recycling the cinema, part 1


The former Teatro Italia, in all its glory, majestically surveying the Campiello de l’Anconeta on the Strada Nova.

A ridiculous amount of movies has been made in Venice over the last 100 years or so — Wikipedia lists 114, but that is a paltry and inaccurate number because the list omits many films, as well as the many films that have been made here in languages other than English.

For example, there is “Viaggi di Nozze” (“Honeymoons”) starring Carlo Verdone in which he plays an insufferable doctor who takes his bride to Venice on their honeymoon, but by the time they arrive in their suite at the Danieli Hotel he has become so unbearable that she throws herself out the window just to get the hell away from him. There is the fabulous “Vacanze Intelligenti” (“Intelligent Vacations”) with Alberto Sordi, in which he and his fruit-selling Roman wife end up at the Biennale in the summer heat and she, exhausted, collapses under a tree and is mistaken by the public for a work of art.  There is also “Les Enfants du Siecle,” a French film about George Sand and Chopin in which Lino repeatedly rowed an old boat loaded with oranges past the facade of Palazzo Pisani-Moretta.  These are just random examples, but you see that the list could go on and on into German and Spanish and probably Russian and, for all I know, Tongan.

But while we’re all accustomed to Venice being the star of innumerable movies, you may never have asked yourself if anybody ever went to the movies in Venice.  They did.  A lot.  Back before cell phones roamed the earth and everything electronic took over people’s brains, going to the movies was just as much prime entertainment here as it was in Boring, Oregon and Sweet Lips, Tennessee.  Perhaps you imagined the Venetians spending their free time floating around in boats, singing folk songs, but most people were sitting in the dark watching crazy things happen on a big square of silver-coated cloth.  Venice was rife with movie theatres.

I managed to see a few movies in my early days in Venice (dubbed in Italian, as is almost always the case here), before the few remaining theatres gasped their last.  A few small ones are hanging on, showings listed each day in the Gazzettino.  “La-La Land” is here, with subtitles in Italian.  Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” is also here (or was, a few days ago), in English.

All this has come to mind because of the renovation and reopening of the Teatro Italia, shown above.  Ever since I’ve been here this splendid edifice has been closed, silent and empty.  But there are plenty of Venetians who have vivid memories (especially of the back rows, I’m guessing) of the decades when it reigned as a movie theatre.  Now people who go there will be having vivid memories of the mortadella and the rigatoni, because it has been revived as a supermarket belonging to the Dutch supermarket chain, De Spar.  To its credit, the company has retained and refurbished the frescoes (did your hometown movie theatre have FRESCOES?), adding a touch of glamour to your search for scallopine and cheap wine.

A view of the interior when it was a movie theatre.

Let me give you a glimpse of this transformed emporium of fantasy and thrill, but I’m not going to stop there.  As usual, I let myself get carried away, and so in the next episode I will be conducting a tour of the movie theatres that Lino remembers from the days of yore.

The sign at the entrance advises customers that there is video surveillance, it is forbidden to smoke, and furthermore forbidden to take pictures. The first two notices are normal, but the third gives one pause. Are they concerned that people will be snapping selfies by the salame?

If you thought the exterior was amazing, just take a look at the entrance. As you see, I snapped some pictures before the guard politely told me that he would permit me to do this, so technically I wasn’t breaking the law.

Do not omit to admire the frieze as you wander into the store.

The decoration of the entryway.

Mere lobby lighting. Wow.

The space where the screen loomed has now been frescoed over. Pay no attention to that man behind the fresco…

Make sure you’ve written down your shopping list, because you’re never going to remember everything you need in this dazzling environment.

Laurel wreaths, or bunches of grapevines, or whatever the roughage is, looks wonderful on somebody’s head. Above the soft drinks.

This, not so much.  Sketchy for a theatre and even more so above Aisle 3.

The balcony AND the projection room. Extremely cool.

What is so fabulous isn’t that there’s a supermarket that looks like this (though of course that’s great) — it’s that there was a theatre that looked like this. I’d have gone and not even bothered to watch the movie.

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Categories : History


  1. Sara White says:

    Whoa. Now that’s the kind of grocery store that might make me hate getting groceries just a bit less. It’s certainly much better than every single grocery store in Rome’s centre – I haven’t encountered any frescos yet, just inexplicably small aisles and the kind of layout that makes me want to scream.

  2. Mary Ann DeVlieg says:

    Pathé Tuchinski is the glorious cinema theatre in Amsterdam… perhaps the Dutch Despar managers also had fond memories?
    Actually i went in to the Despair/Teatro Italia a few weeks ago and gasped to the doorman, ‘When did this open?!’ He responded, ‘Yesterday’. So I felt a bit less clueless. And although I didn’t need to buy anything, of course I did…same thing happened the other day when I took my husband to see it (on our way to the Coop) So – their marketing certainly works! And yes, I think it has to win the title of the most beautiful supermarket in the world!

  3. Allan Williams says:

    This is a great piece Erla, and timely. We have often seen this theatre, been sad that it was ‘dark’, wondered about its history, and speculated on its future; this is not a bad outcome compared to what might have been. We looked forward to part two. You do good stuff, thank you and keep it up.

  4. So, how is Coop responding to a new market literally a fig’s toss from their vegetable aisle?

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      No response needed — there’s also the Conad down the street, and the Coop at Piazzale Roma, and the Coop at the Gesuiti, not to mention the new Coop at Rialto. Evidently there’s plenty of work for everybody, especially for Coop.

  5. Mark says:

    I wonder how many times I’ve walked past that theater when visiting from time to time over the past 40+ years. I do love that revivalist style. Do you know what year it was built?

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      It was built in 1916. Those who have not resigned themselves to its re-purposing as a supermarket instead of as a theatre or other cultural space have noted the irony of the restoration occurring on the building’s centenary. But you don’t have to look far for irony in this world, it’s spreading like mold.

  6. Zuanna says:

    Great essay and I am absolutely going to do some grocery shopping at the Teatro. However, you mention that the only movie theater in Venice is the Giorgione. What about the Multisala Rossini – I saw La La Land there just last week

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      I was wrong and I need to correct that. Thanks for catching that. There are also a few others, so I’ll be updating.

  7. Michelle says:

    I will have to look for that when I visit in March.
    I have fond but vague memories of growing up in 1950’s California and a yearly visit to the “movie palaces” as they were called in Los Angeles. Nothing this gorgeous but as a small child I always felt like I had wandered into a castle from a storybook.

    Hope to meet you in March.

  8. Jacqueline Cobb says:

    I was so looking forward to shopping for food in the Alimentaria & Drogheria
    Such is progress I suppose that after 60 years since I left Italy what can one expect.
    I still look forward to my visit to Venice all the same.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      There are still some small food shops, though the only drogheria I know is Mascari. In any case, it will take you only one, or at most two, shopping trips to discover why the supermarkets are flourishing. The prices at the small shops are much higher, of course, and that’s because their rents are higher and higher until they just cave in. We held out for a long time before going to the supermarket, but when I realized that my adored biavarol across the canal was charging four times more for an item than the price in the supermarket, I realized we couldn’t go on like that.