The Broader Picture: Rome, the eternal movie set

Click to follow
CLOWNS, DWARVES, worshippers, broken statues, extremely handsome but faintly sinister people in formal dress . . . everyone, even Gazza (kicking his heels in suspension this weekend, rather than performing his tricks for Lazio in the Olympic Stadium), has a role to play in the theatre of Rome. In these photo graphs of life in the city, Gianni Berengo Gardin plays to the image bracketed for us by Roberto Rossellini's Roma: Citta Aperta in 1945, and Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita in 1959: a city in which an exhausted culture enjoys one final fling, one last champagne-fuelled Maserati ride in the hour before dawn.

Gardin sees Rome with an insider's knowledge but a stranger's objective eye. Born near Genoa in 1930, he lived in the capital for a few years as a small boy before the war. Later his family moved to Venice, which was where, in his mid- twenties, he became interested in photography; his first professional work was not published until he was 32. Now, as one of Italy's most eminent photogra phers, he makes his home in Milan, and speaks of a renewed dedication to pure reportage, 'photographic narration as a social probe', avoiding displays of technique and facile atmospherics.

A bit hard to avoid atmosphere in Rome, though. Whatever their literal content, these pictures also irresistibly remind us of how Fellini, in particular, turned the whole of the city into a movie set. One of the photographs was shot inside Cinecitta, Rome's famous film studios, founded by Mussolini; but who's to know which? Each of Gardin's frames seems poised for the entrance of Mastroianni, Eckberg and Anouk Aimee, trailing laughter and disruption, lit by the pop of old-fashioned flashbulbs, on their way to making a splash in the Trevi fountain. Perhaps unfairly, they evoke the world in which an 18-year-old model called Nico, staying at the Roman apartment of her friend, the actress Sylvana Mangano, could wander on to the set of La Dolce Vita in the summer of 1958, pick up a candelabra, catch the director's eye and be given a part. Fellini, she said, 'wanted to do an orgy scene, but nobody knew how to do an orgy. Well, I thought, I can help them. . . although I have never been to an orgy, of course.' A likely story, in every respect.

(Photograph omitted)