Work in progress



It was 1937 when the ribbon on what would later be called ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’ was cut. It was built on a large stretch of Roman countryside at the edge of the city, on the consular Via Tuscolana, and developed thanks to the local men, the workers of the Quadraro area and the contribution of the highly skilled workforce which was used in the studios and which have come to characterise the Italian film industry of the past, known for the talents of its artisans.

A propaganda tool and symbol of a cultural autarchy dear to the regime, the Cinecittà of the thirties was not yet the collection of trades, lives, aspirations and ‘Romanness’ that it became in the fifties, when expensive and often American productions came to Rome and determined a series of changes that went beyond the world of entertainment, penetrating deeply into the city’s culture. First of all, there was the ‘Dolce Vita’, which had as its natural stage the worldly Via Veneto, but which was weaned here, in the eastern suburbs, with the millions of lire lavished by these productions upon internationally-famed stars playing characters from antiquity or myth on the screen and living a lifestyle worthy of Los Angeles on the streets of Via Veneto and in the villas on the Appia.

The decade from 1951 to 1959 can be considered the golden decade of Hollywood on the Tiber. It was a time marked by immense productions and characterized by a huge number of films set in the time of the emperors (1951’s Quo Vadis and 1959’s Ben Hur, to mention just a couple), as well as – obviously – some of the most important films in the history of Italian cinema. The first, however, were immense undertakings, which required a huge number of extras for their crowd scenes. The entire city participated in this effort to recreate itself and its own past on the big screen, and the majestic Rome of ruins and history imposed itself powerfully in the collective imagination – becoming both popular and ‘pop’ –  but was mediated by an imposed aesthetic imposed by the cinema of the day. This was another of the effects provoked by the birth of Cinecittà, as well as the reason why it was necessary to dedicate to it the wall in question: outside the fields related to cultural tourism and academia, people only wanted to see Rome if its protagonists resembled the Romans who were sitting watching them in the cinemas, clad in the same clothes, with the same hairstyles, the same language and the same way of acting (the emperors were all sadists, the heroes were all muscular and the heroines were all busty).

The bare wires of this cultural short-circuit, however, should not be sought in the great multi-million-dollar productions of that decade, but rather in the smaller films – the so-called Peplums, or sword-and-sandal movies. Low-budget features, the peplums were the movies that came after the departure of American investors from the studios in the late fifties, and they managed it thanks to the grace of their bright colours, not-always-impeccable photography, slightly hammy acting and the fundamental contribution of the many tricks used by the crews who made them to ensure the sets worked despite the need to scrimp on the money. Genuine talents and phenomena were born and flourished In this productive and cinematographic underbush, though. This was the case of actor-bodybuilders like Steve Reeves, the hero of 1958’s The Labours of Hercules, or of the “sandalona” (‘big sandal’, a Roman name for the genre) saga dedicated to every possible nuance of the adventures of Maciste. But also future iconic directors of Italian cinema such as Sergio Leone and Michelangelo Antonioni, whose first directing jobs were substituting ‘official’ directors: Leone made The Last days of Pompeii and Antonioni, together with Riccardo Freda, made Sheba and the Gladiator.

With their polystyrene sets, imaginative and increasingly daring scripts, desperate stratagems to make ends meet and the need to maintain a minimum threshold of glamour, Rome often found herself looking at herself and her ancient glory not among her ruins but inside at a cinema. And thus it was that the circle of so much work, so many wigs, so many oily muscles and so much talent closed: in the eyes of the Romans, staring at the screen and madly in love with a Julius Caesar clad in sequins.


Flavio Campagna KAMPAH

Flavio Campagna KAMPAH is an internationally renowned designer, director, painter, illustrator, photographer and stencil artist who has lived and worked all over the world, from his hometown, Parma in Italy, to London, Rome, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Bali and Sydney. While he was in Los Angeles in the 1990s he was one of the pioneers of motion graphics and his style and his work for television have been highly influential on modern designers and video directors worldwide. He now works full-time as a Stencil Artist, participating in art shows, exhibitions, private commissions and residencies across the globe.