After a brilliant trip to the Italian cities of Pisa, Venice and Florence in 2013 (click link) I was itching to get back to the land of perfect pizza with a trip to their capital city of Rome.
For a full album of photos to accompany this blog please click here
Leaving on my birthday May 3rd, the city itself has a rich history of cinema – both as a location, a studio system and a place to film a wide variety of movies throughout history. With my walking boots on (a mere 15km was tracked on a running app on just my first day) I was looking forward to exploring the beautiful city streets without too much planning but also not missing the major sights.
It is with these tourist sites that I will begin with. A city of immense faith and religion, the focal point is the Vatican (technically its own separate state) and has appeared in numerous films over the years. It is destroyed in the cataclysmic 2012 and that CGI model was “borrowed” by Ron Howard and the makers of Angels and Demons. Adapted from the Dan Brown novel – it’s a literary prequel but they made it a sequel for the film – Angels and Demons follows symbologist Robert Langdon (a strangely coiffed Tom Hanks) investigating the secret Illuminati sect. Whilst speaking of St. Peter’s Basilica, it shows up in Mission: Impossible III – another “chase” film where the team successfully infiltrates Vatican City to capture a villain.
A pulp piece of nonsense, the novel has its word-play charms for a holiday read but the film wisely ditches The Da Vinci Code’s literal adaptation and puts Hanks in an on-the-run adventure more akin to the National Treasure movies. Criss-crossing Rome, the death of the Pope sees a number of cardinals kidnapped and tortured throughout the city with Hanks and company using codes to track down their mysterious disappearance as a dark-matter bomb ticks down. Yes, that serious. I therefore tried to find at least some of the monuments for the "Path of Illumination," which are marked by statues of angels in locations relevant to the four elements.
The first cardinal (“Earth”) is held at the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo which was part of a lovely piazza in the north east of the city whilst the second location of Saint Peter's Square was truly one of the great views of Europe to behold. This cardinal represented “air” and I found one of the markers on the floor near one of the city’s many obelisks. For “fire”, Langdon ends up at Santa Maria della Vittoria where I found the statue of ‘The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa’which depicts an angel with a burning spear before the final cardinal is saved at Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. The fountain also appears in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Each church was an amazing building with ancient architecture, art and history and are enjoyable even for the atheist holidaymaker like myself. The Illuminati's lair turns out to Castel Sant'Angelo (a towerin cylindrical building commissioned by Emperor Hadrian and later used by popes as a fortress) and the movie ends in and around the Vatican as the real villain is uncovered.
Rome is a city of wonderful old buildings, streets and many (many) staircases. There’s also lots of fountains of which a tour guide said were all drinkable (I didn’t try) and none is more famous than The Trevi Fountain – seen in Fellini’s iconic La Dolce Vita. There cannot be a film fan alive who doesn’t know Anita Ekberg’s frolics in the fountain and after a recent restoration the huge structure looked great during the day and even better at night.
With only 4 full days, I attempted to get to as many places as I could but I wanted to savour one of the things I’ve been wanting to experience for years. Since I can remember I’ve dreamed of seeing Rome’s Colosseum in the afternoon sun. Maybe a cliché but the ancient building (seen reconstructed in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator) has been of interest since my school days and when I finally saw it I was not disappointed. Its looming presence over Rome’s historic area (the Forum is close by) was a joy both outside and inside. The building’s current state, where the floor has been excavated to show underground cells below, is seen in the 2008 film Jumper. A guilty pleasure of mine, Jumper sees Hayden Christensen (remember him?) using superpowers to teleport around the world and a particular action scene has him fighting alongside Jamie Bell in the ancient ruins.
Also filmed at the Colosseum was Bruce Lee’s The Way of the Dragon, the 1972 Hong Kong martial arts action film where the climax is held at the location in a fight against b-movie legend Chuck Norris.
Parts of Rome are also seen in the truly awful (watched once, never again) Ocean's Twelve and returning to The Talented Mr. Ripley, The ‘Vesuvio’ nightclub, supposedly in Naples is actually the Caffè Latino in Rome. Confusingly, the ‘Rome’ opera house, where Ripley poses as Dickie, is the Teatro San Carlo in Naples!
When Ripley returns after Dickie’s murder he surveys the ruins of the Forum from Capitoline Hill. From here you can view the monumental sculptures of the Capitoline Museum and Piazza del Campidoglio. Ripley then stays in an apartment which was filmed in the 14th century Palazzo Taverna on Via di Monte and the terrace café he meets friends is Cafe Dinelli at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately for me the Spanish Steps were closed for refurbishment but this was the only restoration work at the main attractions and gave me a good excuse, if I even needed it, to return again in the future.
Also of note, the most unlikely of films can use Rome for its historic look as well. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure uses the Greek-inspired architecture to create the ‘Athens’ of 410BC which is mostly the white marble Victor Emmanuel II Monument (Il Vittoriano), on Piazza Venetia.
More recently, James Bond visits the city in Spectre (2015) where he is chased by henchman, Mr. Hinx. Their car chase around the narrow alleys of Rome was of particular relevance when I had to constantly move out of the way of vehicles driving down cobbled walkways. What I thought were tiny protected pedestrianized alleys, only just wide enough for a small group of walking tourists, were actually busy thoroughfares. I didn’t just have to I step out of the way for scooters and Smart cars, but large lorries and vans actually made their way through smaller and smaller roads, giving you a beep if you failed to spot them. Bond’s car chase continues down the Tiber River – a beautiful city waterway (“waterway to have a good time”) that snakes through the centre.
Obviously no trip to Rome could not mention the 1953 romantic comedy Roman Holiday. Gregory Peck plays a reporter and Audrey Hepburn a royal princess out to see Rome by herself. Hepburn won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as did the screenplay (written by a then-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo). Shot at the Cinecittà studios and on location around Rome it features the Spanish Steps, the 19th century Palazzo Brancaccio and that infamous ending was filmed in the Sala Grande Galleria in the Palazzo Colonna. One of the film’s most unforgettable locations must be the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita) which can be found in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Piazza Bocca della Verita.
1966 Spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was a truly international effort with co-production split between companies in Italy, Spain, West Germany, and the United States. The filming began at the Cinecittà studio in Rome including the opening scene between Eastwood and Wallach but the production soon moved on to Spain which doubled for the south-western United States,.
Other films from the city? Strangely, Super Fly T.N.T. (1973), a blaxploitation flick directed, starring, and co-written by Ron O'Neal was shot in Rome whilst “Conan” spin-off Red Sonja (1985) was shot on location in Celano, the Abruzzo region and in the Stabilimenti Cinematografici Pontini studios nearby to Rome. In order to create the mid 19th Century sets that Scorsese envisioned for Gangs of New York, that production was filmed at the large Cinecittà Studio and designer Dante Ferretti recreated over a mile of historic New York buildings.
In Guy Ritchie’s 2015 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. various locations throughout Italy were used including Kuryakin and Teller's first outing as a couple which was shot below the Spanish Steps as well as at the Grand Hotel Plaza, in Via del Corso and in the gardens of ancient Theater of Marcellus.
Finally Chevy Chase’s Griswald family also take a trip to Rome in 80s comedy National Lampoon's European Vacation. Watch their Italian clothes shopping trip here which ends with Rusty Griswald (a euphemism to look up on Urban Dictionary if there ever was one) exiting the store looking like a cross between Shakespeare’s Benvolio and a renaissance version of Rufus from Bill and Ted.
An absolute marvel of a city, there have been hundreds more films, both from Hollywood and Italian productions filmed in the city and nearby locations. From the horror of Argento to the obvious Roman epics the city has an attraction like no other. Despite its romantic inspirations, Rome has lent itself to Westerns, blaxploitation, martial arts, comedy, action and much more in a history steeped in passion and pizzazz. Oh, and pizza.