Museo Nazionale del Cinema

February 26, 2011


Another Oscars related ‘museums & the movies’ post. Almost two years ago, I went on a trip to Turin to visit my father who was working there at the time. Knowing my love of both museums and cinema, he suggested the National Cinema Museum as a ‘must-see’. To say I was enamoured by the museum would probably be an understatement – we spent almost four hours there, and that was without visiting either the café or the gift shop! I would have happily stayed for longer, but the others in our group were ready to go at that point.

The museum is housed in a very unique building, the Mole Antonelliana, named for the architect who built it. It claims to be the world’s tallest museum and offers spectacular views of the city from the viewing platform, which is reached by a panoramic lift. But it’s not just its height that makes it unique, but also its internal architecture and layout.

The dome of the Mole Antonelliana

But let me start at the beginning: We began our visit in the Archaeology of Cinema exibition on Level 5. Through various hands-on displays visitors learn about the experiments and innovations that are part of the development of cinema history, from shadow theatres, magic lanterns and camera obscuras, through to chronophotography, kinetoscopes and cinematographs. The exhibition finishes with a series of projected early short films from the pioneers of cinema, including the Lumiere brothers, and the Skladanowsky brothers.

We then continued, via a lift, to The Cinema Machine on Level 15. The exhibition here looks at the different elements of the film industry and what is involved in making a movie, including displays on actors and directors, storyboards and screenplays, sets and costumes, lighting and editing, soundtracks and special effects. The displays are brought to life through props and replica sets, drawings and scripts, and a series of clips from well known movies.  Next, we went up to Level 18 to visit The Poster Gallery, which was an exhibition of iconic film posters through the history of cinema. We had fun trying to guess the films for the posters without looking at the titles, and counting how many of them we had seen.

Finally, we made our way to the Temple Hall on Level 10, the piece de resistence of the museum. This grand space lies at the heart of the museum, with a glass lift rising up through the middle towards the viewing platform. Rows of cinema armchairs are arranged in front of giant screens showing a selection of dancing sequences and scenes from silent films, from Italian cinema history. Every so often it goes dark, and you can lean back in your seats and cast your eyes to the cupola 85 meters above where a light show is projected. If you manage to tear yourself away, then there is a series of alcoves to explore, leading off from the Temple Hall, each dedicated to a film genre and lovingly created with iconic props and showing relevant film clips. I can’t remember every single one, but memorable genre displays included horror, fantasy, westerns, science fiction, romance, catastrophe movies, and cartoons/ animation.

Making further use of the space, a ramp spirals up from the Temple Hall, along the inside walls of the dome, up to Level 25. This is where the museum displays its temporary exhibitions, and during our visit they were showing a collection of gorgeous photographs from 50 years of the Cannes Film Festival (queue a game of ‘star spotting’). The last section of the ramp opens out into a series of alcoves comprising the Cinema and Television exhibition, where typical family scenes from different decades have been recreated, showing how television has changed the way films are consumed.

View of Turin from the observation deck

The museum is every cinema lover’s dream, and like I said, I could have stayed for longer. Some of the interpretation is in English, but the use of props, hands-on, photography and film clips means it’s very accessible even where you don’t understand the language. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the museum, so I had to settle for a shot of the famous dome from outside (which is so high I had to walk half way down the street to fit it in!), and one of the view from the roof. You need to pay extra for the viewing platform, but my ICOM membership card gained me free access to both the museum and the panoramic lift. 

But even if you’re not a member of ICOM, if you’re ever in Turin and even vaguely interested in movies and cinema, this museum truly is a ‘must-see’, and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. Just remember to bring along plenty of time!


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