Maria Adriana Prolo’s interest in everything that predates cinema, whether scientific, technological or of a more spectacular nature, grew in tandem with her strong leaning toward iconographic forms of expression, their characteristics, their shared influences and the fact that they are, above all else, a living testament to the trends and the customs of an era. This inclination became the driving factor in forming this precious collection of prints, paintings, statues, ceramics and other rare iconographic items that vividly tell the story of the Archaeology of Cinema.
The collection began with Schenau’s print La lanterne magique and a similarly entitled work by Bartolomeo Pinelli. Next came a series of other important images which were familiar to any Italian of that era who took an interest in cinema. (for example, table n. 55 of the work Le Arti Che Vanno Per Via Nella Città di Venezia by Gaetano Zompini was featured on the cover of the popular magazine “Bianco e Nero” for several years starting in January 1941). Because of this interest in images, Maria Adriana Prolo spent amounts of money that were considered sheer folly at the time: This would seem to be the case of a porcelain statue of a child carrying a magic lantern for which she apparently paid 1,200,000 Lira in 1964. There is still doubt as to whether this was, in fact, the sum she paid or whether it was instead a simple transcription error in her cashbook. Two paintings were bought just a few months earlier for the slightly more modest price of 500,000 Lira.
Among the more unusual prints in the collection is a splendid series of cut-out silhouettes of “diableries,” a common theme in many of the Museum’s items. The series was part of a larger collection of shadow puppet cuttings which includes, among the many items, a shadow theatre, complete with backgrounds and articulated silhouettes. The theatre was used to give performances to the court around 1840 and thus carries on its front the seal of King Carlo Alberto.The already valuable collection of prints and shadow theater material was further augmented by the purchase of the collection belonging to two English brothers, John and William Barnes, thus adding many other important documents to the Prolo fund.
What sets this collection apart is the extreme variety of its exhibits: scene costumes, pre-production items and props, set design sketches, costume figurines, storyboards, drawings on acetate, paintings, over 1,000 artifacts that document the various phases of filmmaking. Although these materials were created only for shooting purpose, they often assume a more artistic value which outshines the motives for which they were created. It should be noted that many of these items bear the signature of important artists.
The collection is completed by merchandise and toys which were inspired by the world of cinema and its icons.
The collection includes preparatory sketches for sets and costumes. Among the most important items found here are the series of set sketches drawn by the famous set designer Decoroso Bonifanti. This series tells a behind the scenes story of many of the most important films of Torino’s golden age of silent cinema (Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei, Satana, Nerone, Torquato Tasso). Also in the collection are extremely rare items from early French cinema - a series of set design sketches for films by Méliès drawn by the director himself - and from American cinema, with approximately one hundred set design sketches for Charlie Chaplin’s films (Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Limelight).
The works in this collection often stand out for their true artistic value, like the series of 190 drawings and watercolors created by the painter Carlo Levi for the film Pietro Micca and the sketches drawn by Giantito Burchiellaro for Fellini’s Casanova.
Classic Hollywood is forever immortalized by a series of sketches for some of cinema’s greatest successes, like Gone With The Wind, Doctor Zivago, Ben Hur, The Man Who Would Be King. Of great interest to those who love the great iconic stars of the past is a collection of costume figurines made for some of the biggest names in Hollywood: Rita Hayworth (Gilda), Grace Kelly (The Swan), Elisabeth Taylor (The Giant), Marilyn Monroe (We're Not Married!).
There is, of course, a very special place in the storyboard collection for Ivor Beddoes’ work on The Empire Strikes Back by Irvin Kershner.
This collection is made special by many costumes that have played an important role in film history. The dozen examples that have survived from the age of silent cinema includes the costume of the High Priest in Cabiria; which not only stands out for its historical significance but also for its fine craftsmanship. There are also costumes worn by international movie stars, like Elizabeth Taylor (in The Giant), Joan Crawford (in What ever happened to baby Jane?), Peter O'Toole (in Lawrence of Arabia) and even the emblematic bowler hat worn by Charlie Chaplin. The collection also includes a bull-fighter’s cloak from Rudolph Valentino’s personal collection. In addition to the costumes, the collection features a series of masks, like the papier-mâché mask from Fellini Satyricon and those used as prototypes for the Star Wars official merchandising line. While on the subject of science fiction, it is worth noting that the collection includes Darth Vader’s mask from The Empire Strikes Back and a mask used in the making of The Planet of the Apes.
The model of the idol’s head from Il Casanova di Federico Fellini, the alien costume;the “facehugger” and the egg from Aliens by James Cameron; the pistols from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction;the gremlin himselffrom Gremlins 2: The New Batch by Joe Dante, the Tommy gun from Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables; the Tyrannosaurus Rex diorama from Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and the golden cow from The Ten Commandments.All these varied objects and props were made for film production but they continue to live on and capture the imagination of the observer. Plus, there is an important collection dedicated to the world of animated films, including some wonderful original drawings on acetate for such Walt Disney classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, The Aristocats and Pinocchio. In this collection one can also see the creations by important artists for Italian films, like the drawings on acetate by Buno Bozzetto for VIP, My Brother Superman; West and Soda; Allegro non troppo and Dancing.
The collection of props and objects for filming is flanked by a collection of objects that were produced to promote the films or to celebrate their iconic success. The gadgets, collectable toys and marionettes bear witness to the world of merchandising from its very beginnings. In this rather curious collection we find objects related to famous Walt Disney characters, classic monsters like King Kong and Frankenstein, classic comedians (Laurel and Hardy, Totò) right up to the heady heights of celluloid’s brightest stars, from Rudolph Valentino to Marilyn Monroe.
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