Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wholly Mole

For a museum about the Art of Vision, - Turin's Museo del cinema, housed in the 19th century Mole Antonelliana, is a strangely difficult place to see, at least from the outside. You can see from it, in fact, the panorama from the top is breathtaking, but you can't really see it - or at least, it defies capturing on camera. You only get pieces of it on a photo, for it is sandwiched between apartments blocks, and despite its height, it peeps between terracotta roofs, unless you're equipped with sky hooks the only way to get the whole thing in your shot is to distort it by foreshortening that impressive dome, or cutting off the spire, or the bottom floors, losing the sense of proportions.  
Once, inside, you don't immediately get the full picture, either. There's a fair bit of queuing involved, since everyone wants to go up in the panoramic elevator.  It's a bit dim, on the ground floor. The first thing you see is the plastic-swathed coffee shop, named Cabiria, like the movie. The tables are lit from within, and go from lilac to red to green; there are screens set into them so you won't be bored as you munch on your piadina.

 It would be cool to check out the wooden cutaway model of the building, which still seems strangely top heavy, but we don't want to lose our place in the line. There's a big sign saying no photography. Takes a minute to realize that means no {flash} photography: we are transported out of there, in the glass box, and suddenly all is right with the world.
It's like being inside a mountain, with only a few stout wires marking where the elevator rushes up to the roof in sixty seconds. Looking down from the lift, it's all a blur of soft smoky colors, an immersive cinema experience.
But when you're done on the roof, the elevator takes you back through the dome, and returns you to the prosaic ground floor.
From there, it's all you'd expect of a museum, if a bit darker than normal.
There are lots of pieces of really early film, and it's interesting to see what people thought film-worthy - a boy laughing, a woman blowing a kiss,horse-drawn  traffic on a city street, a sheep walking.
It's an impressive collection of inventions that paved the way to modern cinema, by playing with your sense of perspective, like this machine....
or this genuine Fantasmagoria.... I thought of Logan when I saw it.
Or this portable photographer's studio and dark room, complete with lockaway bottles and basins, a complete set-up, designed to be wheeled from street to street.
Walking in circles down dark corridors, looking at inventive antiques is great... but I'd rather be sitting down. Or lying down, even better...
The main area ocoudln't be less like your standard museum. No mahogany cases here! Side rooms are laid out like movie sets: the surreal one, with a fridge door and toilet seats, the erotic room with a giant red bed and the screen in the ceiling, a kitchen full of reels, and more. Hundreds of props, many of them perfectly snatchable, make you feel like you're in the movie yourself. In the main space, two giant screens show highlights from Italian cinema over the last hundred years, and you get to see this idol from Cabiria in action...
Wander up the ramp that runs around the inside of the dome to look at posters, on-set photos, and installations recalling all manner of movie moments, and when you're tired, you simply lie down again and watch thelight show on the interior of the dome. Seven hours later, and we still hadn't seen it all. It's inspired. Only one question remained... where' the popcorn?

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