Postcard from Turin, Italy: Worshipping in the ‘Temple of Cinema’

Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.

Director Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007)

It is hard to imagine a more dramatic setting for The National Museum of Cinema (Museo Nazionale del Cinema Torino) than its home in Turin. Surrounded by banks and banks of flickering screens on multiple levels of ramps encircling the main “temple,” all eyes immediately are drawn upward to the amazing dome seemingly hovering above. Jimmy Stewart never could have rescued Kim Novak from the observation deck atop the dome if he were required to board the vertiginous elevator soaring upward to reach her (Vertigo, 1958).

I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between; I am not interested in all those films that do not pulse.

Director Francois Truffaut (1932-1984)

The year Vertigo was released in theaters was the year the Museum of Cinema opened in a wing of the Royal Palace in Turin. However, in the 1980s the exhibition space was declared no longer up to code, and it was closed to the public.

The camera’s a ballpoint pen, an imbecile; it’s not worth anything if you don’t have anything to say.

Director Roberto Rossellini (1906-1977)

Rewind briefly to the birth of a spectacular Turin landmark: the Mole Antonellian. During the period when Turin briefly was capital of the new Italian state (1860-1864), the Jewish community wanted a new synagogue worthy of capital status. They hired architect Alessandro Antonelli (1798-1888) to complete the project for them on a set budget. But Antonelli’s dreams continued to soar higher and higher, resulting in continuing alterations in the plans. He added more than 150 feet to the original planned height of the dome, and the projected costs far surpassed the original agreed upon amount. Antonelli’s unhappy clients pulled the plug, halting construction upward in 1869.

Going to the cinema is like returning to the womb; you sit there, still and meditative in the darkness, waiting for life to appear on the screen.

Director Federico Fellini (1920-1993)

The city of Turin traded another piece of property for construction of a more budget-conscious synagogue and then undertook completion of the 550-foot-tall building it dedicated to King Victor Emanuele II (1820-1878). From ground level to the statue and star on the top of the dome, the Mole Antonellian was the tallest brick building in Europe upon its completion in 1889. From 1908-1938, Turin used the Mole as its Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano, tracing the history of Italy’s unification as a republic. After a 1953 storm destroyed those extra 150 feet or so on which Antonelli had insisted, the city reinforced the rebuilt section with metal.

I depend on style more than plot. It is how you do it, and not your content that makes you an artist. A story is simply a motif, just as a painter might paint a bowl of fruit just to give him something to be painting.

Director, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980)

As part of the centenary celebrations of Italian unification in 1961, a panoramic lift was added inside the Mole Antonelliana. The glass elevator suspended in the dome will take those who don’t mind feeling as though hanging from the hands of the clock in Metropolis up to an observation deck offering views of the city from the perch 280 feet above the street below.

Mole Antonelliana became home to the National Museum of Cinema in 2000 and is an amazing location to fritter away a drizzly day.

Even if I set out to make a film about a fillet of sole, it would be about me.

Director Federico Fellini (1920-1993)

And then there is the allure of the dream job for any cinephile – night watchman in the museum. And, of course, there is film of that. Davide Farrario’s After Midnight (Dopo Mezzanotte) released in 2004. Click here to watch the trailer and find Stephen Holden’s review of it in the New York Times here.

Fortunately, somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off altogether.

Director Luis Bunuel (1900-1983)

 

Coming home to roost to celebrate San Jacinto Day?

corrmorants

 

Thence up he flew, and on the Tree of Life,
The middle Tree and highest there that grew, 
Sat like a Cormorant; yet not true Life
Thereby regaind, but sat devising Death
To them who liv’d….

Paradise Lost, John Milton

Satan disguised as a cormorant to spy on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden seems apt to me.

stretching-cormorant

USDA photo

The gloomy-looking double-crested cormorants always spook me. They love to pose on the chains by the dam by the marina, stretching their pterodactyl-type wings as though offering to lift the chains for the barges to cruise right under, dramatically plunging to the level below.

I feel a little bit better about this display now that I know they have no oil glands to repel water; they have to spread their wings to dry out their water-logged feathers. They can’t help it.

But cormorants pop up suddenly from underwater, seemingly out of nowhere, as you walk along the river’s banks. Like Lola Fandango swimming in the tank in Where the Boys Are, these expert fishermen can hold their breath as they swim underwater for a long time. More than a minute.

Even one of river’s cormorants can give me the willies. That’s why this Hitchcock-like gathering of the birds on the Mission Reach seemed particularly ominous the other morning. For birds added to the list of those protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the 1970s, this had to represent some kind of major powwow. Fortunately, their eyes focused toward downtown, the water buzzards let us pass by them unharmed.

What could the convention of cormorants portend? The Irish part of me heaved a sigh of relief – at least the sea crows were not perched atop a church steeple.

Some cultures consider cormorants noble, but, while I’m trying to regard the glass as half-full, I can’t sell myself on that one.

Fishermen regard their sighting as good luck; the fish they seek should be found nearby. One plus for the cormorant.

According to the USDA, greedy cormorants keep fish from overpopulating the river. They actually are an environmental indicator species, meaning the environment of the Mission Reach is healthy. So our cormorants are bearers of good news. Chalk up one more for the cormorant, plus one for the work of the San Antonio River Authority.

In old Norwegian legends, a trio of cormorants bear messages or warnings from the dead.*

But we encountered a whole army of them ready to invade downtown. There were maybe 100 of them. Maybe even more than 200 (Okay, I’m not sure how many. But we definitely were outnumbered.).

But good ol’ Cliff helped me figure this out. Norwegians also believed the dead used the cormorant guise another way as well – so they could fly home for a visit.

the spirits of defenders of the Alamo?

the noble spirits of defenders of the Alamo?

So, based on my extensive research, my interpretation of the meaning of the gathered army follows.

Obviously, those cormorants were the defenders of the Alamo, rising up to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the Mexican Army at San Jacinto in 1836.

What do you think of that brilliant idea, my friend, Phil Collins?

Fiesta San Antonio must be their favorite holiday for rising from the grave. Betcha they come back next year.

*I have to stop right here and make a confession to the spirit of Mrs. Masterson. Some of these concepts came from CliffsNotes.com. But I promise. I never opened one of those guides once in your class in high school. Not for Milton. Not even when Moby Dick threatened to swallow all time for social life. Plus, I knew you could smell a CliffsNotes’ idea in the answer to a discussion question before the ink dried. Toward the end of the book, though, I did start reading only every fifth chapter…. That was still a whale of a lot of pages.