand, University of Udine, Italy) for granting access to their digitised film press resources.

References

Anon., ‘Fuori programma’, Cinema Illustrazione, 29 September 1937, 12.

Anon., ‘RKO Planning to Gird Globe With Branches’, Motion Picture Daily, 28 October 1937, 1, 3.

Anon., ‘Fuori programma’, Cinema Illustrazione, 10 August 1938, 10.

Anon., untitled, Araldo dello Spettacolo, 23 June 1949, 3.

Anon., untitled, Araldo dello spettacolo, 27 June 1949, 2.

Anon., ‘Miss Cinémonde 1949 a Roma’, Araldo dello spettacolo, 24-26 September 1949, 2.

Anon., ‘Il congresso annuale della Titanus’, Araldo dello Spettacolo, 15 September 1949, 1.

Anon., ‘Rappresentanti del governo siriano visitano gli stabilimenti LUCE’, Cinespettacolo October 1950, 18.

Anon., ‘Reisman a Roma per la produzione italiana’, Araldo dello Spettacolo, 6 November 1951, 3.

Anon., ‘Negli incontri italo-argentini riaffermata la possibilità di accordi di coproduzione’, Araldo dello Spettacolo, 27 October 1961, 1.

Anon., ‘Un ministro pakistano visita Cinecittà’, Araldo dello Spettacolo, 15 November 1962, 4.

Ivan Spear, ‘Spearheads’, Box Office, 15 May 1948, 57.

Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr, ‘If the Windsors Had Come to Hollywood’, Photoplay, January 1938, 12-13, 72.

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