Quo Vadis? At the Movies in the Heart of Rome
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A journey through time, in a place where time seems to have stood still, to tell the story of how cinema has dealt with Roman classicism, in a relationship made up of loyalty and betrayal, philological attention and free inspiration, seriousness and disengagement.
QUO VADIS? Al cinema nel cuore di Roma (Quo Vadis? – At the Movies in the Heart of Rome) − the event that sees for the first time together CSC – Cineteca Nazionale and Parco archeologico del Colosseo − retraces more than a century of films (from 1913 to 2019) looking in ten titles – there could have been a hundred, and it still would not have been enough – for traces of the irresistible fascination that ancient Rome has always exerted on cinema. An attraction that translates into an almost endless filmography, populated by emperors and queens, legionaries and philosophers, slaves and centurions, gladiators and vestals. From the founding of the city to the barbarian invasions, from the last days of Pompeii to the fall of the empire, from the abduction of the Sabine women to the early years of Christianity, from the Colosseum to the farthest provinces, there is no season, episode, place, or character — mythical or real — that has not been brought to the screen.
But there is more: because if it is true that at the movies we can “browse,” as in an often superficial but impressive Cliff Notes, through the history of the Rome of the Caesars, many of those titles allow us to brush up on some crucial junctures in the film industry of the twentieth century. In a program that has no ambitions of exhaustiveness, you will not find – to give two examples – Henry Koster’s The Robe (1953), the first Cinemascope film in history, nor William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, which from the height of its 11 statuettes has led the list of Oscar winners since 1959 (equaled, but never surpassed, only decades later). But on the subject of turning points, two epic films far apart in time, space and commercial outcome could not be missed, both of which were capable of indelibly marking their own time: Enrico Guazzoni‘s silent film Quo vadis?, whose extraordinary success overseas definitively clears the way − this is 1913 − for the feature film format as we still know it today; and Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s Cleopatra, starring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, which brought Fox to the brink of bankruptcy and set 1963 as the end of the Hollywood studio system (a bit like – gods and historians forgive us the comparison – 476 A.D., the conventional date of the fall of the Western Roman Empire).
If Cleopatra is the last of the lucky ones in the genre (for a return to the glories we will have to wait for the new millennium, with Ridley Scott’s The Gladiator; in Italy Matteo Rovere returns to the origins of the myth with Romulus & Remus – The First King in 2019), the wild opening film of the festival, Hail, Caesar! by Joel & Ethan Coen, evokes its early golden years, setting an homage to the Hollywood of the sword-and-sandals movies in 1951, with George Clooney a converted centurion at the foot of the Cross, while the specter of McCarthyism stretches over the studios; the same McCarthyism that at the height of his career had forced one of the great screenwriters of the time, Dalton Trumbo, to work in the shadows; it could only be he who signed in 1960, albeit amidst not a few disagreements with star-producer Kirk Douglas, the most adult and “revolutionary” of the Roman epic films, Stanley Kubrick‘s Spartacus. The decade closed in 1969 with the foray into ancient Rome by another great auteur, Federico Fellini, who in Satyricon re-invents Petronius Arbiter with a freedom that has no precedent (nor epigones) in the tradition of historical cinema. Not that there had been a shortage of unorthodox reinterpretations in the preceding years: in 1966 the “Beatles’ director” Richard Lester brought to the cinema a bizarre Plautian musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which demonstrated once again-thanks to Stephen Sondheim’s songs but especially to the performances of Zero Mostel and Buster Keaton-how peplum and humor could coexist perfectly. Goscinny and Uderzo, the creators of the funniest Gaulish warriors in history, had already taught us this (for the kids in the audience we present the most recent animated feature in the series, Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion by Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy), and two of the Italian titles on the program prove it: Fernando Cerchio‘s Toto and Cleopatra, with the prince of laughter engaged in the dual role of an unlikely Mark Antony and his doppelganger Totonno, in an “instant parody” of the aforementioned Cleopatra; and Luigi Magni‘s Scipio the African, which with a stellar cast (Marcello Mastroianni and his brother Ruggero, a great film editor, here in the unprecedented role of co-star, plus Vittorio Gassman and Silvana Mangano) satirizes the everlasting vices of Roman politics. As if in history, in myth, in Latin literature one could read all that would be. Cinema included.
At the movies in one of the most beautiful places in the world. For 10 days one of the most extraordinary venues in our city, the Tempio di Venere e Roma, will be the setting for a film arena for the first time.
With the Parco archeologico del Colosseo, we have imagined a journey through the films that have chronicled the ancient world, particularly the Roman world. Without claiming to make a philological selection, it will be an opportunity to discover how cinema has seen, interpreted, used and often «distorted» the history, iconography and myths of classicism. A journey among ancient and contemporary stars ranging from American epic films to Italian sword-and-sandal movies, from Fellini to Kubrick, also encroaching on comedy and children’s cinema.
With «Quo Vadis?» the Fondazione Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia continues its commitment to the enhancement of film culture in its primary form of enjoyment: collective viewing on the big screen. This time, the experience will be even more unique and extraordinary than ever, because it will happen in one of the most important places of our culture and history.
President of Fondazione Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia
45 years after the first “Estate Romana” conceived by Renato Nicolini, in 1977, one of the capital’s most innovative experiences, inaugurated with Visconti’s film Senso inside the Basilica of Massenzio, great cinema returns to the Parco archeologico del Colosseo, this time in the Tempio di Venere e Roma.
Ten evenings of film screenings, with a repertoire spanning history, classical antiquity, and archaeology, set in cella di Venere, one of Rome’s most iconic and evocative sites, recently reopened to the public after a thorough restoration completed in 2021.
The power of cinematic art, in terms of transmitting knowledge and preserving history, has always been an important vehicle for communicating the importance of cultural heritage and for its enhancement.
Showing films in cella del tempio di Venere overlooking the Colosseo gives us the opportunity for a special encounter: cinematic imagination, which has been drawing on antiquity as an inexhaustible source of stories and themes since its beginnings, is paired with an extraordinary, strongly symbolic and beauty-inspiring monument of Imperial Rome, still able today, almost 2,000 years after its construction, to involve the public in an emotional journey through time, in this case also thanks to the precious sup.
Director of Parco archeologico del Colosseo
July 1st, Friday
AVE, CESARE!/ HAIL, CAESAR!
Direction, story, screenplay and editing: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum; Usa 2016, 106’
Los Angeles, 1951. Eddie Mannix is head of production at Capitol Pictures; he also acts as “fixer,” that is, remedying potentially scandalous situations involving the studio’s iconic actors. At the same time, Eddie must keep sisters and rivals Thora and Thessaly Thacker at bay, seeking celebrity scoops for their tabloid newspapers. Filming on one of Capitol’s most ambitious projects, the peplum set in ancient Rome Hail, Caesar!, comes to an abrupt halt when Baird Whitlock, the main character, disappears, kidnapped by two extras. Mannix is delivered a letter, in which the kidnappers, a cell of communist screenwriters, demand a $100,000 ransom to release the actor.
Introduced by: Piera Detassis
July 2, Saturday
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Pamela Brown, George Cole, Richard O’Sullivan, Roddy McDowall, Martin Landau, Andrew Keir, Kenneth Haigh; USA 1963, 243’
After bearing a son by Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, falls in love with Mark Antony, who, however, must contend with Caesar Octavian, future emperor of Rome. The naval battle of Actium is decisive. All is lost and Mark Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide. Cleopatra represents a colossus of international filmmaking with an outstanding cast, including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Winner of 4 Academy Awards, the film is also famous for nearly bankrupting 20th Century Fox: its making required as much as $44 million – a disproportionate sum for the time – placing the film third among the most expensive produced in the world and second among those produced in the United States.
Introduced by: Valeria Arnaldi and Marisa Ranieri Panetta
July 3, Sunday
IL PRIMO RE/ ROMULUS & REMUS – THE FIRST KING
Director: Matteo Rovere; cast: Alessandro Borghi, Alessio Lapice, Fabrizio Rongione, Massimiliano Rossi, Tania Garribba, Lorenzo Gleijeses, Vincenzo Crea, Max Malatesta, Fiorenzo Mattu, Gabriel Montesi, Antonio Orlando, Vincenzo Pirrotta, Michael Schermi, Ludovico Succio, Martinus Tocchi, Marina Occhionero, Nina Fotaras, Emilio De Marchi, Luca Elmi; Italy, Belgium 2019, 127′
Two brothers, alone, in one the strength of the other. In a hostile world, one challenges the gods, the other maintains the ancient rituals. From their relationship a city will be born, Rome, the greatest empire that history remembers. A very strong bond, destined to become a legend.
Q&A with Matteo Rovere and Alessandro Borghi, master of ceremony Ilaria Ravarino
July 4, Monday
DOLCI VIZI AL FORO/ A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM
Director: Richard Lester; cast: Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Buster Keaton, Michael Crawford, Jack Gilford, Annette Andre, Michael Hordern, Leon Greene, Jon Pertwee, Roy Kinnear
A film adaptation of Stephen Soundheim’s stage musical, loosely based on Plautus’ fabulae palliatae, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is set in 1st century AD imperial Rome and is intended as a parody of sword-and-sandal movies made in Hollywood. The slave Pseudolus is lazy, good-tempered but also very cunning. In fact, his goal is to buy his freedom and become a Roman citizen. When he learns that his master’s son Hero is in love with the beautiful slave Philia, he proposes a deal: in exchange for freedom, Pseudolus will be able to bring the woman before him. The deal gets complicated, because Philia’s owner, the shady Marcus Lycus, has already sold her to the crude and violent Miles Gloriosus, leader of the guards. In the end everything will work out for the best.
Introduced by: Emanuela Martini
July 5, Tuesday
Director: Federico Fellini; cast: Martin Potter, Hiram Keller, Max Born, Fanfulla, Salvo Randone, Mario Romagnoli, Magali Noël, Alain Cuny, Lucia Bosè; Italy 1969, 127’
Two young friends, Encolpius and Asciltus, are in love with the same ephebe, Giton, whose favors they vie for. When Giton chooses Ascilto, Encolpius turns away and becomes involved in a series of adventures and encounters that will also lead him to cross Giton and Ascilto’s path again and then to lose them again. Amid banquets and debauchery, Encolpius will meet various characters in his wanderings: the actor Vernacchio, the old poet Eumolpus, the enriched Trimalchio, and Lica, tyrant of Tarentum.
The restoration of the film was carried out in 2012 by CSC-Cineteca Nazionale based on the original picture negative and sound negative provided by the rightful owner, Alberto Grimaldi Productions and in collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana. Processing was carried out at the Technicolor laboratory in Rome, under the supervision of the film’s director of photography, Giuseppe Rotunno.
Introduced by: Steve Della Casa and Marisa Ranieri Panetta
July 6, Wednesday
ASTERIX E IL SEGRETO DELLA POZIONE MAGICA/ ASTERIX: THE SECRET OF THE MAGIC POTION
Director: Louis Clichy, Alexandre Astier. France 2018, 85’
Panoramix, the village sorcerer, is growing old. It’s time to find an heir to whom he can pass on the secret of the magic potion that gives the superpowers that enabled Asterix and Obelix to save their land from enemy attacks. The risk, however, is entrusting the secret to someone who might not make good use of it, or unwisely reveal the prodigious formula to a third party. For an ancient rival is preparing to unleash his dark magic: he is Rancorix, a druid almost as powerful as Panoramix but switched to the side of Evil. He’s eager to get his hands on the potion and resell it to other kingdoms, generating a much larger war. He has already found a possible helper: young Emmentalix, who is very skilled in handling potions and pot stills.
Introduced by: Oscar Cosulich e Andrea Schiappelli
July 7, Thursday
SCIPIONE DETTO ANCHE L’AFRICANO/ SCIPIO THE AFRICAN
Director: Luigi Magni; cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, R. Mastroianni, Silvana Mangano, Fosco Giachetti, Turi Ferro, Woody Strode, Ben Ekland, Enzo Fiermonte, Philippe Hersent, Ennio Antonelli, Wendy D’Olive, Brizio Montanaro, Christian Alegny, Gianni Solaro, Gudrun Mardon Khiess; Italy, France 1970, 94’
Courtesy of Titanus and Video Master Digital
The present Scipio is not the one of Carthage, but the senator of later years who lives on memories of glorious deeds. The Senate, because of his honesty and his still strong hold on the people, declares war on him. Cato the Censor accuses him, with his brother Scipio the Asiatic, of stealing 500 talents. Scipio is innocent, and doesn’t accept the charge. But the money has been embezzled, and when he discovers that his brother did it, he goes to Cato to denounce him. The Censor is shrewd; he knows that this would increase the African’s popularity, and he refuses the sacrifice. The African has no choice but to blame himself in the Senate for his brother’s crime and more, committing moral suicide. Cato himself in the face of such moral greatness is moved and pleads for human clemency. But the African is already on his way to voluntary exile.
Introduced by: Alberto Crespi
July 8, Friday
Director: Stanley Kubrick; cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Nina Foch, John Ireland, Herbert Lom, John Dall, Charles McGraw, Joanna Barnes, Harold J. Stone, Woody Strode; USA 1960, 198’
In the first century B.C., the gladiator Spartacus promotes a slave revolt against the government of Rome, defeats a legion, and heads south. The Roman army, led by Crassus, fails to crush the fugitives, and they are joined by many slaves. Spartacus would like to leave Italy, but the Cilician pirates, to whom he turns to obtain ships, betray him because they are corrupt, and, in the last battle, the gladiator army is defeated. His leader, taken prisoner, must kill his best friend in the arena, then is crucified. Dying, he will see his woman flee with her newborn son to a better future.
Introduced by: Giovanni Brizzi and Paolo Di Paolo
July 9, Saturday
TOTÒ E CLEOPATRA/ TOTO AND CLEOPATRA
Director: Fernando Cerchio; cast: Totò, Magali Noël, Franco Sportelli, Moira Orfei, Carlo Delle Piane, Lia Zoppelli, Gianni Agus, Mario Castellani, Toni Ucci, Ignazio Leone, Pietro Carloni, Adriana Facchetti, Franco Ressel, Diego Michelotti; Italy 1963, 100’
After Caesar’s assassination Mark Antony leaves for Egypt and, seduced by Cleopatra, makes her a gift of several Roman provinces. Summoned back to Rome by Octavian, who wants him to marry his sister Octavia, Mark Antony is kidnapped by his lawful wife Fulvia, who sends his double, Totonno, to Egypt, but he manages to free himself and depart. Cleopatra is then increasingly confused: sometimes she meets Totonno who treats her badly, sometimes Mark Antony who seems in love. To resolve the situation, here comes Octavian. Cleopatra tries to beguile him, but her efforts are vain and she is left with nothing but the historic asp, who, after biting her, dies poisoned. Eventually, Mark Antony dies and Totonno takes his place, returning to Rome at Octavia’s side, served by Cleopatra whom he has made his slave.
Introduced by: Emiliano Morreale
July 10, Sunday
Director: Enrico Guazzoni; cast: Amleto Novelli, Lea Giunchi, Gustavo Serena, Amelia Cattaneo, Carlo Cattaneo, Cesare Moltini, Bruto Castellani, Augusto Mastripietri, Olga Brandini, Giovanni Gizzi, Ignazio Lupi, Matilde Guillaume, Ida Carloni-Talli, Lia Orlandini, Giuseppe Gambardella; Italy 1913, 119’
The nobleman Vinicius falls in love with the young Licia. He gets his friend Petronius, Nero’s adviser, to have her kidnapped. Compromising the plan is the Herculean Ursus, Licia’s slave, who hides her in a community of Christians. Vinicius does not give up and instructs Chilone to find her. A fight ensues in which Vinicius is wounded. Licia heals him and he, increasingly in love, converts. He receives baptism from the apostle Peter, who blesses their love. Meanwhile, Nero sets fire to Rome and then, to appease the wrath of the people, persecutes Christians. Vinicius and Licia thus end up in the Mamertine Prison only to be thrown into the arena of the Circus Maximus. Ursus will rescue Licia, who will be reunited with her Vinicius. Having turn away from the emperor, Petronius commits suicide. And as Peter leaves Rome, the figure of Jesus materializes for him, inducing him to retrace his steps. Nero, forced to flee, finds death by throwing himself on a soldier’s sword. The cross has won.
Introduced by: Jerzy Miziołek and Jay Weissberg
Live musical accompaniment by Maestro Michele Sganga
On commission from the UCL (University College London), from 2016 to the present Michele Sganga (https://www.michelesganga.com/) has composed three original soundtracks for three films by Enrico Guazzoni: Quo Vadis? (1913), Julius Caesar (1914) and Agrippina (1911).
The main feature of Michele Sganga’s aesthetic approach is to distance himself from the improvisational practice traditionally associated with the role of the piano accompanist for silent films, in an attempt to restore depth, rhythm and meaning to the flow of images, almost frame by frame.
For Quo vadis?, it should be mentioned that not all the music is original; in fact, Sganga decided to include quotations from the nineteenth- and twentieth-century piano repertoire, for reasons related to the aesthetic taste of the costumes, for extra-musical allusions to the religious significance of some scenes and to pay homage to the plot’s Polish origin. Here, in particular, we’ll hear interpretations of pieces by Debussy, Liszt and Chopin.
Quo Vadis? – At the Movies in the Heart of Rome
The Glamor of Ancientness in 10 Great Movies
Temple of Venus and Rome
Free admission while seats last – booking recommended on eventbrite.it
Access from Piazza del Colosseo from 8.30 pm
The films will be introduced by experts in ancient history and cinema at 9.00 pm
The screenings will start at 21.30
Facebook: Parco archeologico del Colosseo