On a December Thursday in 1996, the lights of Rome’s Trevi Fountain were dimmed and the water stopped flowing from the white marble statue of Oceanus. As a solitary musician played a tune on a wooden flute, two black drapes were unfurled over the sides of the massive white fountain. Then, from the edge of the 18th century fountain, Rome’s police marching band played an excerpt from a Handel symphony. “This fountain has its historic value,” Rome's mayor, Francesco Rutelli, pronounced. “But for the whole world it represents the most famous scene of Italian cinema.”
A fountain “at three streets” was originally commissioned on this site in Rome before the birth of Christ. Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor, installed it here at the terminal point of an ancient aqueduct that ran almost fourteen miles. The mostly travertine Trevi Fountain was finally completed by Giovanni Panini in 1762 when Pietro Bracci’s massive Statue of Oceanus was placed in the central niche.
Standing almost 90 feet high and over 160 feet wide, the fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome. A destination throughout history, we can look to images of Trevi recorded in pastel sketches on the Grand Tour in the 17th and 18th centuries as well as daguerreotypes made in the 19th century at the beginning of photography and commercial tourism. In 2015, Karl Lagerfeld staged a fashion show on a translucent runway spanning the fountain to celebrate Fendi Couture’s 90th Anniversary and its international coverage dazzled again. The fountain had been restored in a nearly two-year renovation funded by Fendi Roma. Already prime real estate by 19 BC, today, every day, Trevi remains a destination, the setting of countless tourist selfies. The fountain has further evolved as a preeminent site because of its appearance in three classic movies.
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards for 1953, including Best Picture, Roman Holiday won Best Costumes, Best Motion Picture Story, and Best Actress Oscars…featuring Audrey Hepburn’s debut. The Roman location shooting, including the Trevi Fountain, had historical significance: when William Wyler insisted on filming on location, because the studio had assets frozen in post-war Italy, Paramount agreed…provided Wyler reduced his budget. So Roman Holiday became the first American movie shot entirely in Italy; Wyler shot in black-and-white; and he cast the unknown Hepburn.
The Fountain of Trevi is featured from opening credits to closing fade-out in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), which won Oscars for the title song and cinematography and was nominated for Best Picture. Three Coins in the Fountain is Jean Negulesco’s cinematic postcard to the Eternal City. Trevi drives this story of three ex-pat American career women in Rome. This lush technicolor film—half travelogue/half romance—begins with the legend of tossing a coin and making a wish at the Trevi fountain and ends with three happy couples whose wishes have been granted rushing from the three tiny Quirinale streets back to the fountain.
Eighty Roman locations, including St. Peter’s Dome and the Via Veneto, were created at the Cinecittà Studio for Frederico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). In addition, Fellini shot his film on locations in Rome. In the cold week Fellini shot Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Eckberg, and a white cat in the Trevi fountain, Fellini re-made the fountain, lighted the statues, and diverted traffic around the nexus of the three streets. On the first night, the water was so filthy that Fellini had to commandeer a green sea dye marker—used to gain attention in an emergency—from an SAS airline employee on set to disguise the putrid water for his black-and-white night scene. Fellini commandeered the cat from among the feral army of Rome’s strays. Although Scandinavian Eckberg went into the fountain voluntarily, Mastroianni needed a wet suit under his costume and relied on a bottle of vodka to join her.
On a still, warm night, Marcello Rubini—and I—stands in late-night Rome. In the Trevi fountain, the blonde movie goddess invites us, seduces us, to join her as she dances in her strapless black evening gown in the cascading water. She poses—with a sensuous white cat—who surely looks like my cat Georges—held above her head.