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November 7, 2011

On the outskirts of Rome lies Cinecittà, the biggest movie studio in mainland Europe. Launched in 1937 as a propaganda factory for Mussolini, it later became a playground for some of the most stylish and iconic filmmakers in history: Sergio Leone shot spaghetti westerns there; Fellini called it his “temple of dreams.” More recently, it was home to Scorsese's "Gangs of New York." Usually, cinephiles can only get a peek at Cinecitta’s storied campus via private group tours—not easy to arrange for the average tourist—but through November 30th, the studio’s gates are open to the general public for the first time. The main attraction is an exhibit of Cinecittà memorabilia, but I was just as interested in the studio itself: A prime example of WWII-era modernist architecture.

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Architect Gino Peressutti designed Cinecittà circa 1935, in the “Italian Rationalist” style, seen here in the bold lines and sans serif font of the front gate.  Unlike the earlier Italian avant-garde, Rationalists didn’t want to rip apart traditional arch
Architect Gino Peressutti designed Cinecittà circa 1935, in the “Italian Rationalist” style, seen here in the bold lines and sans serif font of the front gate. Unlike the earlier Italian avant-garde, Rationalists didn’t want to rip apart traditional architecture—they just wanted to infuse it with modern logic and reason. So: strong simple forms, with little ornamentation.
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Just past the gate, an enormous head—a prop <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhFM_G3fzjg">from Fellini’s “Casanova”</a>—explodes out of the lawn. Throughout the lot, Peressutti’s straightforward geometric buildings collide with this kind of random
Just past the gate, an enormous head—a prop from Fellini’s “Casanova”—explodes out of the lawn. Throughout the lot, Peressutti’s straightforward geometric buildings collide with this kind of random playfulness.
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Most Cinecitta structures look like streamlined (and weatherbeaten) army barracks, but some feature unusual, almost nautical details—like the big porthole windows on this bungalow.
Most Cinecitta structures look like streamlined (and weatherbeaten) army barracks, but some feature unusual, almost nautical details—like the big porthole windows on this bungalow.
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Or the ladder and lamp adorning this one—the kind of detail you’d find on a submarine.
Or the ladder and lamp adorning this one—the kind of detail you’d find on a submarine.
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Just the suggestion of portholes on this one. Some of these buildings wouldn’t feel out of place beachside along California's Pacific Coast Highway, especially when the Italian sun lights up their sandy ochre paint jobs.
Just the suggestion of portholes on this one. Some of these buildings wouldn’t feel out of place beachside along California's Pacific Coast Highway, especially when the Italian sun lights up their sandy ochre paint jobs.
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Here's Soundstage 5 where Fellini shot most of his films. The director spent so much time there, the studio eventually built him an apartment inside.
Here's Soundstage 5 where Fellini shot most of his films. The director spent so much time there, the studio eventually built him an apartment inside.
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After a week in Italy, I’d come to Cinecittà to take a break from touring ancient architecture.  Which was working out fine till I rounded the corner from Soundstage 5 and came upon the eerily realistic sets from HBO’s 2006 series “Rome.”
After a week in Italy, I’d come to Cinecittà to take a break from touring ancient architecture. Which was working out fine till I rounded the corner from Soundstage 5 and came upon the eerily realistic sets from HBO’s 2006 series “Rome.”
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Anita Ekberg’s iconic fur wrap and black velvet dress—as drenched in the Trevi Fountain in “<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKN1T3K1idg">La Dolce Vita</a>”— is the prize of the studio’s costume collection.
Anita Ekberg’s iconic fur wrap and black velvet dress—as drenched in the Trevi Fountain in “La Dolce Vita”— is the prize of the studio’s costume collection.
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Architectural drawings and blueprints for the studio are displayed alongside film memorabilia. Mussolini generally favored classical building design, but with Cinecittà, his regime threw Rationalists a bone—making the studio one of the very, very few posi
Architectural drawings and blueprints for the studio are displayed alongside film memorabilia. Mussolini generally favored classical building design, but with Cinecittà, his regime threw Rationalists a bone—making the studio one of the very, very few positive legacies of Italian fascism.

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