The poster in the window of a comic-book store is enough to end my self-imposed exhibition purdah. A black and white photograph from the 1950s of a woman sitting on the bonnet of a Ferrari. The image is promoting “Ferrari and the Cinema” at the National Museum of Cinema, housed in the Mole Antonelliana, the “symbol” of Turin. This is the world’s “tallest” museum, for those that calculate these things. There is a lift to the top, for an 85 metres above Turin kind of experience.
I’m with the exhibition: cinema, cars and actors…even Tom, had he not been hungover and so missing “all” of Turin, might have approved.
For while the greatest couplet in rock music, (in Rod Stewart’s seminal early 1970s album track, “Italian Girls”), She was tall thin and tarty and she drove a Massaratti, has the right idea about rock-visions of romance, it’s just the wrong car – stupid. The Turin based car manufacturers are 60 this year, it says inside the exhibition, though I feel sure Ferrari existed in the 1930s: then again, I know nothing of cars. And to celebrate they have co-curated an exhibition of films about Ferrari, and big famous films with Ferrari in.
In a massive – 85 metres high, I guess – central atrium visitors recline on full-length sofas with stereophonic head speaker-cushions, and watch the films. The movie-extracts have over 60 selections, including Roger Moore and Tony Curtis in The Persuaders. The 1970s was such a Ferrari moment, you feel. Even for a non-driver it is intoxicating stuff. The sports car as the ultimate vehicle of sophisticated travel, two seated, fast and free – and red. These are the cars that should be winding the mountain roads from Val Cenis – except that the owners of these cars will be in the south of France, or the Hollywood hills, not La Chambre with the biker-boys.
The show is very clever, combining the romance of pure cinema with the romance of Ferrari’s brand freedom. Because this is all about escape. Mid-life “Roberts” buy cars like this when the Porsche or the BMW 4×4 seems a little dull. Rock stars crash them; rappers have big-bootied babes who bounce in them – in videos. In “Goldeneye” the Russian ex-fighter pilot and man-killer beauty “Onatopp” races Bond across – yup the mountain roads around Cannes: owning a Ferrari doesn’t make you nice, but it does make you sexy.
The extracts are mostly a flashback to an era when this stuff was glamorous, and very unusual: rather than an exercise in bling culture. Faye Dunnaway sitting on her Ferrari filming Steve McQueen’s Thomas Crown (the one and only Thomas Crown) playing polo…then there’s…actually there is no need to go on, that image says it all.
Of course this is the city of “The Italian Job” (the one and only), and cars mean more here than many places, for work as much as anything. But the show, integrated perfectly with the permanent exhibition is a double vision of escape, betwixt film, cars and freedom.
The museum itself is a warm, quirky and iconic celebration of cinema, the best I’ve ever seen. Quotes from Baudelaire and Goethe frame the first displays: shadow puppets, moving lanterns, slide shows, a curtained-off exhibit of a stereoscopic woman not quite pulling a rabbit from a hat (reminding us that pornography has always been a driver of any newer technology or art form, from the canvas, through sculpture, photography, film, video, DVD and new media).
Perhaps this is why they police the Italian web so much…
Ascending around the sides of the curved building we see various examples of cinemas, numerous films, displays of how the “living room” and television have evolved (the last room is full of redundant piled-high old televisions, some playing back images of us walking around the show). The whole thing elides into a blur of sound, images and moods. It is as if travelling through a history not just of cinema, but of moments in the way we have seen ourselves. Being almost contemporary, the exhibition has far more impact than “classical” Italian art. We’ve seen too much of that.
It is easy here to think about the way we have been shaped, how the cinema has marked the way we behave, see, dress, and consume. My “Paris” has always been as much about the “Nouvelle Vague” as the tourist sights or the romances conducted; my alps as much about Bond (or the Sound of Music) as Franz Klammering down the slopes.
In fact so much of my mental geography takes its shape courtesy of cinema, older cinema, the stuff of youth and adolescnce most of all. Thus Thomas Crown. Ferraris. Freedom. It is interesting that a few of the later clips of Ferrari, set in McMansion Land in wealthy America, look a little tacky. It is simply not the same when an American man pulls a girl in hot pants because he has a big fast red thing to drive. Ferrari is Europe. European means Sophisticated. This is very old, reductionist thinking, naturally, but that is the mood here, unashamedly.
And so we leave exhilarated but a little sad. Sad not just that glamour is so commoditized these days, but also asking where are the great modern iconic films that everybody sees? Here at this show in mournful Turin (I quote many of the Grand Tourists, and tend to agree) I fall utterly for the magic of cinema again: I feel my age as well, enjoying the 50s and 60s and 70s far more than anything more modern. What is most saddening is the realization that the collective experience of cinema has atomised into markets: the multiplex, the living room, the many rooms with television, the personalized download – legal or not.
Back at the hotel I find England Under 21 versus Italy Under 21 at football on tv. I rush out again into the night to find a bar in which to share this moment of Anglo-Italian togetherness. Football, along with festivals and free concerts being the only times we truly come together now. I run down a portico’d street in the rain, thinking of Antonioni movies in Bologna, of Jean-Pierre Leaud in “Last Tango”, of Mario Brava, and Dario Argento. Great film makers with the architectural – and populist, almost – touch. I turn a corner and…”schuss”. A girl stands with a clipboard in one hand, her finger to her mouth in silencing gesture. They are making a film, tonight. It is a secret, no photos please,” she says.
The actors begin. In French. I look in vain for Belmondo. Or Connery. No matter, those guys are in the National Museum of Cinema. Turin’s great secret shroud. There we can think about an art form that changed us all; and perhaps its gentle message is that the form is shortly to be a museum piece itself. At least in stormy-mournful late night Turin the magic is still being made.
England 2: Italy 2. Everyone is happy, after the second Campari. But outside there is only one Ferrari to take us home.
Right opposite the Gramsci hotel as well.
Probably a football player.