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Italian cinema from fascism to the cold war: the rise and fall of neo-realism

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BA in Film and Literature/ BA in Film Studies

Autumn Term 2015



Lecturer: Stephen Gundle

Seminar tutor: Owen Weetch

This part of the course will be devoted to understanding the development and decline of Italian Neorealism, a cinematic movement that broadly lasted from 1945 to 1952 (although its influence continued long afterwards). The focus will be on a diverse group of Neorealist films and the cultural, social and political context in which they were made and exhibited, namely Italy following the fall of Mussolini’s Fascist regime.
In the first part of the course we shall be looking at a selection of films made in the years immediately before the fall of Fascism. Some of these films of the late Fascist period exhibit critical features that would be further developed through Neorealism. In exploring them, we need to bear in mind Fascism’s own plans for harnessing cinema to its vision of national development.
In the second part of the course we shall be examining Neorealism in detail, exploring a key moment in film history whose products are characterised by specific aesthetic properties which were seen as conveying ‘authenticity’ and ‘truth’. We shall consider Neorealism as a phenomenon which was marked by an attempt to break away from both the models of entertainment and representation of the Fascist era and the dominant industrial forms of cinema (including Hollywood).
One of our aims will be to assess the measure of success it achieved. Another will be to explore Neorealism as a crucial contributor to the development of a distinctive Italian national cinema free of the subservience to foreign models that marked much of the cinema of the earlier era. In doing this, we shall reflect on a specific historical conjuncture and the opportunities and obstacles it presented for film makers. We shall examine the relationship between the films featured and the social, political and cultural issues of the period in which they were made.
Three directors feature strongly on the course: Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica. The three were very different in terms of their backgrounds, approaches to film-making, and political attitudes. But they shared a belief in the years around the end of the war in a type of cinema that aspired to ‘tell the truth’, share collective concerns, and participate in the democratic reconstruction of the country. They sided with the poor and the powerless and through this signalled their engagement with the great issues facing the country. To achieve this, they tried to escape the conventions of commercial film-making and to explore way of making cinema more immediate and realistic.
Inevitably, Neorealism involved compromises with existing forms of film-making not to mention distribution and exhibition. The films belonging to this school were not made on the cheap and they were largely the work of professionals. They included in addition to drama and tragedy, elements of humour and spectacle, as well as melodrama. Furthermore, the movement, which was broadly hostile to stars, bred stars of its own, with whom sections of the audience identified strongly.
Although the demise of Fascism and the politics of national unity favoured the neorealist project, the onset of the Cold War undermined some of its key premises. Political, aesthetic and industrial considerations all contributed to its demise.

Lecture: 13.00 – 14.00 Monday

Seminars: Tuesday, various times

Screenings: 14.00-16.00 Monday. All films are shown in Italian with English sub-titles.
Please note that lectures are intended to provide you with a general overview. Each week attention will be paid to the week’s film, its production history, and to the social and political context in which it was made and released. You should take notes.
Seminars provide you with the opportunity to ask questions, express your views and clarify issues. You should be prepared to intervene actively. Each week there will be a reading that you should go through carefully before your seminar. Please note that your reading does not begin and end with the week’s assigned text. It is expected that you will read widely from the reading list in your own time and especially when preparing your essay.

There will be one examination of 2 hours on both parts of the module (ie Autumn term and Spring term). The mark achieved by your two answers (one on each term’s work) will count for 60%. The examination questions on Italian cinema will focus solely on Part II (see the schedule below) of this part of the module (i.e. weeks 4-10).
Essays: you write one essay of 3,000 words. All questions will relate to Part I of the course only (ie weeks 1-3). Questions will be circulated in week 2. The essay deadline is 12.00 on Monday 16 November 2014 (week 7).


Week 1
Film: Quattro passi tra le nuvole/ Four Steps in the Clouds, dir.: Alessandro Blasetti (1942)
Lecture: Blasetti and the State Institutions of Cinema
Seminar reading: Seminar reading: J. Reich, ‘Mussolini at the Movies’ in Reich, J. and Garofalo, P. (eds.), Re-viewing Fascism: Italian Cinema, 1922-43, pp.3-29

Week 2
Film: I bambini ci guardano/The Children are Watching Us, dir.: Vittorio De Sica (1943)
Lecture: De Sica as Actor and as Director
Seminar reading: G.Toles, ‘On a Train to the Kingdom of the Earth: Watching De Sica’s Children’ in B.Cardullo (ed.), Vittorio De Sica: Contemporary Perspectives, pp.101-29

Week 3
Film: Ossessione (Obsession), dir.: Luchino Visconti (1943)
Lecture: The Critique of Fascism
Seminar Reading: G.Nowell-Smith, Visconti (chapter on Ossessione)

Week 4
Film: Roma città aperta/Rome Open City, dir.: Roberto Rossellini (1945)
Lecture: The Birth of Neorealism and the Shadows of War and Dictatorship
Seminar readings: C.Wagstaff, ‘Rossellini and Neorealism’ in Forgacs, D. Lutton, S. and Nowell-Smith, G. (eds.), Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real, pp.36-49; M.Wood, ‘Anna Magnani’ in Sieglhor, U.(ed.), Heroines Without Heroes

Week 5
Film: Paisa/Paisan, dir.: Roberto Rossellini (1946)
Lecture: The Discovery of Italy: Neorealism as Method
Seminar reading: K.Schoonover, ‘Neorealism at a distance’, in T.Trifonova (ed.), European Film Theory, pp.301-18

Additional recommended viewing: A Bell for Adano (Henry King, 1945)

Week 6: Reading Week
Week 7
Film: Sciuscià (Shoeshine), dir.: Vittorio De Sica (1946)
Lecture: De Sica as Neorealist: Observation and Engagement
Seminar reading: C. Zavattini, ‘A Thesis on Neorealism’ in D.Overbey (ed). Springtime in Italy, pp.67-78

Week 8
Film: Bitter Rice/Riso amaro, dir.: Giuseppe De Santis (1949)
Lecture: Neorealism and the Postwar Impact of Hollywood
Seminar reading: extract from S.Gundle, Bellissima: Feminine Beauty and the Idea of Italy, pp.107-24

Week 9
Film: Bellissima, Dir.: Luchino Visconti (1951)
Lecture: Neorealism and the Critique of Cinema
Seminar reading: M.Marcus, ‘Visconti’s Bellissima: The Diva, The Mirror, the Screen’ Chap 2 of After Fellini: National Cinema in the Postmodern Age

Week 10
Film: Umberto D, dir. Vittorio De Sica (1952)
Lecture: The End of Neorealism
Seminar reading: D. Forgacs, ‘The Making and Unmaking of Neorealism in Postwar Italy’ in N.Hewitt (ed.), The Culture of Reconstruction
Germania anno zero/Germany year zero, dir.: Roberto Rossellini (1947)

Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves, dir.: Vittorio De Sica (1948)

Miracolo a Milano/Miracle in Milan, dir.: Vittorio De Sica (1951)

La terra trema/The Earth Trembles, dir. Luchino Visconti (1949)

You should plan to read about contemporary Italian history and culture as well as about the films and the directors we shall be studying. Part I of this reading list points you towards survey materials. Part II lists books about neo-realism. Part III refers to the main directors on the course. Part IV provides suggestions for reading on specific political and cultural topics.



Vitali, V and Willeman, P. Theorising National Cinema

Hill, J. and Rockett, K, (eds.) Film History and National Cinema

Cook, J, Higson and the concept of national cinema

Higson, A. Waving the Flag: Constructing a national cinema in Britain

Sorlin, P., The Film in History: Restaging the Past

Sorlin P., European Cinemas, European Societies

Ellwood, D., The Movies as History: Visions of the Twentieth Century

Rosenstone, R., History on Film, Film on History

Chapman, J., Film and History
Bondanella, P., Italian Cinema From Neorealism to the Present

Bondanella, P. A History of Italian Cinema

Brunetta, G.P. The History of Italian Cinema

Landy, M., Italian Film

Liehm, M., Passion and Defiance: film in Italy from 1942 to the present

Wood, M., Italian Cinema

Sorlin, P., Italian National Cinema, 1896-1996


Ginsborg, P., A History of Contemporary Italy, 1943-88

Dunnage, J. Twentieth Century Italy: A Social History

Clark, M., Modern Italy, 1871-1995

Duggan, C., A Concise History of Italy

Duggan, C., The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796


Forgacs, D & Gundle, S., Mass Culture and Italian Society from Fascism to the Cold War

Forgacs, D. Italian Culture in the Industrial Era 1880 -1980

Baranski, Z & Lumley, R., (eds.), Culture and Conflict in Postwar Italy (chap by Gundle)

Forgacs, D. & Lumley, R. (eds.), Italian Cultural Studies (chaps by Wagstaff, Gundle)

Gundle, S. Bellissima: Feminine Beauty and the Idea of Italy

Gundle, S. `Visions of Prosperity: Consumerism and Popular Culture in Italy from the 1920s to the 1950s' in Levy, C. and Roseman, M. (eds.), Three Postwar Eras in Comparison: Western Europe 1918 – 1945 - 1989

Gundle, S., Death and the Dolce Vita: The Dark Side of Rome in the 1950s

Gundle, S., Mussolini’s Dream Factory: Film Stardom in Fascist Italy

Ricci, S., Cinema & Fascism: Italian Film and Society, 1922-1943

Hay, J., Popular Film Culture in Fascist Italy

Landy, M., Fascism in Film: Italian Commercial Cinema, 1931-1943

Landy, M., The Folklore of Consensus: Theatricality in the Italian Cinema, 1930-1943

Reich, J. and Garofalo, P. (eds.), Re-Viewing Fascism: Italian Cinema 1922-1943

Forgacs, D. and Gundle, S., Mass Culture and Italian Society from Fascism to the Cold War

Ben-Ghiat, R., Fascist Modernities: Italy 1922-1945

Ben-Ghiat, R., Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema
Wagstaff, C., Italian Neorealist Cinema

Bayman, L., The Operatic and the Everyday in Postwar Italian Film Melodrama

Cardullo, B. (ed.), André Bazin and Italian Neorealism

Schoonover, K., Brutal Vision: The neorealist body in postwar Italian cinema

Overbey, D . (ed.), Springtime in Italy: A Reader on Neo-realism

Forgacs, D., ‘The Making and Unmaking of Neorealism in Postwar Italy’ in Hewitt, N. (ed.), The Culture of Reconstruction

Wagstaff, C., ‘The Place of Neorealism in Italian Cinema from 1945 to 1954’ in Hewitt, N. (ed.), The Culture of Reconstruction

Gundle, S., `From Neorealism to Luci rosse: Cinema, Politics, Society 1945   85' in Baranski, Z. and Lumley, R. (eds.), Culture and Conflict in Postwar Italy: Essays on Mass and Popular Culture

Monticelli, S. ‘Italian Postwar Cinema and Neorealism in Hill, J. and Church Gibson, P. (eds.), Oxford Guide to Film Studies

Marcus, M., Italian Cinema in the Light of Neorealism (Introduction)

Ruberto, L & Wilson, K., Italian Neorealism and Global Cinema

Shiel, M., Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City

Lichtner, G., Fascism in Italian Cinema Since 1945

Minghelli, G., Landscape and Memory in Post-Fascist Italian Film

Craig, S.S., Cinema After Fascism: The Shattered Screen


Roberto Rossellini
Brunette, P. Roberto Rossellini

Ranvaud, D. (ed.), Roberto Rossellini

Bondanella, P., The Films of Roberto Rossellini

Forgacs, D. Roma città aperta

Gallagher, T. The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini

Forgacs, D. Sarah Lutton, S. and Nowell-Smith, G. (eds.), Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real

Rossellini, I. In the Name of the Father

Gottlieb, S. (ed.), Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City

Vittorio De Sica
Curle, H. & Snyder, S. (eds.), Vittorio De Sica: Contemporary Perspectives

Cardullo, B., Vittorio De Sica: director, actor, screenwriter

Gordon, R.S.C., Bicycle Thieves
Luchino Visconti
Nowell-Smith, G., Luchino Visconti

Tonetti, C., Luchino Visconti

Servadio, G., Luchino Visconti: a biography

Stirling, M., A Screen of Time

Gundle, S. Mussolini’s Dream Factory: Film Stardom in Fascist Italy

Wood, M. ‘Anna Magnani’ in Sieglhor, U.(ed.), Heroines Without Heroes

Gundle, S. `Saint Ingrid at the Stake: Stardom and Scandal in the Bergman-Rossellini Collaboration' in Forgacs, D., Lutton, S. and Nowell-Smith, G. (eds.), Roberto Rossellini: Magician of the Real

Gundle, S. `Film Stars and Society in Fascist Italy' in Garofalo, P. and Reich, J. (eds.), Re-viewing Fascism: Italian Cinema 1922-43

Landy, M. Stardom Italian Style

Masi, S. & E.Lancia Italian Movie Goddesses

Morgan, R. The Fall of Mussolini

Bosworth, R. Mussolini

Bosworth, R. Mussolini’s Italy

Mack Smith, D. Mussolini

Ben-Ghiat, R. Fascist Modernities: Italy 1922-45

Falasca-Zamponi, S. Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy

Duggan, C. Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Italian Fascism

Gundle, S et al (eds) The Cult of the Duce: Mussolini and the Italians

De Grazia, V. How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy 1922-45

Resistance and Reconstruction

Ginsborg, P. History of Contemporary Italy (chaps 1 - 3)

Cooke, P. The Legacy of the Italian Resistance

Lamb, R. War in Italy

Ellwood, D.W. Italy 1943 – 1945

Woolf, S. (ed) The Rebirth of Italy (chaps by Warner, Quazza)

Mammarella, G. Italy after Fascism

Travis, D. `Italy' in Judt. T. (ed.) Resistance

Clark, M. Modern Italy 1871 - 1982 (Chap 15)

Ginsborg History of Contemporary Italy (Chap 3)

Ellwood, D. Rebuilding Europe

Allum, P. 'Italy' in McCauley, M. (ed.), Communist Power in Europe 1944 – 1948

Mammarella, G. Italy after Fascism

Gundle, S. `The “Civic Religion” of the Resistance in Postwar Italy', Modern Italy, 5:2, 2000, 113-32

Patterns of Postwar Party Politics

Gundle, S & Parker, S (eds.), The New Italian Republic

Farneti, P. The Italian party System (1945 – 1980)

Hine, D. Governing Italy (chaps 3 and 4)

Gundle, S. `Italy' in Butler, D., and Ranney A.

(eds.) Electioneering

The Christian Democrats (DC) and the Catholic Church

Ginsborg, P. History of Contemporary Italy (Chap 5)

Clark, M. Modern Italy (Chap 16)

Allum, P. Politics and Society in Postwar Naples

Jemolo, A.C. Church and State in Italy

Hine, D. Governing Italy (Chaps 2,3)

The Communist Party (PCI)
Gundle, S Between Hollywood and Moscow: the Italian Communists and the Challenge of Mass Culture, 1943-91

Ginsborg History of Contemporary Italy (Chap 6)

Sassoon, D. The Strategy of the Italian Communist Party

Hine, D. Governing Italy (Chaps 3, 4)

Hellman, S. `Italian Communism in the First Republic' in Gundle and Parker, The New Italian Republic

The Idea of America

De Grazia, V. `Mass Culture and Sovereignty: The American Challenge to European Cinemas, 1920-60', Journal of Modern History 61 (1989)

Ellwood, D. W. Rebuilding Europe

Ellwood, D. W. Italy 1943 – 45

Duggan, C. & Italy in the Cold War (chaps by Zamagni and Wagstaff)

Gundle, S. Bellissima: Feminine Beauty and the Idea of Italy (chap 5)

Gundle, S. `Memory and Identity: Popular Culture in Postwar Italy' in McCarthy, P. (ed.), Italy Since 1945

Gundle, S. `Hollywood Glamour and Mass Consumption in Postwar Italy' in Kushnar, R. (ed.), Histories of Leisure

Women and Family
De Grazia, V. How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy 1922-45

Hellman, J. Journeys Among Women

Caldwell, L. Italian Family Matters

Clark, M. Modern Italy (relevant sections)

Ciorni, M. and Visions and Revisions: Women in Italian Culture

Prunster, N.(eds.)

Morris, P. (ed.) Women in Italy, 1945-1960

Willson, P. Women in Twentieth Century Italy

Gundle, S. Bellissima: Feminine Beauty and the Idea of Italy

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