Open Roads 2013: Handmade Cinema (Guido Torlonia – 2012)

When was the last time you created something with your hands?

In a world of rapid technology changes where digital screens seem to mediate large chunk of our daily lives; from omnipresent mobile screens, to office computers, after work tablet snacking, and big screen TV entertainment – I find this documentary extremely timely.

handmadeCraftsman’s hands like a natural mural with marks of past achievements

Director Torlonia provides a rare behind the scene look at the people behind the phenomenal success of Italian cinema history. And I am not talking about directors or actors. These are special breed of craftsmen from hair dressers, sculptors, set builders, makeup artists, and milliners – with a common thread; they all use their hands to produce some of the most memorable Italian cinema watching experiences.

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I find it interesting that this documentary was financed by Louis Vuitton to screen at the opening of their new store and screening room in Rome. Wearing my marketing hat, it’s a classic match of an upscale brand that is interested in associating its product quality with the worldwide notoriety of Italian cinematic artistry. 

handmade cinemaSophia Loren’s hair wig cast, with the VIP inscription “Do not touch”

The film, narrated by Chirara Mastroianni who knew some of these artisans personally accompanying her father on sets, runs a rich tapestry of interviews with these cinema artisans about memorable set accessory they have created. Their deep devotion to a profession anchored in the old glory days, where you see the satisfaction of being part of a bigger art experience, by contributing tangible objects of beauty; be it a dress for il Gatto Pado – The Leopard or huge head sculpted for a Fellini set.

With all the charming stories of bygone era, the film eloquently conveys the artisans’ pride mixed with the gloomy realization that these days their services are at a decline. Not only Cinecitta’ is struggling financially, but also technology offers many shortcuts. Why build huge wood structures when you can build them by pixels? 

handmade cinemaPost-screening Q&A with director Guido Torlonia

At the Q&A session, I brought up the question of how all these incredible cinematic accessories are being used today beyond being captured forever in films? Director Torlonia responded that some of them are still reused in expensive productions like HBO’s Rome TV series, Scorsese’s Gangs of New York set is still being used for other films (see separate post from my visit at Cinecitta’), and some displayed in traveling exhibits or museums.

Are you an artist or an artisan? One of the sculptors was asked. To this he replied: “artisan because he doesn’t have the freedom of an artist to create whatever comes to mind. He instead, receives instructions and breathes life into the director’s vision.” I’d agree but would say this is not different from an artist competing to receive a grant with specific requirements nowadays.

The film’s opening and closing scenes aptly portray close-ups of the calloused hands of all featured artisans. Beyond the historical value of this documentary, the message I took from it is, we have an amazing world laden with tangible experiences around us; we sometimes need to stop and smell the roses.

With our hands…

By Shlomi Ron

Visual marketing guy with a penchant for fine Italian cinema.

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