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Cinema | Best Of | Theatre
In the early 20th century the race towards progress and the need for the newly unified Italy to create jobs transformed ancient historic towns into modern cities: Bologna – traditionally ‘La Turrita’ (the Turreted) – was projected towards the future and it actually changed the layout of the town.
This renewal process envisaged the widening of via Rizzoli, as we know it today, and the demolition of the market area – Mercato di Mezzo. The foundations for Palazzo Ronzani (via Rizzoli 1-3) were laid on the site where the medieval Palazzo Lambertini once stood: a multipurpose building, the bastion of Bolognese modernity, the result of the futuristic design by Gualtiero Pontoni, engineer, architect and set designer. This bold project was commissioned by Alessandro Ronzano, a well-known beer manufacturer from Casalecchio.
Pontoni had already worked for Ronzani a few years earlier on the interior design of the Ronzani brewery in Palazzo Lambertini, where the Bologna Football Club was born in 1909.
By mixing Renaissance and Secession stylistic elements, with touches from the late Art Nouveau repertoire - particularly the French repertoire - Palazzo Ronzani was intended to accommodate commercial activities (as suggested by the arches decorated with the heads of Mercury), but at the same time it was also to be a place of leisure. In an area of approximately 2,000 sq m, with a tower rising above the building on the corner between via Rizzoli and Piazza Re Enzo, in the Parisian style and with an internal skylight designed to illuminate also the underground level, the building houses shops, apartments and professional practices, but also a café, a restaurant, a hotel, an underground theatre and one of the best cinemas in town, the Cinema Modernissimo.
The final plan of Palazzo Ronzani was approved on 20 December 1912, but its construction continued until 1915. The underground theatre, endowed with two entrances, from via Rizzoli and from Piazza Re Enzo, accommodated some 2,000 seats, but given its peculiar architectural and structural characteristics, there were problems in obtaining the various permits required which delayed the opening until many years after the scheduled date.
Instead, the Modernissimo cinema was inaugurated in February 1915, when the finishing works were being carried out on the building. The cinema, described by the press of the time as elegant and modern, is located on the ground floor bordering on via Rizzoli, via degli Artieri and via degli Orefici. It counts about 550 seats and comprises two levels: the stalls at street level and a balcony.
Between the 1950s and 1960s a thorough modernisation program led to the total reconversion of the theatre space into a cinema. In 1955 there were two cinemas: the underground Cinema Modernissimo (renamed Arcobaleno) with access from Piazza Re Enzo 1, and the Cinema Centrale (renamed Royal) on via Rizzoli 3. The Cinema Arcobaleno, that was the most popular cinema in town, was open to the public up until 2007.
The restoration of the theatre was an extraordinary opportunity for the town. The ambition was to turn it into a unique theatre in terms of spectacular and aesthetic impact. The beauty of the spaces was to be an exclusive experience for the spectators.
The objective was to restore the theatre to its original artistic and architectural identity of the early 20th century but endowing it with cutting edge audio and video technology.
The model of the Modernissimo was that of the Italian Theatre as modified during the twentieth century.
Unlike the cinemas of today, here there are huge volumes. Spaces prevail and this is a predominant element in the recovery project, making this cinema a place that is as different as could possibly be from the sitting-rooms in our homes.
Progress of works at the present time: the demolition work has been completed bringing to light the original structure of the early 20th century.
A peculiar note: on the railing there are two notches. The railing was normally left low but it could be raised whenever inspections by the safety inspectors were expected.
The cinema of the new Modernissimo has 400 seats. A cinemascope screen is present that has been used since the 1950s. Behind the screen the demolition works have brought to light a space which once housed the original Academy screen and the orchestra.
Thanks to Sara Rognoni - Cineteca di Bologna
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