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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cinema Barberini

Cinema Barberini, before the restorations. Photo by
Truus, Bob & Jan too!
Cinema Barberini, as seen from Via Veneto
Cinema Barberini sits at the foot of Via Veneto, across the street from the elegant, and isolated, Bernini fountain in the oddly-shaped piazza.  We've walked by this movie house dozens of times, and seen movies there, but until recently the building remained for us a utilitarian space in which we could indulge our taste for film. 

Closed for several months, the Cinema Barberini will soon reopen, refurbished ("Il restyling," according to la Repubblica) inside and out.  We're less concerned about the interior modification, which retains the 5 theaters with which we're familiar, though we found it interesting that the theater will reopen with about 20 black luxury seats ("poltrone" or "posti vip") in each theater, for which patrons will pay an additional 1 or 2 Euro.  Just another example of pay-extra-for-everything, class-based culture that favors and pampers the wealthy.  Thanks Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Silvio Berlusconi. 

A Fascist event, held in the theater
in the 1930s.  Mussolini's picture
prominently displayed. 
More important, the restoration has stripped away much of the advertising paraphernalia that has decorated the building's exterior for many years, revealing and displaying the original 1929/30 facade by architect and city planner Marcello Piacentini, who worked all over Italy under Fascist aegis. 

The restored facade. 
Although the facade is usually described as Art Deco, it is at best a limited, incipient example of the style.  The repeated arches are often found in 1930s architecture, but the faux columns are a neo-classical touch more associated with the 19th century.

The facade's most interesting feature--and not exactly a thrill, at that--may be the decorative plaster bees ("api") atop the scroll above each arch [detail at left], the architect's allusion to the Barberini family symbol, seen also in the bees that grace Bernini's nearby fountain. 

Piacentini (1881-1960) had a major role in the structuring of EUR (1938-42), the massive complex south of the city, and he designed the rector's office at the new University of Rome (1936).  He created the Cinema Barberini for its owner, the father of film director Roberto Rossellini.  The grounds on which the Cinema was built became available when--as was happening all over the city--the Barberini stables that housed the family's horses and carriages were rendered obsolete by the automobile (and the broad, Fascist-built avenues on which they traveled). 

Besides designing the theater, Piacentini was also, apparently, responsible for widening the square on which it stands, and for the asymmetrical piazza that resulted.  "Rendering a square asymmetrical," writes Paul Baxa in his new book Roads and Ruins, "offended conventional urban design, but in the fascist scheme it was perfectly acceptable.  Marcello Piacentini would later declare the Piazza Barberini a truly great square because of its 'fantastic irregularity created over time.  One of those squares that is infinitely suggestive, more plastic, and more human.'  Respect for the traditional order of the square," concludes Baxa, "had no place in fascist urban planning." 

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