World Cinema - Italy: October 2016

Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, is finding out about how people from different countries experienced cinema in their homeland.

With one exception I have only ever visited the cinema in the UK and had always assumed that mine was a universal experience.  One day a chance conversation made me wonder if perhaps I was being naïve and so I set myself the challenge to find out what people living in Chesham but born in another country recalled about cinema in their homeland.  I am very grateful to everyone who gave up their time to give me such an insight often reviving memories that they had forgotten.


Today I am pleased to be in conversation with Silvano Bianchi who was accompanied by his wife Serena and daughter Camilla.  Silvano was born in Rome and like many from his district always worked within the film industry, in his case in post production for Technicolour.  Silvano worked on the technical side finally moving to the digital department as the industry evolved.

There was a huge cinema industry in Italy and particularly Rome.  The film industry was born under the Fascists because they invested heavily in it in order to further their propaganda programme.

Out of this was born Studo Cinecitta (City of Cinema) in a neighbourhood of Rome but now, unfortunately, little more than a museum.  In the late 1940s and 50s American directors moved to Italy to shoot their movies as Italian technology was more advanced than that available to them in Hollywood.

Ben Hur was shot in Italy and Silvano told the story of how his grandfather was an extra in the film. In those days lots of people in the area got jobs at the studio as extras though they didn’t always get paid.  They did, however, get a good lunch which meant that they didn’t need to eat later which helped the family budget.

This burgeoning film industry gave an opportunity for some home grown major film directors and Silvano names Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Pierpaolo Pasolini and Mario Monicelli as great examples.

Italy was also home to the Spaghetti Western with Sergio Leone and Lee van Cleef which gave a second wind to the film industry in the 1970s.  Silvano believes that Ennio Morricone who produced the sound track for The Good the Bad and the Ugly was one of the major talents in the world and ranks alongside John Williams.

Topically Silvano believes that Italy’s entry into the European Union with its weak economy was a mistake, and helped to destroy the film industry as he knew it, but, he was keen to point out, that this is just his opinion.

He came to UK in January 2014 after losing his job when Technicolour closed down its base in Rome, a casualty of the global financial crash.  Silvano first lived in Brixton whilst he searched for work.  Thanks to his transferable skills he found employment in Technicolour in Lexington Street, Soho, and he was finally able to send for his wife and family and they settled in Chesham two years ago.

1) How does the cinema here differ from that in Italy?

Not so much today really as the multi screens have taken over, cinema screens are a smaller but there are more of them.  However we do have the open air cinemas particularly in seaside resorts.  Twenty or thirty years ago there were fewer cinemas which were often built at the base of apartment blocks.  These were bigger and often possessed more beautiful architecture than is apparent in today’s cinemas.

2) What is your first memory of going to the cinema as a child?

Going to the cinema was a special event, an occasional treat which we enjoyed maybe a once or twice a year at the most.  Our cinema didn’t have air conditioning but it did have a retractable roof and I remember being able to look up and see the stars.

I was always excited to hear the unique sound of the projector, a sort of whirring and to watch the motes of dust caught in the light from the projector.  There were far fewer and no adverts unlike now where you have finished your popcorn long before the movie starts.

3) What was the first film that you recall seeing?

I remember that I was taken to see Walt Disney’s Bambi which was a very special treat as at that time I was an only child (my brother didn’t arrive until nine years later).

4) How expensive was it to visit the cinema?

A good natured argument breaks out at this point as Serena and Silvano try to recall the cost before finally agreeing that ticket prices were 5,000 or 6000 lira, plus of course the cost of popcorn and ice cream.

5) What was the etiquette in the cinema in Italy?

Mostly children had to behave and there was no talking once the film started.  However children were allowed to play before the film usually on the stairs and of course making shadow puppets in the light beam from the projectionist's box.

The seats were uncomfortable as they were small with little leg room.  There was nowhere to put your coat so we rolled them up and sat on them to make it a little more comfortable but obviously this was not so good for the people sitting behind.  Perhaps that explained the children kicking the back of the chairs.   (I was able to assure Silvano that this was a phenomenon not unique to Italy).

6) When I was a child the only food eaten in the cinema was tubs of ice cream or choc ice, Orange Juice and hot dogs.  What kind of food could you buy at the cinema?

Food choices were limited and Serena speculates that this could be because the cleaners didn’t wish to encourage the typical Italian feast that might otherwise occur.  Whatever the reasons, the main film foods were Gellato and Pop Corn.  However the big treat was a box of bon bons that were (and I believe still are) small chocolate covered ice cream that were bought in a box and had to be eaten quickly before they melted.

7) What sort of films were shown in Italy?  Was it the usual blockbuster?  Walt Disney or something else?

In Italy movies from everywhere around the world but dubbed into Italian.  English actors were very popular especially David Niven and Alec Guiness.

One film that I do remember starred David Niven and Alberto Sordi and was called Due Nemichi (The Two Enemies) and I loved it.

8) Do you go to the cinema in UK – if so what were your first impressions?

To be honest it has become homogenised and is pretty much the same here as in Italy.

9) We have certain films that are shown every Christmas, is that the same in your country and if so what? Perhaps for Christmas or another festival? Perhaps always shown on television?

Again, much the same as in the UK. We tend to watch a Christmas Carol, Mary Poppins and we also watch US box sets.

10) And what film character would you like to be?

When I was a child I was a huge Rocky fan, he was my hero, so I would have to say Rocky Balboa.

11) Finally what is your favourite film?

It is a horror film, Dario Argento's Deep Red.  I like any film that fires the emotions, including fear.

Thank you for your insight into cinema going in Italy.  I have enjoyed meeting you all.