It is the arena of consent and resistance. It is partly where hegemony arises, and where it is secured. But it is one of the places where socialism might be constituted. In the material analysis, we try to remain aware that films are com- modities designed to meet the needs of the production, distribution and exhibition sectors of an industry which is enormous at the exhibi- tion level, but relatively tiny at the production level. Production exists only in order to serve, and only inasmuch as it does serve, exhibition.
In short: exhibition is where the money comes in; production exists to keep exhibition fed with product; and profit is realized — as the purpose of the whole process — at distribution. Italian genre films of the s and s gave — and I tried to elaborate a theory of this — quantitative gratifica- tions: a large number of shoot-outs, for example, or lots of splatter. This is not qualitatively different splatter from other splatter that of Hollywood , just the same splatter but more often.
Like Coca-Cola, you cannot make it nourish you; all you can do is consume more of it. This is the function of a film in the exhibition sector of the market: to bring about a repetition of its consumption. The function of film A is to get the consumer to return to the cinema to watch film B. Its function is not to meet some hypothesized needs the consumer might have, but to stimulate repetitive consumption. Where Italian cinema is concerned, this conviction fuels the insistence that it is possible to deduce from the themes of films that successfully sold tickets what social needs were being met of the consum- ers who viewed them.
This conviction has a distinguished Gramscian pedigree later inherited by the Cultural Studies movement in England. It is a story dear to popular audiences, which are drawn immediately to side with the young couple against the arrogance of the powerful man. The villain is very often the lord of the region, a tyrant, and the beautiful girl a member of the common people ruled over by him. Behind the tearful emotional involvement of the public there is always a feeling of solidarity with the oppressed: we feel a certain communion with the oppressed or wretched girl, because we feel as oppressed or wretched as she is.
The common man of the people, who every day submits to the injustices of the powerful, identifies with the character of the oppressed, who becomes his own implacable avenger from the Count of Monte Cristo to the various characters played by Amedeo Nazzari today , and directs his desire for rebellion against characters in books or in films.
If it were so easy and within the reach of anyone to emotionally arouse an audience, gold and diamond mines would become banal gambles compared with such a sure source of wealth. Italian silent cinema is known throughout the world for its ambitious historical dramas and its high-society melodramas, films directed not at a popular audience at all, but specifically designed to raise and expand the social and cultural level of cinema-going to encourage and justify investment in the industry. Despite problems with the censor after being widely shown in , it was cut and redistributed in , it was so successful with the public that in it was given a soundtrack and re-released.
But before that it was watched by Federico Fellini: What was the first film for me? I watched it while in the arms of my father, standing up in the midst of a crowd of people, wearing a sodden overcoat because it was raining outside. I remember a huge woman with a bare midriff, her belly-button, and the flashing of her fierce eyes heavily made up. With an imperious gesture she conjured up around Maciste, who was also half-naked and holding a dove, a circle of tongues of fire. The three different foreign models which were scrutinized quite seriously for what they had to offer in Italy were, in turn, Mosfilm in the Soviet Union, UFA in Germany and Hollywood in the United States delegates visited each and reported back.
The problems they faced were multiple. The Soviet model targeted the proletariat, whereas the only readily available audience for Italian cinema was the urban petty bourgeoisie. In fact the majority of these comedies originated in the theatre, and not even in Italian theatre, but in Budapest. Various figures during the inter-war period envisaged a popular cin- ema, offering a popular reflection of popular life for a popular public though not a rural one. A film that exemplified this aspiration would be Treno popolare, directed by Raffaello Matarazzo in It was not until after the Second World War that the cinema overtook economically all other leisure activities including sport put together.
Until then, music hall and variety theatre held a strong place in popular urban culture. Who can deny that it is these actors who first embodied neorealism? Neorealism is given birth, unconsciously, by the film in dialect; then it becomes conscious of itself in the heat of the human and social problems of the war and its aftermath.
Mass capital- ist commodity production, or the individual craftsman labouring away in his garret — which? Cesare Zavattini and Federico Fellini as scriptwriter were intimately involved simultaneously with the most rarefied zones of the European art cinema and with the most stereotyped, generic vehicles of Italian popular culture.
Fellini himself made that popular culture the content of all of his films right up to his death. Neorealist cinema used il popolo as the source of films in terms of their stories and their performers; it used il popolo as participants in production and financing; it used il popolo as the addressees of the films, in terms of their interests, their experience, and in the case of the aspirations of Zavattini, in a search for a total union between film and il popolo.
When Rome, Open City was first shown, critics and members of the estab- lishment were dubious about its value, and it was the overwhelming response of il popolo which forced them to think again. In a completely different direc- tion, De Santis firmly asserted the right of il popolo to the gratifications and entertainment of generic formulae, and he was the only neorealist filmmaker seriously to address the specifically rural nature of the Italian popolo and its culture.
Germi drew on recognized, successful cinematic genres in order to make his films accessible to a wider public. In something extraordinary and unforeseen happened. An American distribu- tor bought it, spent several million dollars promoting it, and it was a huge success in the United States, ending up on television there. What are generally recognized to be the major filoni were thus launched. Currently, the orthodoxy of treating the erotic as discourse rather than function is hegemonic in film stud- ies, but I shall briefly return to the point in Section 8 of this chapter.
The film represents the dialectic of the class struggle, which in its turn is one element of a dialectic between the popular culture celebrated by Gramsci, Pasolini and the Italian Communist Party and the capitalist industrial financing of the film, so that the financial strength of the American capitalist mass- culture industry, accustomed to handing down or selling to the masses a hegemonic ideology, might be used to send an art film that was also a truly popular film to wave the red flag in the American Mid-West.
The film casts its historical material in an essentially family mould, a story of symbolic and emblematic relationships, so that it takes on the form of a saga of the rural peasant tradition, in which the leghe trade unions of the braccianti farm labourers of the Po Valley formed the vanguard of the socialist class struggle in Italy at the beginning of the century, all of this transmitted with the power of spectacle that the cinema can offer a popular audience, and with a rich rural popular iconography: music, dancing, puppet shows, drama, literature and painting, rituals such as the killing of the pig, and the ballet-like Maoist choreography of the red flags and the trial of the bosses, together with the Soviet socialist realism of Anita, the youthful representative of the proletariat, astride the haystack, relaying to her comrades a vision of the future.
We might question whether or not he has succeeded in all his aims. Certainly in our sphere, the academic one, he has been criticized for historical inac- curacy, which is probably the least interesting perspective one could possibly take on that film. I have a whole shelf of books in which scholars do much the same. That people enjoy watching James Bond films does not guarantee that the films deal with their concerns.
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Let us take an analogy: if people like drink- ing Coca-Cola, it must supply dietary nourishment. Realist cinema in general, and neorealist cinema in particular, are examples of this approach. Firstly, scholars fre- quently and repeatedly remark on the narrative shortcomings of these films: isolated sketches loosely joined, or events and actions arbitrarily strung together. They are characterized by repetition of spectacle in a social situ- ation rather than by the coherent unfolding of narrative for individual comprehension. Elsewhere I have argued that the repetitive format met the need of the Italian cinema industry rapidly to increase its output in the absence of sufficient American product and surplus available creative talent Dario Argento recently informed us at a talk at the Italian Cultural Institute in London that he scripted three Spaghetti Westerns in as many months Wagstaff, Con un gesto imperioso del braccio faceva nascere attorno a Maciste, anche lui seminudo e con tortore in mano, un cerchio di lingue di fuoco.
Il neorealismo nasce, inconsciamente, come film dialettale; poi acquista coscienza nel vivo dei problemi umani e sociali della guerra e del dopoguerra. Fellini, F. Gunning, T. Samuel ed. La rivista cinematografica , Turin, 11 November , quoted in G. Low, R. Marlow-Mann, A. Purdon, J. Lo spettacolo filmico in Italia — Rome: Bulzoni. The Bioscope 23 and 30 December. Verdone, M. Rossellini Il mio metodo: Scritti e interviste, ed. Georgakas and L. In terms of the sheer volume of people who saw and enjoyed them, these films represent some of the most popular Italian films ever.
The very fact of their international success ensured they were read by some as art film, connected by associ- ation with the modernist Italian films of the s and s, screened in urban arthouses and enjoyed by those audiences interested in foreign cinema. Their emphasis on visual style consolidates this generic loca- tion. Both textually and institutionally, the films hover between the arthouse and the popular. This tension, I will argue, opens up what I call the prettiness of Italian cinema.
Two stories about reactions to Cinema Paradiso illustrate the germina- tion of my argument. As we waited in the ticket queue, she saw publicity stills and for a moment was convinced it was a black and white film to boot. Of course, she loved the film. She still saw it as an art film; just one that was surprisingly enjoyable. Twenty years later, she contacted me on Facebook and wrote of how fondly she remembered that day and how much impact being taken to see Cinema Paradiso had had on her cultural formation.
The second story is about the scholars of Italian cinema who have very kindly talked to me about my previous research on these films Galt, It is always nice to hear that someone has read your work, nicer still if they find something positive to say about it, yet I became fascinated by how often Italianists told me how ghastly they found the films I analysed. Compliments on my argument were invariably hedged with outright disdain of its primary objects.
I had repeated conversa- tions at conferences in which people apologized for articulating what they clearly felt was an insult to my terrible taste. My point in telling these stories is not to juxtapose demotic tastes with elitist academics, but to isolate how Cinema Paradiso and its ilk function as the wrong kind of generic mixture for the scholars, and the right kind for the audiences that made the films so successful.
These are fine subjects, but the obviousness of the opposition occludes something equally important: the easy critical rejection of the films in the middle, which form an influential contemporary mode. I call this mode the popular art film: these films draw from popular genres but circulate nationally and internationally as prestige productions, linked to the institutions of art cinema. Not exactly the same as the middlebrow, with its con- notations of a particularly classed version of serious culture, the popular art film is at once more debased in its melodramatic pleasures and more closely aligned to the international circuits of contemporary art cinema than the solidly national middlebrow.
Whereas the middlebrow often emphasizes markers of textual quality serious subject matter, treatment of social problems, literary adapta- tion , some of which can foreclose on international legibility, the popu- lar art film aligns a certain international art-cinematic style with generic narrative forms.
Thus, while part of what makes these films legible as art cinema to foreign spectators is their status as subtitled films, this is not the whole story.
Conversely, some Italian films with similar generic markers and styles as the films I discuss do not gain international acclaim. The popular art film has become a significant part of the global cinema landscape, providing a key means of access to international distribution for many producers, and, along- side festival prize-winners, forming the major destination for audiences of foreign films.
Italian cinema, I would suggest, is a particularly useful case study for this mode of filmmaking. Italy has such a strong tradition of art cinema in the English-speaking world that its films are unlikely to provide the sense of discovery that a New New Wave like Romanian or Taiwanese film offers audiences. We already know, or think we do, what Italian cinema looks like. It is therefore relatively difficult for new Italian art films to make a splash in the international marketplace.
Thus, the popular art film has emerged as an important and recognizable niche for Italian cinema. While the popular art film is an international form, I will argue that Italian cinema has a specific relationship to what I call the pretty, and that these contemporary films are only the latest iteration of the troublesome prettiness of Italian cinema. We can trace anti-pretty thinking to the Platonic privileging of word over image, with the image at best a copy incapable of articulating philosophical reason and at worst a deceptive and dan- gerous cosmetic.
Discourses of cinematic value implic- itly and sometimes explicitly build on these aesthetic ideas, rejecting feminized forms and decorative visual styles as politically reactionary or lacking substance. This discourse has a particular relevance to Italian cinema, which I think is uniquely concerned with aesthetics at the borders of the popular and art cinema. Contemporary films like Cinema Paradiso circulate as popular art films, but the relationship of these forms has a long history of defining Italian cinema to the world.
We might think of the mythified shift from the white-telephone film to neorealism, long characterized as the defining moment for post-war Italian film culture.
foto Margo Martindale
This shift is centrally viewed as a transition from Fascist to anti-Fascist aesthetics and from commercial cinema to art film but, insofar as it figures a symbolic rather than literal overcoming of the past, it also posits a shift from pretty to anti-pretty film-making, from the decorative to the real. This defining moment of Italian national cinema is inscribed as a rejection of the pretty and a connection of that prettiness both to inferior popular forms and extreme political reaction. The taint of this prettiness haunts Italian cinema in both its art-cinematic and popular forms.
In what follows, I examine how the critical reception of Italian cinema has characterized films as pretty, drawing connections from the international response to canonical art cinema to that of more recent popular films. Prettiness as a critical problem The critical reception of Italian art cinema provides an insight into why and how the pretty becomes a problem. In the art cinema of the s, visual asceticism often seems to be the mediator between humanistic realism and radical modernism. And yet, on the other hand, art cinema provides a space in which the cinematic image itself, with all its expressive potential, is of central importance.
Italian art cinema thus builds a tension between valuing the aesthetic and valuing the anti-aesthetic. In this regime, ideas of the decorative are deployed to police the boundaries of acceptable artistry. In contemporary film journals, Italian art cinema is often evaluated negatively via a vocabulary of decoration. Here the term refers to an over-composed view that subordinates serious meaning to pretty pictures. The historical picturesque is often seen as a debased landscape image, lacking both aesthetic depth and realist meaning. It is also associated with feminine taste.
And just as picturesque painters were accused by post-war critics of veiling rural poverty Berger, 13 , so Italian filmmakers were accused of obfuscating their radical content with pretty form. This argument — that a picturesque, visually rich aesthetic undermines political critique — is one that recurs in much scholarship on historical films and in particular popular art film iterations of the genre. More importantly, the suspicion with which even such canonical auteurs as these are met when their films look too visually composed tells us both how central prettiness is to Italian film history and how forcefully it was, nevertheless, denigrated.
Despite these critiques of Italian art cinema as too pretty, much dis- cussion of more recent Italian film depends on a sense of its inferiority to the period of the modernist art film. I find this type of critique to be a new iteration of anti-pretty rhetoric, this time locating the excluded pretty not in overly formalistic spectacle but in overly com- mercial spectacle; not in stories that are too beautiful to be political but in stories that are too sweet to be political.
The terms of disapprobation have shifted slightly along with cinematic fashions, but the structuring aesthetic logic is exactly the same. The feminizing rhetoric of passivity and sweetness should also be clear. Popular examples of this discourse include the stylized melodrama and cinema carino. Cinema carino is a term that emerges in the s and s to describe the turn away from overt political histories and towards smaller-scale, family stories. We can immediately see that the concept has much in common with the pretty. While most translations render cinema carino as cute cinema, carino can also be rendered in English as pretty.
Either way, its associations are infantilizing and feminizing, an insignifi- cant kind of cinema in comparison with the heroic beauty or, better, heroic ugliness of a masculine cinema like neorealism. The director has responded in interview by defending the value of an imaginative world in which a positive relationship is possible Sesti, 47 and we might consider how her work relates to other European directors, such as the Dardenne brothers and Claire Denis whose films address ethics and explore forms of relationality.
More confrontational is Giuseppe Piccioni, a filmmaker who has been described in the Italian press as a standard-bearer for cinema carino. If the directors of cinema carino films feel the need to bite back at their critics, there is good reason. The questions posed to Piccioni and Archibugi exemplify a broad hostility to cinema carino.
This dis- missal is typical. There are a whole series of anti- pretty ideas bundled up here. First, cinema carino is associated with the feminine qualities of melodrama and sentiment, a reminder of the enormous success of Cinema Paradiso and the gall this success provoked in many Italian film scholars. Secondly, it is associated with the sur- face, a sense that their aesthetic qualities prove that the films are not serious, evoking a Platonic idea of the false cosmetic itself a gendered concept. Thirdly, there is a pervasive sense that what qualifies as depth is a particular kind of national truth, one that neither popular culture nor the feminine sphere of the family can access.
Laviosa tells us that cinema carino is seen as overly influenced by television style and overly concerned with the domestic. If s political cinema claimed moral depth by addressing serious public topics of history and politics, cinema carino could only gaze, like the television set, at the family in the pri- vacy of their living room. Described in this way, the rejection of cinema carino seems evidently inadequate. How could critics dismiss films centring on melodrama or the familial, given the prominence of these modes and themes in Italian film history?
In all these instances, the contrast is between earlier moments in post-war cinema which were political and good, and the present situation, which is carino and bad. However, since critics also condemned s and s films as too pretty, we can see that this discomfort is not solely a response to cultural change, but runs through the history of Italian cinema. Moving on to the stylized melodramas that developed as a major feature of Italian cinema in the s, we see that these genres are not unconnected.
William Hope describes a broad pattern in contem- porary Italian film of turning inwards, looking at small groups, fami- lies and individuals. Narratives of self-analysis are, for him, basically navel-gazing instead of addressing big social issues Hope, The critique of apolitical content is identical to that of cinema carino. With cinema carino, these complaints are not usually connected to sty- listic excess but rather linked to a televisual aesthetic.
With the stylized melodrama, the same complaint of inward-looking content is matched to a formal prettiness. Instead of finding television to be a bad influence in creating a small-screen, talk- show aesthetic, the discourse on popular melodrama figures TV as the creator of a glossy advertorial style. The stylized melodrama becomes the new apolitical pretty — a kind of film that circulates successfully in the international market, but whose embellished style fails to live up to modernist standards of anti-pretty value.
Examples of this style abound, and form a peculiarly Italian variant on the heritage film. Pauline Small —74 has identified Respiro as the new Cinema Paradiso, by which she means a reactionary heritage film, set in a rural idyll, and able to ignore urban problems by dint of this pretty setting.
And like Respiro, Hamam has attracted criticism on the basis of its decora- tive style. Elisabetta Girelli 23—38 accuses it of drawing on an orientalist aesthetic, finding its potential for transnational dislocation of stereotypes to be undermined by its exotic visuals.
Whereas there was a dramatic drop off in domestic cinema attendance and production in the s and early s, a gradual revival has been growing ever since. Variety reports that the Italian industry reached a ten-year high in , producing films. This history, then, is not only one of critical dismissal but of the nature of popularity. The rise of popular art film in the s marks an important shift in Italian film culture, even if many critics might view the films themselves as further evidence of decadent decline. As a closing case study, I look at a film that combines aspects of the glossy melodrama and cinema carino, as well as prompting both international acclaim and anti-pretty critiques.
Like many stylized melodramas, it features a child in its central role. Michele lives in a Southern village and, when out playing with friends, discovers a boy chained in a hole in the ground. The film thus offers both a focus on the familial and a political history; both the popular pleasures of a melo- drama told from the limited perspective of a child and an art-cinematic engagement with the Italian past. Or, if you prefer, both a nostalgic landscape aimed at the international arthouse market and a thriller edged with national politics for the domestic audience.
ash tree - Italian translation – Linguee
For many films, Berlin rep- resents art-cinematic credentials, and indeed Salvatores was nominated for a Golden Bear. Back in Italy, the film also fared well. In March , it was in the domestic box office top ten for the month Screen, Just like the art films of an earlier era, mannerism is the downfall of the pretty film, updated with an explicit rejection of commercial spectacle.
Mannerism shifts from being an aesthetic problem that refers only to art to one that refers purely to commerce. The pretty is here compared to an Oriental object: decorative, feminine, foreign. In an implicit denigration of these qualities, the lacquered surface is presented as too glossy and cosmetic to be taken seriously as cinema. The film is certainly glossy. As Michele shuttles between his fam- ily in the village and the prisoner in the hole, we spend a lot of time looking at the wheat fields around his home Figure 3.
These scenes provide plenty of opportunity for pretty compositions. The landscape scenes are shot with highly saturated colours, using filters and polariza- tion to emphasize the red tones in the field and sky. This effect might remind us of pasta commercials, but we can also locate it in some other cinematic histories.
Another aesthetic inter-text for these red-saturated tones is the look of Kodachrome Super-8 film, which the DP Italo Petriccione has cited as an inspiration Camera, 28—9. This look, reminiscent of old home-movies, encodes nostalgia at a for- mal level, but it also references a material history of filmmaking that includes avant-garde evocations of emotion, nature and the profilmic. A similar approach was taken up by some of the Italian critics who, oddly enough, were most positive about the film. This difference undercuts the commonplace that these popular art films are loved abroad but despised at home.
In some ways the opposite is true. Mauro Caron 64—5 also points to diverse reference points such as Tom Sawyer, gothic hor- ror and fables. For the Anglophone critics, this wealth of reference could only indicate a promiscuous post-modernity, feeding into a commodi- fied spectacle, but I would suggest that we see in them the strategy of the popular art film, elaborating meanings that work in various formal registers and for disparate audiences. It is set in , the same year that Aldo Moro was assassinated and that kidnappings in Italy were at an all-time high.
Moreover, the pretty composi- tions also depict abandoned farmhouses and decaying ruined buildings Figure 3. The familial politi- cal melodrama is a thriving variant of Italian popular art film. Instead of families we have crime families: kidnappers isolated from Italian society. But, like all irony, this representation is not a total rejection of its object. Both films find in their limited perspectives a mode of articulating Italian political history through the televisual, the melodramatic and the imagistic. Its protagonist contemplates sexual and street revolution under a La Chinoise poster, a beauti- fully composed image that would no doubt continue the work of piss- ing off Jean-Luc Godard that Bertolucci began in The Conformist.
Restivo, In other words, he places The Conformist as the fulcrum of a turn from the neorealist inheritance to a post-classical or post-modern popular culture of reference. Bibliography Andrews, N. Berger, J. Bertolino, M. Bresnan, C. Caron, M. Codelli, L. Fotia, M. Frater, P. Galt, R. Gieri, M. Girelli, E. Giusti, M. Hope, W. Laviosa, F. Marcus, M. Marshall, L. Restivo, A. Galt and K. Rooney, D. Sesti, M. Small, P. Hope ed. Strick, P. Sutton, P.
Vogel, A. Zecchinelli, C. As they carry on, the carriage careers its way along dusty roads, the young man tossed about in the back. A man stands on the docks in New York reading a letter and as he does he sings out loud, to musical accompaniment, a song of his longing for Naples while he is in New York.
When he sings of how his mother, even though he is away from home, still serves out a portion for him at dinner and covers the plate, there is a close-up of her doing so; when he sings of his daughter missing him, we see her crying in bed. He ends the song singing with outstretched arms towards the camera, in a long shot against the Manhattan skyline. The logic of their appearance belongs to the variety structure of rivista.
The — eponymous — song in Lacrime napulitane steers much closer to conventional narrative time and space.
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The shots of dinner being laid and of his daughter are entirely within the temporal conventions of mainstream cinema. There are though, even here, slightly more dislocated elements. The difference in the level of recording, of loudness and reverb, between singing and speech in the film is considerable, with no concern to modulate between the two modes and their implicit spaces of vocal delivery. More striking is the letter he has in his hand.
We have just seen his mother Pupella Maggio writing to him and the letter he is holding looks like one he has just received, yet what he sings is his words to his mother, eliding time and space through the force of a song. Both sequences, and the films to which they belong, foreground the songs, but the earlier film is much more promiscuous with regard to the relation of song to narrative time and space. I am suggesting that this is characteristic of much Italian cinema from the inception of sound to the s, in films that might be perceived as kinds of musical but just as readily as comedies or melodramas.
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Although there are adaptations of forms in which enacted narrative is interspersed with songs that arise from it operetta, musicals notably the shows of Garinei and Giovannini , these were largely unsuccessful and forgot- ten. Although the songs do more or less emanate from what is going on in the story, there is, nonetheless, a sense of pervasiveness. This derives partly from the evident primacy of the song: it is well known already and it occa- sions the story rather than vice versa. It derives also from the idea of Naples as a place in which there is always singing.
Two other forms provide models for a still more fluid handling of song. Opera does not distinguish between spoken and sung narra- tive: everything is sung and in this sense song is everywhere. Even the distinction between recitative and aria, while it demarcates a greater or lesser emphasis on imparting narrative information and melodic expressivity, also allows song and narrative to bleed into one another.
Opera was, moreover, if not quite the popular art its anti-elitist adher- ents like to aver, at any rate in some measure the national music, famil- iar as part of the musical landscape. Sometimes the two are even fused. In Casa Ricordi, Verdi is seen composing I Lombardi alla prima crociata, often seen as prefiguring the Risorgimento, and there are shots of street fighting: from the composition, it is hard to determine whether this is happening in a street framed by an arch, or whether the latter is a proscenium onto a scene of street fighting.
The rivista aesthetic involves a loose structure alternation of musical, comic and speciality acts, chorus routines marking beginning, halfway mark and ending and may involve some stylistic consistency in set design, musical style, the dominance of particular stars , but it does not involve an overall narrative trajectory. Films based on rivista often on actual shows that had had a theatrical success , however, seldom simply reproduce this aesthetic.
There seems to be a felt need to provide nar- rative and it is the combination of the arbitrariness of rivista with the logic of narrative that produces effects of pervasiveness. However, each is given a kind of back-story, suggesting various kinds of ironic relation between the on- and offstage. Battaglia Carlo Crocolo , who portrays a cowardly soldier onstage, proves him- self a hero when called up in the First World War, counterpointed with the patriotic songs of the ongoing show.
Veneziani Vittorio De Sica is a monologist working with his wife Anna Lea Padovani , who acts out the sentimental subjects of his recitations; offstage they squabble, because of his roving eye and his jealousy of her increasing greater stardom; they separate and he falls on hard times, his elegant recita- tions deemed hardly worthy even of provincial avanspettacoli.
Fregoli Alberto Sordi , a quick-change artiste based on an actual star of that name , uses his skills to despatch the four men courting Yvette Lauretta Masiero , the woman he desires, and winds up in her arms. A comic has his routine undermined by a Fascist censor both played by Renato Rascel and develops the visual and dancing humour for which Rascel was famous. Song occurs, centrally or incidentally, in all of these and the acts bleed into the story and vice versa.
An attempt may be made to ground the presentation of the rivista elements into the time-space of the theatre in which they occur. This doubtless springs in part from careless, cheap, opportunistic production circumstances, but it also accords with an aesthetic that is not concerned with spatial-temporal continuity but with variety and change. The weight and influence of the rivista aesthetic can be traced in a number of other related forms.
It formed the basis for a great deal of radio and television programming, and films based on them. As well as song, the show they do consists of dancing and a production number finale, both irrelevant to a radio broadcast: they make of radio a virtual rivista space. Live rivista also took place in cinemas in the form of the avanspettacolo, acts performed before the screening of a film permitting the thinking of the two forms together.
Also important is the tradi- tion of the song contest, beginning in its modern commercial form in Piedigrotta on the outskirts of Naples in the late nineteenth century and then consolidated nationally since in the Sanremo festival a major event in the broadcasting year. Unlike rivista, the contests consisted only of song, but they emphasized the primacy of song, its importance outside of narrative and its availability as a reference point for the audience for popular Italian cinema.
To all of these forms that provide models of pervasiveness — both continuous and discontinuous — must be added the importance of dub- bing in Italian cinema. The voice thus does not belong ineluctably and intimately to the time and space of the body: it can be and technically was elsewhere. One effect of all the above is a surprising tendency to drown singing out temporarily, to privilege other voices and spaces.
Yet it is not uncharacteristic of Italian cinema to seem to say that it is enough that the song is there — there is no need to focus on it. Like many opera-based films, Ave Maria is a backstage story, play- ing on the parallels between onstage and offstage. He falls for it and in the process she genuinely falls in love with him.
However, he discovers the deceit without knowing of the change of heart. Horrified, she leaves the theatre and staggers away, the aria continuing at the same sound level, as full-on accompaniment to her distress. When Tino literally and metaphorically points the finger at Claudette, she clutches her throat in a moment of frozen horror. The throat is the site of the voice: Claudette is a singer and she is being condemned in song. Secondly, in La traviata, Violetta devel- ops tuberculosis after Rodolfo rejects her, an illness signalled especially in coughing.
In the last minutes of the film, Claudette is in hospital, ill and pallid with heartbreak but perhaps also tuberculosis. When she arrives she gazes towards him, as he performs for staff and patients against a radiant background Figures 4. Ave Maria proposes parallels between songs and plot situations, fused in the pathos of its denouement. See Naples and Die suggests a world which is from the start full of song. Wanda is rehearsing the song in a theatre. Marzi is dubbed, but the song is then played on the piano by the rehearsal pianist behind Marisa and Roberto squabbling as she thinks he is taking up with Marisa again and then whistled by Roberto as he starts to shave.
The song is ubiquitous, in the air, not belonging to anyone in particular and tangentially expressing the feelings of the person singing it perhaps Wanda fancies herself as a femme fatale, perhaps Roberto, a womanizer, does despise womankind. The looseness of song in relation to time and space in See Naples and Die is as nothing compared to the dazzling playfulness of Carosello napolitano. Although guided by the principle of variety, this has the overall structure of a very rough chronology of Neapolitan song.
The effect is ratcheted up one step more by the use of images of music as cultural production: sheet music, posters for singing stars, and — a feature of the Neapolitan song market — postcards featuring current hits. All of this is dazzlingly mixed with a secure touch. Let me look at just two sequences from the long central segment, set before and during the First World War and focusing as all the segments do on an unhappy love story, here that between rising star Sisina Sophia Loren and strug- gling composer Luigi Giacomo Rondinella , separated first by her ambi- tious mother Dolores Palumbo and then by his death in the war.
There is an extreme close-up of Sisina — but here also surely we should say of Sophia — her eyes glistening, with a heav- enly choir over in other words, a pure movie moment. She is called onstage to take a bow with the other girls against a cheery patriotic tune — but the heavenly choir music continues over, her mood replac- ing musically that of the stage show.
Here devices specific to cinema — the extreme close-up, the mismatch of diegetic image and non-diegetic music — are brought into play alongside theatre and photography. None of the above is done in a spirit of foregrounding the device or self-reflexivity. The complex handling of song in Carosello napoletano only takes to an exceptional pitch of expression what is also found in Ave Maria and See Naples and Die and so much Italian film up to the s.
There was no lack of song after that, but the sense of pervasiveness falls away. The impact of Sanremo and the development of a hit parade gave rise to what became known as the musicarello, films built around and often named after a current hit. Because of the desire to reproduce the sound of pop there is sometimes a dramatic shift in the recording register between speech and song further emphasized by the fact that the star is often dubbed in their speaking parts ; occasionally this is acknowledged, in, say, a sudden cut to an extreme long shot to show the vast space the singer is filling e.
These, though, stand out as exceptions. One reason for the waning of pervasiveness is, as already mentioned, the importance of the singer doing his or her latest hit, bringing the voice and the body producing it closer together. Another is the influence of classical Hollywood.
A third is neorealism, which, for all its supposed decline, also provided a prestigious model for a naturalistic representa- tion of song. This may be per- ceived as in some sense more real, and yet the model of pervasiveness I have been trying to sketch remains true to the deeply rooted cultural traditions that gave rise to it opera, sceneggiata, rivista , not only their formal organization but even the less than focused attention of their audiences at least if those shown in films such as Ridi pagliaccio! On the issue of the musical as a genre in Italian cinema, see Arcagni, ; and Marlow-Mann, See Arcagni, See Marlow-Mann, , On the opera film, see Casadio, ; and Marlow-Mann, See Arcagni, for a more detailed account.
On this in general, see Giraldi, Lancia and Melelli, For further examples, see my discussion of the use of Gianni Avolanti, announced as one of the attractions in Napoli eterna canzone and of Claudia Villa in the vehicle for him, Quanto sei bella Roma Dyer, 34—5. See Bayman re. See Venturelli, ; Arcagni, ; and Marlow-Mann, The Pervasiveness of Song in Italian Cinema 81 Even in more sedate opera films, such as Ave Maria and Casta Diva , the audience is seen whispering and chatting during a performance, although this is not registered on the soundtrack.
Bibliography Arcagni, S. Il musical cinematografico italiano Alessandria: Edizioni Falsopiano. Bayman, L. Bonfanti, E. Caprara, V. Casadio, G. Giraldi, M. Creekmur and L. Venturelli, R. Just as there are different languages, so are there other culturally dis- tinct ways of manifesting expressivity — an implication made repeatedly when it comes to describing the Italians.
These ideas take us beyond aesthetics to popular behaviour, and to whole tra- ditions of display, performance, music, the demonstration of sentiment and emphasis, which are intimately linked to melodrama. A problem lies, however, in maintaining such broad application of melodrama while sharpening and delineating its features. This task entails methodological problems of categorizing cultural form — namely, of avoiding establishing a set of pre-defined characteristics to which films must conform, whilst maintaining criteria through which to group them.
Melodrama as a broad form Melodrama does not have one definitive form. It is found across high and low culture, in opera and theatre, novels, song, and painting, popu- lar presses and narrative cinema. This mode is consti- tuted by patterns of rhythm, disruption, blockage and tension through which are dramatized the pathos of often everyday experiences of desire and frustration. Structuring this imagination is an individualized and expressive way of knowing, feeling and understand- ing which is particular to the bourgeois era.
Surprisingly little consideration of the fundamentals of the form refers to any great degree to Italy. This is especially so given that the heritage of public spec- tacle and musical drama — of Venetian carnival, Monteverdian opera or bel canto, of the theatrical aspects of Vatican Catholicism, court culture and mass political movements the wellsprings of the aforementioned imputed natural characteristics of Italians — could be placed as points of origin to a number of forms of melodrama. A similar-enough group of films, equally emotionalized and even more important to the post-war domestic box office, can be spotted in the variously termed strappalacrime tear-jerkers , larmoyants weepies , and neorealismo popolare popular neorealism practised by Raffaello Matarazzo amongst others.
Recent accounts of the way in which melodrama permeates Italian cinema have continued to take their focus from within the domestic confines of romantic entanglement, sometimes broadening the scope to make surprising inclusions such as the films of Antonioni for just one example of which, see Morreale, Such broadening, however, brings with it certain problems.
Although the themes and set- tings that preoccupy a filmmaker like Antonioni are similarly personal and romantic to those of the domestic melodrama, the experience of time, drama and emotion in his films seems calculated to drain the events of any actual experience as melodramatic. This chapter starts the other way round, from a sense of obviousness regarding melodrama, seeking ultimately to discern the melodramatic by joining questions of style and aesthetics to more general issues of dramatic worldview.
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And yet what can we suppose they meant by the word? In the first film, Aldo Fabrizi plays Peppino, a fishmonger in the eponymous Roman market square. He falls for a wealthy woman, Elsa, who leads him not only towards the high life but also into an illegal gambling ring, and after a police swoop on her home, he visits her in jail. She approaches Peppino slowly, the prison walls bare but for thick shadows cast by bars.
The orchestral score reaches a climactic cadence as the camera dollies up to her down-turned face. She glances slightly, which together with the camera movement and rising orchestral score suggests a brief glimmer contrasting to her general physicalization of defeat. Shadows pervade the cell as the couple begin to talk, and a plangent melody strikes up on solo violin as Elsa mentions that she has a young son. A low-angle mid-shot frames Peppino within the door- frame, whose wooden immobility returns us to the theme of imprison- ment but now of the abandoned male within the isolation of the home.
In I vitelloni, however, it is one of a range of affective possibilities in a film whose tone changes in turn to mischief, bathos, comedy or wonder, each one like the charac- ters themselves never fully maturing. The examples from Campo show that one does not find melodrama simply in emotional excess, but in the exteriorization of the interior life of the protagonist, through an affective style which contrasts with the confinements at large within the dramatic world. In I vitelloni, one can add that it is not character emotion alone that equals melodrama, but a particular artistic treatment of it.
The drama opens on the secretly preg- nant Miss Mermaid winner Sandra, who faints as a storm breaks over her acceptance of the crown. Then Fausto sees his headscarved male friends outside laughing, which immediately undercuts the melodramatic moment by undermining seriousness. Both films also show how melodrama lies in the physical frustration of a partially expressed energy. While the wire mesh of the beach and the bedroom frames that confine Olga and Alberto in I vitelloni Figure 5. This flow but also proximity is enabled in the for the characters all too often only ideal realms of the heterosexual family unit, outside of which lies only loneliness.
Structuring the conflicted position of the melodramatic protagonist are extremes, both of situation and in visual representation. When Alberto slumps into his armchair he plunges into the shadows that its arms create, with further shadows coming from the window too. Similarly in a later scene, when Fausto and Sandra cry together in the garden they are enveloped by the shadows of trees. Darkness has deep symbolism in terms of mood, atmosphere, night, defeat, solitude, fear and death, but melodramatic lighting also works to create contrasts upon the human face.
Such lighting privileges attention on intimate and personalized situations, and invites a reading of bodily, facial expressions of an unspecified but evidenced emotional life. Stylized, often extra-diegetic and obviously artificial lighting suggests realms that lie beyond the physical reality of the characters. This helps make defeated interiority visible, while melodramatic music renders it audible.
Both music and lighting — in fact, melodramatic style in gen- eral — exteriorize an emotionality privileged by the affective dimensions of film style within a dramatic world whose narrative elements only frustrate it. Although occurring in minor key, because remaining in affective realms beyond the diegesis, such stylistic factors place in an elevated sphere the one property — interiority — over which the most wretched retains dominion.
Melodrama typically expresses a sense of unfairness which is definitive of the popular experience of lack of power. In this situation, formal properties further emphasize the negative situation of the characters, and instead of offering a socially or diegetically realiz- able alternative, suggest fulfilment in realms that lie beyond the actual diegetic situation. These realms are made visible — although not realiz- able — in ways which sympathize with, and are ordered according to, the emotional lives of the outwardly defeated characters.
Apart from immediate fear of her eventual attacker, Maria has little recognizable emotional life, because the melodrama lies in the way that such desolation is imbued with a sense of passage towards a beyond that is never glimpsed, yet is made present stylistically. The family get work, and begin to make some progress on shovel- ling the swamp.
Going through the swamp, and set apart from the rest, Maria starts to sing to the Madonna and a musical theme strikes up, making very few changes but continually moving from its home key towards a higher, unresolved but stable and tenuto pitch, giv- ing a notion of progress through tenacity and offering an affecting counterpoint to the grounding desolation of the vast landscape.
The ridge of water stretches far with a small patch of grassland across the horizon emphasizing the expanse of the sky, the passage thus being suggested as towards the heavens. They then pray. There are no flowers, and of course no music in the actual diegesis after she sings her brief notes, but the presence of music on the sound- track gives an idea of the heaven which so animates her.
This similarity between melodramatic film style and Catholic symbolism is made visual when we see the flowers and hear the music of an actual church service at a later point in the film. The melodramatic lighting contrast here conveys an enveloping, infernal darkness save for Christ. She smiles and turns her face to the light as a spike in the music indicates her death. Around Maria the candlelight casts soft shadows, maintaining a heavenly light on her face while the darkness creeps up her body, associating her sty- listically with the Christ seen at church.
Melodrama is considered not to offer transcendence, because as mentioned with regards to the situ- ations of domestic frustration described above its characters are unable to break out of the restrictions placed upon them. Brooks concludes that melodrama offers the dramatic morality of the modern era: ethics are not referred to God but to human realms Brooks, But key to the film, and to Italian melodrama more generally, is how states of humility, suffering and sacrifice link directly with emotional meanings and processes already central to Catholicism.
As with the previous films mentioned, the weakness and immobility of the main character forms part of a conflict between the facts of the narrative and the expressive properties of the filmic world. At the same time as this character immobility, however, the expressive prop- erties of the film style indicate realms beyond the narrative, which in this instance are those of the divine. It is in this space beyond the world of the film narrative that the strength and fulfilment of the weak lie.
Nowhere is this more evi- dent than in cineopera,9 films based in various ways on opera music and performance, and in which the divine aspect of the expressive realm is associated not as much with heaven but with artistic production itself. Melodrama as Seriousness 91 Casta diva , a late example from the heyday of cineopera, charts the life of Vincenzo Bellini and the development of his work through his unfulfilled relationship with Maddalena. It inspires him to start playing piano, and his performance is intercut with shots of her eyes as she appears, from on high, at the top of the stairs.
He tells his companions that he wishes he could create a poem, or a painting, so as to adequately convey her beauty, serving to confer on artistic creation the function of expressing a deeper because elevated — his music rises up to her — and affective truth than non- artistic reality can offer. Subsequently, los- ing Maddalena in his life leads to creative barrenness before the thought of her re-inspires the heights of feeling of his best music. The film makes opera central to the melodramatic pathos of the romance between the two lovers; a point which is made overt when the two encounter each other later in an opera box during a perform- ance Figure 5.
They grasp hands, holding tight within the box, their Figure 5. Their situa- tion gives a dramatic and personal meaning to the performance which is unwittingly appropriate to their situation. The couple complete their backstage embrace as the onstage aria ends. Ma Yuan celebrates the chaos of life by writing about a mythological Tibet, upholding the uniqueness of that culture as a subtle subversion to the Chinese political and territorial takeover.
Chapter Three looks in greater detail at the images of the Aleph and the Tao in the two main texts against the backdrop of Borgesian thought. That which was earlier posited as the ineffable in these stories is elaborated in a profusion of words. The Conclusion discusses from a Taoist point of view the predominantly male voice in the writings of the two authors. While both advocate the spiritual sameness of all phenomena in an undifferentiated knowledge of the world, they nevertheless write from the male perspective of the yang pursuing and wanting to possess the yin. Calvino, Italo -- Criticism and interpretation Ma, Yuan.
Vancouver : University of British Columbia Library. For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Doctor of Philosophy - PhD. Comparative Literature.