Rome, City of Signs
L’eclisse / La Ciudad de los Signos /
Prior to the 1900’s the vast majority of cultural representations of Rome, the city within the western collective imagination have relied, necessarily, on perceptions, even echoes of the classical city from the capital of the western world to the eternal city, from papal center to the city of ruins of the eighteenth century grand tourist. Moreover, throughout these epochs, these temporalities have been retained and have coexisted; shaping the image of Rome as the ‘Cuput Mundi’ as though it was a palimpsest of written and re-inscribed vellum whose original traces never completely vanished. The analogy of the palimpsest, necessitated by a the pre-modern topography of the city with its contemporaneous order of diverse historical layers, was maintained throughout the centuries by the portraiture of its fascinated travelers, amazed by the persistence of historical landmarks and vestiges of history within the Roman landscape.
The German polymath and Grand Tour traveler, J W Goethe claimed “visiting Rome meant visiting history itself”. Later, for Sigmund Freud, the urban structure of the Eternal City reflected the inner structure of the human mind in which layers of past memory traces, conscious and unconscious, are able to coexist. In the late 20th century, the noted film scholar Giuliano Bruno perceived “the physicality of the street and of the social epidermis materialized into fiction as a formalized architectural aesthetic in post-war Italian neorealism”. Bruno further notes that this postwar location cinema of Robert Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica were the major cinematic contributors that set in motion many more screen-encounters with Rome's urban landscapes and the narratives that took place within, for example. Andre Bazin, in his book What is Cinema?, made the observation of DeSica’s film Ladri di Biciclette “…is the story of a walk through Rome”. The films of these Italian Neorealists opened the door through which all modern films would later pass.
In the IHP film series Rome, City of Signs we will travel through history and the films of the Italian capital, including the classic Roberto Rossellini's Roma, Citta' Aperta and moving on through many other titles such as Paolo Sorrentino's most recent hit La Grande Bellezza, and Samuel Alarcon's La Ciudad de los Signos.
dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1962, 16mm, 126 mins. b/w, Italian with English subtitles
concluding chapter of Michelangelo Antonioni’s informal trilogy on contemporary
malaise (following L’avventura and La notte), L’eclisse tells the story of a
young woman (Monica
Vitti) who leaves one lover (Francisco Rabal) and drifts into a relationship
with another (Alain Delon). Using the architecture of Rome as a backdrop for
the doomed affair, Antonioni
achieves the apotheosis of his style in this return to the theme that
preoccupied him the most: the difficulty of connection in an alienating modern
world. Print provide by the Museum of Modern Art.
dir. Samuel Alarcón, Spain, 2009, digital, color & b/w, Spanish with English subtitles, 63 min.
In March 1980, César Alarcón traveled to Pompeii to carry out an ambitious project; to collect psycho-phonic samples of the great eruption of Vesuvius that had destroyed the city in 79 AD. Upon reviewing all his recordings, none of them seems to contain sounds from the Pompeian disaster. Instead, recorded unexpectedly on one of the tapes was a strange phrase captured that Alarcón remembers hearing much more recently. La ciudad de los signos is a journey through the films of the Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Rossellini’s cinema was a stiletto that opened the breach through which all modern cinema now passes. The landscapes used as locations for Rossellini’s film shoot still retain signals. Signs that are part of a vast city built on the backs of the living and the dead.