FILM EXTRAS ON THEIR LUNCH BREAK, CINECITTA’ FILM STUDIOS, ROME 1978
I took this photograph in 1978 whilst I was working at Cinecitta’ film studios in Rome. At lunchtimes I would sometimes go to the bar that was in the studio complex to grab a sandwich and a drink. On one particular day the bar was full of film extras on their lunch break dressed as priests, cardinals, Swiss guards and altar boys. I shot a few frames with the 35mm camera I always carried with me at the time.
Later that year I returned to England to start my career as a photographer. A friend, C.C. O’Hanlon, who I had first met in Rome in 1974, and was now residing in London, liked the photograph so much that he purchased it as a gift for his father. (As he is a personal friend I will refer to him as Chris for the rest of the article.) He offered me £25.00, a very decent amount, around half an average weekly wage at the time.
Chris’s father was the Australian best selling author Morris West. The photograph was hung on the wall by his desk in the annex of his house where he had his study in Wentworth, Surrey. A place I visited once. I never met Morris West but was told that he liked the photograph very much and its humour. Possibly because he had studied to become a priest, but never took his vows, and possibly because of his connection with Rome and Cincitta’ film studios.
One of the books Morris West wrote was entitled “The Shoes of the Fisherman” which dealt with the ordination of a Ukranian Pope. By chance it was published on the day of the death of Pope John XXIII. It was No. 1 in the New York Times best sellers list in 1963 and was the No. 1 top selling novel in the USA that year. Another coincidence is that the year the photograph was taken in 1978 a Polish Pope was ordained, the first from an Eastern Block country.
The book was made into a film starring Anthony Quinn in the leading role. At the time the film was being made Morris West and his family resided in Rome in a villa on the Via Appia Antica. Their neighbours were Sofia Loren and her husband, the film producer, Carlo Ponti. Chris told me that when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were in Rome they would dine at their house. These were Fellini’s heady “Dolce Vita” years in Rome and famous guests were frequent visitors to the villa.
A part of the story I heard only a few years ago from Chris is that when he was around twelve years old he went with his father to Cinecitta’ to see the filming of Shoes of the Fisherman. He saw Anthony Quinn on set dressed as the Pope. Between takes he was introduced to Anthony Quinn, who stayed in role between takes, so to the twelve year old Chris it felt like meeting the Pope himself.
Last year I visited Cinecitta’ fiim studios where I had worked over four decades ago and the memories came flooding back. I remembered meeting Federico Fellini in sound stage No. 5, his beloved “Teatro Cinque”, the largest in Europe where many of his famous films were made.
The bar I took the photograph in is no longer there, a new, very modern looking one, was built elsewhere. Nothing like the 1930s built one that I knew. As I looked at the empty space where the bar once stood and the film extras had played cards, whilst one dozed, I felt a feeling of contentment that I had managed to capture a moment in time that would never be repeated. I was there and this is what I saw.