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Hollywood's Italian American Filmmakers

Hollywood's Italian American Filmmakers: Capra, Scorsese, Savoca, Coppola, and Tarantino

Jonathan J. Cavallero
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 232
  • Book Info
    Hollywood's Italian American Filmmakers
    Book Description:

    Hollywood's Italian American Filmmakers explores the different ways in which Italian American directors from the 1920s to the present have responded to their ethnicity. While some directors have used film to declare their ethnic roots and create an Italian American "imagined community," others have ignored or even denied their background. Jonathan J. Cavallero examines the films of Frank Capra, Martin Scorsese, Nancy Savoca, Francis Ford Coppola, and Quentin Tarantino with a focus on what the films reveal about each director's view on Italian American identities. Whereas Capra's films highlight similarities between immigrant characters and WASP Americans, Scorsese accepts his ethnic heritage but also sees it as confining. Many of Coppola's films provide a nostalgic treatment of Italian American identity, with little criticism of the culture's more negative aspects. And while Savoca's movies reveal her artful ability to recognize how ethnic, gender, and class identities overlap, Tarantino's films exhibit a playfully postmodern engagement with Italian American ethnicity._x000B__x000B_Cavallero's exploration of the films of Capra, Scorsese, Savoca, Coppola, and Tarantino demonstrates how immigrant Italians fought prejudice, how later generations positioned themselves in relation to their predecessors, and how the American cinema, usually seen as a cultural institution that works to assimilate, has also served as a forum where assimilation was resisted.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09319-7
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    “Team!” That is what that olive-skinned, tuxedo-clad man muttered just before the wooden baseball bat cracked the back of his skull. He fell forward onto a white cloth that shrouded a massive oval-shaped dining table. Again, the bat cracked the back of the man’s head, and the guests at this luxurious dinner party mumbled “Jesus” as Al Capone’s repeated blows spawned a pool of blood that stained the white tablecloth and the mind of this impressionable eleven-year-old viewer.

    Brian De Palma’s filmThe Untouchables(1987), an R-rated movie that I got to see in the theater because my dad was...

  5. 1 Frank Capra: Ethnic Denial and Its Impossibility
    (pp. 11-44)

    In 1978, Dominic Candeloro wrote to Frank Capra asking him to be a speaker in the Italian American program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Capra denied Candeloro’s request in a lengthy letter, writing:

    Many times intellectual people ask me if my Italian heritage had anything to do with my work. And frankly, I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. The word heritage evokes memories and spiritual experiences with the cultured heroes of the past. I never had such experiences. I am very proud to have been born an Italian, very proud of all the great men...

  6. 2 Martin Scorsese: Confined and Defined by Ethnicity
    (pp. 45-76)

    Over a pitch-black screen, Martin Scorsese’s voice intones, “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit, and you know it.” Charlie (Harvey Keitel), a twentysomething Italian American, bolts upright from his dream, wipes his eyes, and walks to a mirror. A handheld camera, which mimics documentary techniques and foreshadows the film’s interest in the day-to-day lives of its characters, pans to follow him across his tiny room. We watch as, still half asleep, Charlie gazes intently at his reflected visage, trying to make sense...

  7. 3 Nancy Savoca: Ethnicity, Class, and Gender
    (pp. 77-98)

    When you ask Nancy Savoca if she considers herself to be Italian American, she laughs and says, “Yes and no. And yes and no. And yes and no.” Unlike Capra and Scorsese, Savoca’s ethnic roots are a little more garbled. “I think that there is a very specific thing that people think about when they think of the Italian American experience,” she says. “I have some of that experience, but I also have a really different experience. My parents came here from Argentina. . . . My father is Italian, born in Sicily, but was raised in Argentina.” Savoca’s parents...

  8. 4 Francis Ford Coppola: Ethnic Nostalgia in the Godfather Trilogy
    (pp. 99-124)

    InThe Godfather, Part II, ten-year-old Vito Andolini (Oreste Baldini) flees Corleone, Sicily, where Mafia chieftains are attempting to kill him. He arrives at Ellis Island and undergoes what many consider to be the typical experience of American immigrants. First, Andolini encounters an immigration official who does not speak Italian and who, in his haste and lack of interest, renames him Vito Corleone. Then Vito sees a doctor, is diagnosed with smallpox, and is quarantined. The sequence concludes with Vito entering a small room, walking up to its window, and staring out at the Statue of Liberty (fig. 12). In...

  9. 5 Quentin Tarantino: Ethnicity and the Postmodern
    (pp. 125-150)

    “Butch, I got something for ya,” saysPulp Fiction’s (1994) Captain Koons as he sits down in front of a young boy whose TV viewing he has interrupted. He holds up a gold watch and proceeds to recount its history as a family heirloom. Bought by Butch’s great-grandfather just before he entered World War I, the watch became a wartime good-luck charm and a postwar keepsake that was passed to the next generation of Coolidges when Butch’s grandfather entered World War II. Before he was killed, Butch’s grandfather asked a man he had never met before to deliver the watch...

  10. Conclusion: Ancestral Legacies and History’s Lessons
    (pp. 151-164)

    There is a connection between the ways we think about ethnicity and the ways in which the movies represent ethnic identities. It is not as simple as the movies show us Italian gangsters, and therefore audiences assume that all Italiansaregangsters. Among other factors, real-life experiences of Italian ethnicity and real-life interactions with Italian Americans affect individual readings of mediated images. Nonetheless, regardless of background or experiences, the movies can and do affect our perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world.

    I began this study with my reactions as an eleven-year-old to Brian De Palma’s filmThe Untouchables. In...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 165-192)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-212)
  13. Index
    (pp. 213-219)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 220-220)