Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Visit to Turin

The spire of Turin’s Mole Antonelliana reaches high into the sky, dwarfing all the low-rise buildings in the area. This beautiful nineteenth century building, long the highest masonry structure in Europe, is the home of Italy’s National Cinema Museum. This incredible space, with five floors of movie memorabilia, is creatively used to display a fabulous collection boasting 7,000 films, 150,000 posters, 140,000 photographic documents, and a stunning pre-cinema collection. There are some of the most beautiful 18th century peepshows in the world on display. This tour was only the beginning of a weekend meeting of the Magic Lantern Society of Great Britain hosted by the Museum. If there were not enough material to overwhelm one at The Mole, on Sunday morning we were bused out of town to the Royal Palace of Venaria, a former royal residence, for an expanded version of the magic lantern exhibition held earlier in the year at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris.

These two exhibitions would be more than enough for anyone interested in pre-cinema material. Still, for me the highlight of the weekend was a show Saturday night at the planetarium, located on a hillside on the outskirts of Turin. We were ushered into the domed viewing hall and when the lights went off Donata Presenti cast scenes from the night time sky on the domed walls of the planetarium with the assistance of a nineteenth century triunial magic lantern and astronomical slides from the Cinema Museum’s collection. We were treated to the movement of planets, the phases of the moon, comets, and constellations. The quality of the slides, the expert manipulation of the triunial and the accompanying music made it a memorable moment. It was followed by a planetarium show, the beauty and power of which caught me by surprise. Using computer graphics, a marvelous digital show filled the room. I felt transported from my seat into the sky after rotating planets hurled in our direction and before I knew it, I felt engulfed by a glorious galaxy close upon us. It was nothing short of spectacular. All these visual fireworks were followed by a lecture, but that was like trying to have a solid main course after tasting a delightful dessert.

There were also a several talks during the weekend. I presented a talk about two nineteenth century philosophical toys: thaumatropes and phenakistascopes. These toys were meant both to educate and to amuse. I used some new animations for the show and have uploaded them onto my site.


PS: If you should find yourself in Turin and have more time after visiting the Mole the place to go is the Egyptian Museum. The collection, founded in 1824, is quite a treat. My favorites rooms were in the basement and contain an extraordinary collection of statues. If that doesn't tire you out, go to the top floor which houses a large collection of 15-17th. century art, and see if you can find the breathtaking Rembrandt of a lone seated figure hidden in the shadows.