Talking Pictures

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Hollywood on the Tiber / Hollywood sul Tevere

Posted by keith1942 on March 21, 2011

Epic on the Tiber


17th Bradford International Film Festival 2011


A documentary directed by Marco Spagnoli, Italy 2010, 70 minutes with English subtitles. 

This film appears made for television and is co-produced by the NBC Network. It was screened in a digital copy: most likely a DVD. Unfortunately the film is rather overloaded with on obtrusive on-screen titles. There is a voice-over commentary, which is also fairly intrusive. This is somewhat of a shame because it is an intriguing tale and there is a wealth of interesting archive footage.

The director, Marco Spagnoli, was given the free run of the archives at the Cinecittà studio in Rome. The topic around which this material is organised is Americans in Italy 1950 to 1970. This was the period when the changes in the international film industry encouraged Hollywood to produce films overseas, mainly because of the lower costs involved. A steady stream of stars, directors, producers and technicians filled the production facilities around Rome and enjoyed the city and the avid interest of ordinary Italians. Spagnoli is mainly interested in stars – those charismatic Hollywood men and women who graced the centre of the screen. The few filmmakers with a close focus are those who enjoyed a similar celebrity, such as Walt Disney and Jack Warner or Alfred Hitchcock.

We are treated to an equivalent stream of such stars arriving in Rome, gracing cafes, tourist sights, VIP events and premieres. In between they are fascinating the locals. There are many clips from the films in which they appeared, and a certain amount of material of the film production. Cleopatra and Ben-Hur figure largely in this.

There are stars featured from other cinema, for example Brigitte Bardot. But clearly then and now Hollywood ruled the roost. The work and stars of the Italian industry also take something of a back seat. A shame because there are promising clips in the compilation. The film opens with footage of demonstrations in Roman streets in support of the indigenous film industry in 1948. These parallel similar popular demonstrations in France. There are also brief glimpses of Italian neo-realist filmmaking and the far more popular Italian comedies. And there are quite a number of takes from the cycle of peplum epics. The commentary at these points tends to be rather dismissive despite the success of the genre. Whilst it is true that they became something of a joke in parts of the industry, they also had their distinctive qualities. And I was disappointed that the attention given to Roberto Rossellini was over his well-publicised affair with Ingrid Bergman rather than his exceptional films.

The commentary does tend to a rather sardonic tone in describing this long-running circus. But the critical points about its inception and its demise are not fully expressed. As might be excepted La Dolce Vita becomes a reference. Not the Fellini film so much as the actual high life to be found in elite Roman circles at the time. The paparazzi appear and re-appear through the course of the archive footage. The antics in which they indulge for a special shot of some starlet seem amazing, even watching this today.

The procession of stars and starlets is full of familiar faces, but also quite a number that I did not quite recognise. Xavier Cougat, the bandleader, appeared accompanied by Abby Lane. I have a faint memory of seeing her in some film? Other non-filmic celebrities of the time included Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. There is an also a section devoted to the Venice Film festival. I treasure the moment when Alain Resnais appears briefly accepting the award for L’Année Dernière en Marienbad.

The footage itself is of variable quality as is the accompanying soundtracks. Some images are clearly worn copies of copies, and some of the dialogue or music is noticeably tinny. I also thought that the footage is used fairly freely, so that faces that I think are from the 1950s appear when the commentary is about the 1960s.

I was fascinated by much of the material, but it never quite fulfilled the possibilities. Given this is a director’s cut perhaps we may one day get a filmbuff’s cut of the material, longer and with more of the actual filmmakers and films. 


One Response to “Hollywood on the Tiber / Hollywood sul Tevere”

  1. enjoyed the review and would like to see this doco !!

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