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The Body in the Mirror

The Body in the Mirror: Shapes of History in Italian Cinema

Angela Dalle Vacche
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 324
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  • Book Info
    The Body in the Mirror
    Book Description:

    This rich, wide-ranging book explores Italy's national film style by relating it closely to politics and to the historicist thought of Croce, Gentile, and Gramsci. Here is a new kind of film history--a nonlinear, intertextual approach that confronts the total story of the growth of a national cinema while challenging the traditional formats of general histories and period studies. Examining Italian silent films of the fascist era through neorealism to modernist filmmaking after May 1968, Angela Dalle Vacche reveals opera and the commedia dell'arte to be the strongest influences. As she presents the whole history of Italian cinema from the standpoint of a dialectic between these two styles, she offers brilliant interpretations of individual films. The "body in the mirror" is the national self-image on the screen, which changes shape in response to historical and political context. To discover how the nation represents, understands, and recognizes this fictional "body," Dalle Vacche discusses changes in the strongest parameters of Italian cinema: allegory, spectacle, body, history, unity, and continuity. In her hands these concepts yield a wealth of insights for film scholars, art historians, political scientists, and those concerned with cultural studies in general, as well as for other educated readers interested in Italian cinema.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6254-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
    (pp. 3-17)

    Although Italian films are intelligible to international audiences, my purpose inThe Body in the Mirroris to explore what is unique in Italian culture and how it is translated to the screen. This study, then, will focus on origins and influences. Neither a general history, nor an intense examination of a single period, it will explore what one may learn about Italian cinema if one brings to it a consciousness both of the strength of the historicist orientation in twentieth-century Italian intellectual life and of the importance this orientation grants to an understanding of origins and cultural sources. For...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Fascism before World War I, after World War I, and after World War II
    (pp. 18-56)

    In 1928, under Fascist rule, Benedetto Croce (1866–1952) published hisHistory of Italy from 1871 to 1915.¹ In this book, the Neapolitan philosopher describes the newly born Italian nation in a positive light. Croce also establishes a relation of continuity between the yearning for “liberty” expressed by the Risorgimento and Giovanni Giolitti’s (1842–1928) modern state. In those days, Italy was under the control of a liberal, upper-bourgeois-aristocratic oligarchy. For Croce the Risorgimento was a successful phase of civic awakening, paying little attention to the fact that the northern Italian upper bourgeoisie benefited from the “national” movement for unification...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Fascism after May 1968
    (pp. 57-92)

    The restrained acting style of Jean-Louis Trintignant in Bernardo Bertolucci’sThe Conformist(1970)¹ recalls the stiffness of Carmine Gallone’s kitsch statue inScipio Africanus(fig. 10). Trintignant’s Marcello Clerici models his public self in the image of the perfect Fascist citizen. Clerici supports the regime to hide a homosexual encounter during his childhood. This experience haunts the adult Marcello as a sin that cannot be erased. This sexual initiation stands as an indelible origin, a fathering principle of his male identity. The inescapable circularity of the past with the present leads Marcello to hide his homosexuality until the fall of...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Risorgimento before World War II
    (pp. 93-120)

    The intertextuality of Giovanni Pastrone’sCabiria(1914) and Carmine Gallone’sScipio Africanus(1937) illustrates Luigi Salvatorelli’s claim of continuity between Giovanni Giolitti’s and Benito Mussolini’s Italy. Renzo De Felice’s distinction between fascism as a movement in the 1920s and Fascism as a regime in the 1930s emerges from a comparison of Maciste’s athletic body with Scipio’s statuesque features. Yet, the image of a statue is but a partial and surface description of the Fascist body politic. Under the marble, something in the 1930s moved toward neorealism. In Alessandro Blasetti’s 1860 (1933),¹ the mobilization of the statue becomes apparent due to...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Risorgimento after World War II
    (pp. 121-155)

    InSenso(1954), Luchino Visconti teases out conflicts in the Italian identity due to class, region, and sexual differences. By staging a political betrayal and an adulterous relationship between a Venetian countess, Livia Serpieri (Alida Valli), and an Austrian officer, Franz Mahler (Farley Granger), Visconti shows the victory of private desire over patriotic duty. The discrepancy between a personal, illusory body erotic and a national, imaginary body politic emerges from the way in which Visconti weaves together the spectacular-allegorical styles of opera and neorealism. This weave of different styles, however, is not even between opera and neorealism. InSenso,opera...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Risorgimento after May 1968
    (pp. 156-179)

    In contrast to Rossellini’s anti-operatic style and Crocean stance, withSensoVisconti brought Gramsci to the cinema and returned to opera. Born from a phase of involution within neorealism,Sensoanticipates the composite style of recent Italian cinema. Visconti invokes the legacy of fascist cinema with his operatic style. Yet, in line with a neorealist interest in structures of long duration, Visconti shows that sexual passion destabilizes political identity. It is as if the body erotic were driving a wedge into history, thus exposing the artificiality of the body politic summoned by opera and by the popular knowledge of the...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Resistance after World War II and after May 1968
    (pp. 180-218)

    Gallone’s Scipio embodies inhuman ideals. The Fascist statue is compact and timeless. This monument refers to an opaque essence, an idea without inner light. The characters ofOpen City(1945),Paisà(1946), andVoyage to Italy(1953) reveal, in contrast, that the neorealist body of Roberto Rossellini’s cinema is frail and transitory. At the end of World War II, the male statue began to move again, and became vulnerable. InOpen City,the Nazis interrogate the communist partisan Manfredi. He looks like a suffering Christ (fig. 37). Manfredi’s tortured body strikes a note of contrast with the metallic armor in...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Antifascism after May 1968
    (pp. 219-250)

    The generational conflicts of May 1968 hover overSpider’s Stratagem(1970), a film produced in 1970 by R.A.I., the Italian state television network.¹ More specifically, the late 1960s and the early 1970s were years of great interest in the past, but also of rebellion against the authority of fathers. Within this Oedipal climate, Bernardo Bertolucci set out to explore the ambiguities of antifascism. The filmmaker interrogates the neorealist style of postwar Italian cinema and challenges the theme of historical continuity, which is operative in the right-wing as well as in the left-wing postwar historiography of antifascism. Postwar popular historical knowledge...

  13. CONCLUSION: Nouvelle Histoire, Italian Style
    (pp. 251-284)

    The casting of non-professional actors in neorealist cinema opened up a new way of thinking about the representation of history. Reflecting on the non-professional actors cast by Rossellini inPaisà(1946) for the episode set in the Po Valley, Gian Piero Brunetta writes:

    History passes over the body of these characters and even today . . . we are struck by the perfect congruence of all elements and by the perception of a profound change in an apparentlyimmobilelandscape andbody politic. . . with one blow, Italian cinemashakes offa whole literary and theatrical tradition and,...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-300)
  15. Index
    (pp. 301-306)