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Mussolini's Dream Factory

Mussolini's Dream Factory: Film Stardom in Fascist Italy

Stephen Gundle
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Mussolini's Dream Factory
    Book Description:

    The intersection between film stardom and politics is an understudied phenomenon of Fascist Italy, despite the fact that the Mussolini regime deemed stardom important enough to warrant sustained attention and interference. Focused on the period from the start of sound cinema to the final end of Fascism in 1945, this book examines the development of an Italian star system and evaluates its place in film production and distribution. The performances and careers of several major stars, including Isa Miranda, Vittorio De Sica, Amedeo Nazzari, and Alida Valli, are closely analyzed in terms of their relationships to the political sphere and broader commercial culture, with consideration of their fates in the aftermath of Fascism. A final chapter explores the place of the stars in popular memory and representations of the Fascist film world in postwar cinema.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-245-4
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    It is a dark, rainy night and a hotel sign is swaying in the wind deep in the countryside. A car pulls up at the garage that is annexed to the hotel and an attendant reluctantly appears. As he grumbles that every passing driver seems to stop here, sounds of music spill out from the hotel. There is a festive atmosphere due, it transpires, to the preparations that are being made for the wedding of the young niece of the hotel’s owners. The girl concerned, Andreina, is trying on her wedding dress and showing it off to her excited friends....

  6. Part I: Fascism, Cinema and Stardom

    • 1 Italian Cinema under Fascism
      (pp. 19-39)

      On the morning of 29 January 1936, Mussolini travelled by car from his office at Palazzo Venezia to the outlying Quadraro district of Rome. The purpose of the trip was to lay the foundation stone of what would become the largest studio complex in Europe, eclipsing even the German UFA studios in Berlin.¹ The dictator liked to be associated with ambitious projects and his presence at the start of the process of construction of the planned new ‘city of cinema’ was carefully stage-managed. Mussolini performed the ceremony surrounded by senior officials including the director general for cinema Luigi Freddi and...

    • 2 The Creation of a Star System
      (pp. 40-66)

      As the issue of the rebirth of Italian cinema came to occupy a place in economic and cultural, and then political, debate, it was inevitable that the question of stars and stardom would be raised. Stars were not only a central feature of many successful films and the focal point around which entire Hollywood studios were organised, but also the main selling point of American movies at a time when these held a dominant place in the international market. Italians did not need to be very old to remember that their cinema had once had its own stars and that...

    • 3 Stars and Commercial Culture
      (pp. 67-95)

      The Fascist regime did not actively promote private consumption since it preferred public investment in industry and infrastructures, such as roads and buildings, as well as foreign conquest. Moreover, it often engaged in ideological battles against modern consumption and its supposedly deleterious effects in terms of promoting a cult of things foreign, undermining conventional gender models and making Italians soft. Mussolini himself often denounced the ideology of comfort and individualism that was associated with consumption. Yet in the post-First World War era, urbanisation, the specialisation and division of labour, the expansion of the category of dependent workers, the erosion of...

    • 4 The Public and the Stars
      (pp. 96-120)

      The matter of popular opinion under Fascism has been approached in a number of ways by historians. The debate that followed Renzo De Felice’s controversial assertion in 1974 that the Fascist regime rested on wide consent among Italians inspired efforts to apply new methods to the study of life under the regime.¹ Victoria De Grazia used social history to explore the role of organised leisure, while Luisa Passerini and Maurizio Gribaudi used oral history to explore popular memories of the period.² Studies of women’s experience of the regime, of young people, as well as life in a range of specific...

  7. Part II: Italian Stars of the Fascist Era

    • 5 The National Star: Isa Miranda
      (pp. 123-143)

      Between the early 1930s and the early 1940s no Italian film actress achieved the degree of national and international recognition that befell Isa Miranda. ‘Isa Miranda represented in that brief cycle of years the only great phenomenon of female stardom of Italian cinema’, Orio Caldiron and Matilde Hockhof ler have written, identifying her stardom as one of the key factors in the affirmation of cinema as a mass spectacle in Italy and as a catalyst of emotions, aspirations, desires and ambitions.¹ The film that launched her and made her name was Max Ophuls’sLa signora di tutti(Everybody’s Lady, 1934),...

    • 6 The Matinée Idol: Vittorio De Sica
      (pp. 144-165)

      By the time of Italy’s entry into the war, Vittorio De Sica’s star status was in decline. In fact, in theCinemapoll of 1940, he finished a distant third in popularity (4,209 votes) behind Amedeo Nazzari (19,020) and Fosco Giachetti (5,481). It was perhaps some consolation that his films did well in the poll and were remembered even several years after their release.¹ Yet, for most of the 1930s, no name had been more guaranteed to draw audiences to the box office than that of the Neapolitan actor whose charm and enthusiasm outweighed what he lacked in terms of...

    • 7 Everybody’s Fiancée: Assia Noris
      (pp. 166-183)

      Of all the female stars of the period, none embodied the idea of the conventional girl-next-door more fully or consistently than Assia Noris. While there was no shortage of young actresses playing subdued, shy, family-oriented young women, only a handful were fortunate enough to develop a screen persona that was reinforced over time in a series of lead roles in films which resonated with the public. With her doll-like features and blonde hair, exotic accent and ready tendency to tears, Noris appealed to young men who saw her as an ideal fiancée, to older women who wanted to mother her,...

    • 8 The Star as Hero: Amedeo Nazzari
      (pp. 184-202)

      In 1938 Amedeo Nazzari made the defining film of his career, the film that would establish him as Italy’s leading male star and win an enduring place for him in the hearts of the country’s women.Luciano Serra pilota(Luciano Serra, Pilot, Goffredo Alessandrini, 1938) was no ordinary film. It was the most successful and striking example of the type of propaganda that the Fascist regime regarded as most effective in the field of the feature film. It avoided any explicit reference to Fascism while making subtle and implicit connections to the social and political order. Organised and supervised by...

    • 9 The Uniformed Role Model: Fosco Giachetti
      (pp. 203-223)

      Born in 1900, seven years before Nazzari, Fosco Giachetti enjoyed a career that was in many superficial respects similar to that of the man he would work with on just two films, the war filmBengasi(Augusto Genina, 1941) set in North Africa, and the postwar film version of the Risorgimento dramaRomanticismo(Romanticism, Clemente Fracassi, 1950). An actor who became best known for his roles in uniform, he embodied the same sort of unflinching sense of duty and honour as Nazzari in his military films. He too was often a man alone, who either disdained the ties and obligations...

    • 10 The Photogenic Beauty: Alida Valli
      (pp. 224-243)

      Mille lire al mese(One Thousand Lire Per Month, Max Neufeld, 1939), a frothy comedy of errors set in a Budapest television station, is the film that more than any other has been taken to encapsulate the popular cinema of the Fascist period. With its pastiche Hungarian setting but comfortingly familiar faces and relationships,¹ its theme rooted in petit bourgeois aspirations (the sum referred to in the title was the average salary of a white-collar worker) and gay atmosphere, it was a typical example of the unpretentious, workmanlike comedies that were churned out by the Cinecittà studios to divert the...

    • 11 The Duce’s Whim: Miria Di San Servolo
      (pp. 244-258)

      Myriam Petacci, younger sister of Mussolini’s lover Claretta, made her screen debut at the age of eighteen in 1942 in the dramaLe vie del cuore(Ways of the Heart). Directed by Camillo Mastrocinque, who had previously made some thirteen features, the film was a costumed melodrama in which she played Anna, a young duchess who, having been diagnosed with scarlet fever, is sent to her father’s villa to recover. There she attracts the attentions of her father’s friends, in particular of Count Ermanno Navarria, played by the handsome and elegant Sandro Ruffini, who spurns his established lover, played by...

  8. Part III: The Aftermath of Stardom

    • 12 Civil War, Liberation and Reconstruction
      (pp. 261-277)

      With the fall of Mussolini in July 1943, the Fascist dictatorship came to an end and film-making in Rome was brought to a halt. Although work continued at several private studios, no new films would go into production at Cinecittà until 1948. Thus the machine that had furnished Italians with a regular stream of new movies came to a standstill. For the actors, these events were disorienting. Many of the young women were scarcely aware of the world beyond cinema. They had had no political education and considered themselves too young to take a serious interest in politics. ‘I was...

    • 13 Survival, Memory and Forgetting
      (pp. 278-296)

      The relationship between history and memory is invariably an unstable one since, while history has conventionally been seen as rigorous, documented and fundamentally truthful, memory has been regarded as subjective, unreliable and sometimes remote from the truth. As John Foot observes in his history of Italy’s ‘divided memory’, twentieth-century Italian history has rarely, if ever, given rise to universally accepted versions of events and this applies most of all to the experiences of Fascism, war and civil war.¹ Dominant interpretations have not only taken shape in contrast to alternatives but also alongside and sometimes in opposition to a variety of...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-310)
  10. Index
    (pp. 311-324)