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Hollywood and Florence: A Love Story

It has long been the case that to remark on how hard it is to make it into Hollywood, is to remark on how round the earth happens to be. Without nepotism, cronyism, or superhuman luck it’s near impossible to find your way in. What is less frequently remarked upon is how desperate Hollywood’s residents are to get out of there. The vacations of Hollywood celebrities are continually chronicled by news outlets, intriguing and inspiring many into trying the same locations. One place which must surely rank as one of the most popular destinations is: Florence. Such stars as Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman, Richard Gere, and Kate Hudson are all known to have visited.

Drawing film crews and film celebrities alike, the ancient city has been the setting for almost as many films as it has for summer getaways. But why, over other European cities, does the small medieval Tuscan settlement attract such crowds? And why indeed is so much of that crowd searchable on IMDb?

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The Cradle of the Renaissance

Many academics agree that the renaissance was born in Florence. Beyond any special connection to the movies, Florence attracts so many famous visitors purely for its art and history. The embarrassment of riches adorning the walls of the many museums of the city would attract anyone with even a passing interest in art or architecture. The most famous Florentine gallery, the Uffizi, famously hosts Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, while the Galleria dell’Accademia’s world-class collection of sculptures includes Michelangelo’s David. The Palazzo Pitti is another gallery not to miss, located in a renaissance palace once inhabited by the Medici family who once ruled Florence.

Even if art isn’t your thing, the architectural beauty of the city has astounded visitors for generations. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore with its monumental red-brick dome towers over the rest of the walled city, remaining to this day the largest brick and mortar dome in the world. It’s sights like these that have brought Florence such fame and appreciation. In 2015, for instance, the readers of Condé Nast Travel voted the city the best in Europe.

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Florence on Film

These universally enjoyed aspects of Florence help explain the universal popularity of the city, but they leave one important question conspicuously answered: why is Florence so attractive to Hollywood?

Such questions are never easy to answer, but one avenue of possibility which must be explored is the fact that Florence has always been a place occupied by artists. Perhaps it’s the natural beauty of the Tuscan region, or even something in the Arno River water, but either way, Florence has historically been a source of tremendous creative output. Whether it’s Cimabue and Giotto, the de facto founders of Italian painting, Dante and Petrarch, two of the most famous poets to ever live, or three painters whose names are known by every person with enough interest in art to be able to draw a stick-man; Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli. It’s very possible that the historical-artistic richness is attractive to Hollywood actors and actresses wanting to gain inspiration from the creative geniuses of the city’s past.

More intuitively, the large number of movies that have been filmed in Florence likely make it enough of a cinematic destination that this feature is attractive in itself to Hollywood celebrities looking to explore famous filming locations.

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Potentially the most famous Hollywood film to have been set in Florence is Ridley Scott’s ‘Hannibal’ (2001), a large portion of which was filmed on location, employing such iconic sights as the Ponte Vecchio, the Cathedral, and the Palazzo Caponni. Hannibal Lecter referred to his love of Chianti wine (albeit to wash down human liver and fava beans) inThe Silence of the Lambs (1991), so perhaps his visit to Florence was to sample the Tuscan Chianti wine region’s fantastic produce.

A close contender for the most famous film set in Florence is undeniably the James Ivory-directedA Room with a View (1985), adapted from the E.M. Forster novel. With a star-studded cast featuring Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliot, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Judi Dench, one can see how Hollywood might have become intrigued by the city.

Any Hollywood celebrities interested in Italian Cinema would also be aware of the fact that the legendaryLa Vita È Bella (1997) was filmed close to Florence, as well as an important Fellini film; ‘I Vitteloni’ (1953).

Another reason Hollywood celebrities seem to flock to Florence is perhaps the most transparent of all. Since many among the list of celebrities who are known to have holidayed there have previously filmed there, it seems repeat business from returning stars of Florence-set films is one answer to why Hollywood often vacations in Florence. In other words, it is the number of films combined with the irresistible allure of the city which ensures Hollywood picks Florence over anywhere else. Just a few celebrities who confirm this theory are Helena Bonham Carter, who starred in ‘A Room with a View’ and returned with her film director husband Tim Burton, and Russel Crowe, who starred inGladiator (2000), which was partially set in Tuscany.

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Where Art and History Run Deep

One final viable reason why Hollywood stars are so attracted to Florence is the sheer pervasiveness of history and art throughout the various buildings of the city. Even its hotels stand as a testament to a city permeated to the breathing, beating, bustling core with art and history. Dimora Palanca hotel is a paragon of this extraordinary phenomenon. Located in the heart of Florence, this delicately fashioned five-star spot has been linked to the arts from its very inception. Constructed for the noble Palanca family between 1865 and 1871 and designed by architect Giuseppe Poggi, Dimora Palanca’s guestbook teems with acclaimed artists, creatives, and academics.  Indeed, the long-standing establishment has even come to be seen as a sort of private gallery, including not only pieces collected by the Palanca family but more recently procuring over fifty pieces of contemporary art by local Tuscan artist Paolo Dovichi. In its transformation into a hotel, the utmost care was taken to restore the structure’s original architectural elements while suffusing the interiors with a tasteful modern design. Walls adorned by modern art harmonize gently with ceilings graced by gorgeous frescoes and elaborately fashioned stuccoes.

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One feels a part of the history and the art of the city in many of the hotels of Florence. Dimora Palanca’s lofty, frescoed ceilings, flanked by art-lined walls which open up to striking views of Florence’s medieval centre and its iconic Duomo achieve this effect almost effortlessly. Natural wood floors and natural bed linens make one’s stay comfortable, while ensuite Italian marble bathrooms equipped with chromotherapy showers and often whirlpool bathtubs supplement the luxurious setting further. Many rooms are also available with private terraces. Accessible suites are also offered, which lead directly onto the property’s communal terrace and garden, where one can eat, drink, or simply take in the beauty of the garden’s manicured stone-bedded seasonal flowers and smell the fresh climbing jasmine that skirts the terrace.

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Also boasting a bar, morning room, game room, drawing room, and library, there is plenty to do at the hotel. This is not even to mention ‘Mimesi’, the hotel’s subterranean restaurant which cooks up proto-typically Mediterranean food with a mix of globally and locally sourced ingredients. Nevertheless, Hollywood stars come to Florence to enjoy the city, not just what its hotels can offer. Dimora Palanca understands this, and thus arranges a variety of Florentine experiences for interested guests, including tours of artisan studios, guided tours of Florence’s art galleries or of its Medici history. A variety of activities and excursions are also organized by the staff, including wine tasting tours, cooking courses, and truffle hunting. Only a five-minute walk from Florence’s central train station, next door to the city’s main tram line, and just a brief stroll away from the Basilica Santa Maria Novella, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and the Galleria dell ‘Accademia, the Dimora Palanca represents just the kind of place that attracts Hollywood stars to Florence. Not only is the hotel a historic building in its own right, but it’s just a stretch of the legs away from the center of Florentine history.

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Why They’re On To Something

To understand anything of the power of Florence’s treasures, one must understand ‘Stendahl Syndrome’; a medical condition caused by encountering especially beautiful objects, usually artworks. It usually manifests in the form of an increased heart rate, a sense of confusion, and sometimes as much as fainting and hallucinations. The strange phenomenon has been closely tied to Florence for its entire history. Not only is it named for the writer Stendahl, who recorded experiencing it in Florence at the Basilica of Santa Croce, but Graziella Magherini, who first observed the phenomenon, also observed it in Florence. Indeed, Santa Maria Nuova hospital in Florence has claimed they are used to dealing with visitors afflicted with dizziness and other related symptoms after viewing the artworks of the city.

Florence is stunning, sometimes to the extent that it’s medically classifiable. If you can’t get into Hollywood just like everyone else, remember that most of those who’ve got in so far seem to think Florence is better anyway.

By Samuel Sandor

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV, media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.

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Author

  • Outside of his ongoing MA degree in English and Philosophy at St Andrews, Samuel Sandor spends his spare hours writing – short stories, essays, articles on film, music, or any other subject he finds himself preoccupied by. Through all these strands, he strives to find a unique and unexpected way to look at the subject at hand. Without a concerted effort, it’s easy to form surface-level impressions of both the art and the news that one consumes. Sam’s pieces attempt to answer this interpretative simplicity by inducing curiosity in subjects one might ordinarily devote little thought to. It is this desire to transform viewpoints with novel ideas and to stoke deeper and more extensive conversations which attracted him to The Hollywood Insider.

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