By A. S. HURST
In January, 1936, Signor Mussolini laid the foundation-stone of the Italian Cinema City. On April 21 of this year he was shown round the almost completed buildings, and gave the word for production to start.
The Cinema City is a triumph in its way, and Italy is justly proud of it, particularly as it was conceived and begun at a time when the country was under Sanctions; the Press has a good deal to say about the national spirit which was resilient enough to try and "muscle in " on an international industry at such a time. Be this as it may, the optimism was justified. The risk was taken, and nothing but success followed. One feels, anyhow, that Italy would risk anything for the cinema. After all, in a country such as this, where the people are being encouraged to interest themselves in every modern form of self-expression, from modern verse to association football, it is unfortunate that the cinema-going public is quite small, far smaller than that of England, for instance. Even in Rome a cinema with a seatingcapacity of 1,000 is considered very large, and interior decoration, etc., fall far behind our rather Babylonian luxury-in Italy a wooden armchair is the usual seat in a picture-house. Prices are low, but still the people seem inclined to stay away —perhaps they cannot afford to visit the cinema frequently; perhaps (and this is most probable) they are not very interested in American films " dubbed " with Italian dialogue. Perhaps it is just those wooden armchairs. But the Government has decided to change all this, and hence We have the Cinema City, Scipio the African, Conclottieri, and a good deal of film propaganda.
This new keenness for the cinema is hardly surprising. The Government realises all its potentialities, and it realises, too, that Italy is the producer's paradise. Outdoor work is possible nearly all the year round, natural scenery is brilliant and varied (all ready for the fast-approaching true colour films); and lastly, there are the ancient monuments. All these chances, so easily turned into first-rate national and " international " films (these latter ought to bring the tourists) are obviously too good to he ignored, and it is only to be expected that Italian ingenuity is going to take full advantage of them.
The new Cinecitta, or Cinema City, is situated at Quadraro, on the Via Tusco
lane, about 4f miles from Rome. It is quite isolated and has, therefore, to be entirely self-sufficient, electric power stations generate 4,500 kw. of energy, two 400 foot wells supply water, and there are workshops of every kind, as well as apartments and shops for actors and technicians staying at the City. All around the gleaming ultra-modern blocks of buildings (the nine IStages alone cover over 16,500 square yards), there is the sun-browned and rather dreary flatness of the Roman Campagna, broken only by an occasional farmhouse or the crumbling arch of an ancient aqueduct; in the background, thp Alban Hills.
What of the Harvest?
But what of the harvest of all this careful sowing—the Ittelian films them selves? The answer seems to be that if all their future productions are to be on the scale of Scipio the African and Condottieri, the Italian films are soon going to take a very honourable place
among those made in Europe. Scipio is a better example to judge, because Conclottieri is a mixture, party German, partly Italian, while Scipio is an entirely Italian production. It is completely different from the average British or American film. Designed more for propaganda than entertainment, with crowds of more importance than individual stars, with music specially composed to blend with the action, and not just a commentary, the film is ohobviously more in the Russian than in our transatlantic tradition.
The Italians will want to see it, because it expresses something of their spirit, of themselves; and everyone else who thinks the cinema can be anything besides tinned theatre will want to see it, too. After all, in the old days before the Hollywood Movie Empire, Italian films were noted for their originality, both of construction and actual production technique : we might remember, for instance, that Montuori was the first to use artificial light in motion-picture making, in the film Promessi Sposi, made at Milan in 1906.
And if it was really the impulse of their materialistic philosophy which made Eisenstein and Pudovkin produce their magnificent propaganda films. there is every reason to expect similar excellence from Fascist directors, They have no all-important stars to placate, no big business million.s with which
to experiment. Scarcity of machinery and film ought to produce care and restraint in their work, as it did in the case of the Russians. According to Pudovkin the scarcity of "raw" film in the Russia of 1920 had a great deal w do with the technical brilliance oj the pictures produced; the director had to think. And the disciplined workers of the Italian cinema will have to use their brains. too, if they want to keep their jobs.
The Sci pione LAfricwia Co., Ltd., was formed under the auspices of the Ministry of Press and Propaganda and the Motion Picture Direction. The crowd scenes and the battles are the biggest moments of the film: for the battle of Zama the War Ministry granted the company the use of 12,000 soldiers and 4.000 horses. one main idea is behind the plot. Vigour conquers Decadence. The story consists in the defeat of the old and de cadent Senators by Scipio and his young followers, and the subsequent crushing of decadent Carthage by youthful Rome. The contrast is made clearer and more dramatic in the characters of Hannibal and Scipio, and the culminating point of the film is readied when these two great figures meet just before the Battle of Zama. Pizzettes music also helps to explain the struggle between the two civilisations, besides being a commentary on the fastmoving prologue, which depicts with brilliant terseness the overwhelming attacks of Carthage on Italy. An Alpine avalanche submerging the forests and valleys fades into armed men pouring down into Italy: a storm-cloud bursts, and Hannibal emerges on his black warhorse.
However. the war is won eventually, and we leave Scipio the African at peace in the porch of his villa at Literno. He plunges his hand into a sack of grain, and lets the golden corn run through his fingers. "This is good grain: and tomorrow, with the aid of the gods, we will begin the sowing."