13 December 2014

Io sono l'amore (2009)

i Recchi


Every now and then, a contemporary Italian film gem reveals itself and reminds me why I love Italian cinema. Director Luca Guadagnino's film Io sono l'amore is one such film which deserves attention for its craft, story, and sense of audacity (see also Melissa P. for another amazing Guadagnino film).


The film does not have much of a plot to speak of, but focuses on a minutiae of events that occur in languid succession in and around contemporary Milan. The focus is on the Recchi family, a symbolic powerhouse of the Italian manufacturing sector. Unlike films from the postwar years in which the factory workers would be central narrative figures, the Recchi factory is overshadowed by the events that occur within the family, in their palace.  The palace is really a secluded, somewhat dull fortress-house in central Milan. Tilda Swinton plays Emma, a Russian bride who married into the powerful family and remains somewhat outside of the family rules. Her children are growing and changing, and she finds herself becoming increasingly restless after the death of the family patriarch signals a shift in family politics. Emma becomes unstoppably attracted to the cook Antonio, played by Edoardo Gabbriellini, a close friend of her son. As her attraction becomes more intense she begins an emotionally deep and physical affair with Antonio, however going out of her way to hide it. Eventually her son discovers that his best friend and mother are having an affair, and the movie comes to a quick and intense climax.

Nick Vivarelli writes in a 2011 issue of Variety that "Guadagnino's Tilda Swinton-starrer is an awards-season standout, landing a Golden Globes nomination, a British Independant Film Awards nod, and six BAFTA longlist bids, besides making several prix lists and pulling in over $5 million stateside via Magnolia Pictures." And yet despite being given rave reviews by the upper echelons of the festival circuit, Io sono l'amore's success waned after it lost out to the other Italian contender for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards, Paolo Virzì's La prima cosa bella (2010). For now it remains among one of the better 'art films' that Italy has ever produced, in my opinion.

Muted colors provide contrast as the story gets wild
And of course there is Tilda Swinton. Not just any Tilda Swinton, but Tilda Swinton playing a Russian-turned-Milanese factory giant's wife who speaks in northern Italian dialect. It is a rare phenomenon when international stars appear in Italian films and speak in fluent Italian. Her demeanor is demure, maternal, conservative, respectable. In short, she is everything a noblewoman ought to be and a prize catch at that. Her austere physique, highlighted by prominent bones and luxurious Italian textiles, is paired with an undercurrent of deep internal unrest. Swinton does a fabulous job of combining all of these qualities into a complex, unique character. To top it off, the excellent casting of Emma's daughter Elisabetta, played by Alba Rohrwacher, balances Emma's rigid demeanor.

I highly recommend a watch for the technique alone, but the story is also one of a kind and worth the time.



References

Io sono l'amore. Dir. Luca Guadagnino. First Sun/Mikado Film, 2009. 120 min  

Weissberg, Jay. "Review: I Am Love." Variety, 2009. http://variety.com/2009/film/reviews/i-am-love-1200476375/



06 December 2014

Lion of Thebes (1964)

Helen is often shown dependent on her potential mate...
Il leone di Tebe, popularized as Lion of Thebes, is a peplum film made in 1964, right at the genre's peak success. However, the skyrocket success of the first Italian westerns in the mid-60's soon diminished the peplums' popularity and consequently their studio time.

Lion of Thebes is a typical peplum. Fleeing by boat, Helen of Troy escapes her city's destruction with Aryan, a former lieutenant in the army. They shipwreck near Egypt. Days later, both destitute and lost in the desert, they get picked up by the caravan of the great pharoah Ramses.

What is interesting to me about Lion of Thebes is that, unlike many peplums, the female lead is not a quivering statuette like Ramses' wife. Helen possesses a grace that easily dissolves into raw power and forcefulness. She is (was) a queen, and often reminds everyone of that fact. Coupled with her beauty, no man or woman can resist her wishes.

...but she is actually controlling everyone, including Ramses.
Despite this power, Helen is unable to break Ramses physical imprisonment with only her political wits and a pretty face. Aryan always steps in when she needs brute strength applied to the situation.

When they are finally rescued by the Spartan army, Helen and Aryan go off together in love, relieved that their Egyptian imprisonment is finally over.

And now for a classic scene in the film. Only after Aryan rescues Helen from between two gigantic crushing stones does she realize that she really does love him. It is a proven formula of the peplum to grant love, success, victory, etc. only after the male lead has passed a feat of physical endurance and pain. After the man has proven his worth, the plot continues.


Lion of Thebes. Dir. Giorgio Ferroni. Filmes/La Société des Films Sirius, 1964. 87 min.

26 December 2013

Va' Pensiero: Storie Ambulanti (2013)

For various reasons the subject of African immigration doesn't make it to screens very often in Italy, but a new movie was brought to my attention that adds to this subgenre. Va' Pensiero: storie ambulanti, directed by a rescued immigrant named Dagwami Yimer, tells the story of several African immigrants and their struggle to survive in an unwelcoming country. I haven't yet seen the film because it is just being released in Italy and may not make it to an American theater, but hopefully this post will at least attract the attention that I think this film necessarily deserves. I am posting some sources to videos made by the crew of the film, including an interview with the cast and several video diaries. None of them are particularly satisfying without having seen the film, though. 

Italy has, at first glance, a somewhat unique rich-country problem: its socioeconomic relationship with its poorer immigrants is horribly 'behind' by contemporary standards. The European immigrant now enjoys legal integration, but African immigrants, particularly black Africans, are held to unjust social and legal standards in the black market, no pun intended. Part of this treatment is racist, but as I've learned, Italians don't approach racism from the same angle that Americans do; the term racism isn't quite relevant in the sense that skin color alone does not necessarily motivate anti-immigration sentiment. Part of it is also legal - Italy does not have a clear legal framework to naturalize citizens who weren't born in Italy, nor does its visa system make it easy to work there. Mostly, though, it is cultural. The Italian "imagined community," to quote Benedict Anderson's often used phrase, simply does not include people from outside of Italy. The very concept of becoming Italian sounds strange indeed.

Although I don't know if the people involved in Yimer's film want to become Italian, I do know that their struggle to make a living is worth attention. Va' Pensiero is an attempt to shine light on marginalized Africans who immigrated to Italy to work and support their families within the cultural framework that I described above. Drawing connections to Verdi's hugely popular opera song "Va' Pensiero," Yimer argues that Africans are being held back by the Italian people, much like the Hebrew slaves who sing the song, and that they have as much right to live and work in Italy as Italians do. By also attaching Verdi's legacy to this documentary, Yimer is claiming a certain degree of Italian-ness in his role as director.

Yimer is also clearly motivated by African griot storytelling, as the film's website quotes him stating that the griot "accompanies the story of the incident from a remote past that seems to continue to persecute the victims (accompagna il racconto degli avvenimenti partendo da un passato remoto che sembra continuare a perseguitare le vittime)". That the director is an immigrant in Italy and that he has created a film with both African and Italian qualities places Yimer among the ranks of those who have decided to speak out about the inequality they face in their lives.

To illustrate Yimer's point, the very timely and horrifying scandal involving Cécile Kyenge comes to mind. Kyenge, a Congo-born immigrant, was selected as the new Italian Minister for Integration. Embarrassingly for the Italian government, she was harassed and threatened by politicians when she arrived at her new job and has since become the shining example of Italian racism and bigotry. To see a video of her at the film's screening, see video diary 3

None of this should come as a surprise from a country that treats its poorer immigrants the way depicted in Yimer's film. It will be interesting to see what impact Va' Pensiero has across Italy as it is gradually released throughout the country.

Click here to see the trailer on Vimeo.
 
Interview (italiano)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pb2xic00Lus

Diaries (italiano)

1 - https://vimeo.com/81596199
2 - https://vimeo.com/81830669
3 - https://vimeo.com/82045341

References

Nonleggerlo, Will. "Kyenge, cento giorni di insulti". L'Espresso. 19 August 2013. http://espresso.repubblica.it/palazzo/2013/08/19/news/kyenge-cento-giorni-di-insulti-1.57931

Scherer, Steve. "Insight: African immigrants use films and books to fight Italian racism". Reuters. 22 December 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/22/us-italy-migrants-racism-insight-idUSBRE9BL02220131222

Va' Pensiero: storie ambulanti website

08 December 2013

La Grande Bellezza / The Great Beauty (2013)

Note: I originally wrote this post previous to the 2013 European Oscars Film Awards, and the recent recognition for La Grande Bellezza (including European Film, Director, Editor, and Actor) only adds to my assertions on the film's popular appeal, which I make below.

One of the reasons I am fascinated by Rome and films about Rome is the juxtaposition of elements that envelops and shapes the course of its history. Whether one walks through the scattered ruins of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, littered with over two-thousand years of architectural and cultural history, to the current slow-motion political ping-pong that brings politicians from far-right, far-left, and everything in-between to Montecitorio, Rome has long set the standard for putting things together in quite unusual and, sometimes, painstaking ways.
Contemporary, juxtaposed Rome

This juxtaposition is rather unique to this particular city, and quite different from cities like Dubai (with its unsustainable desert skyscrapers) or Rio de Janeiro (with a poverty line clearly visible from above), for example. Roman juxtaposition surfaces in several Italian films from the past century. Paolo Sorrentino's La Grande Bellezza / The Great Beauty is one of them.

The storyline is a smattering of scenes related to the latter years of the life of the high-society author, Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo). Jep, who is aptly Neopolitan, narrates the film from a detached point of view, using Rome as the setting for all of the film's episodes. At points his voice is off-screen (and in textbook Italian), and at points he explains things in 'foreign' dialect to those involved in his daily rituals of sauntering about Rome, partying until the night's end, and interviewing people for the newspaper that he writes for. Overarching this rough narrative structure is his desire to write another novel, which he hasn't done in over forty years.

I find it challenging to assign meaning to this film. In some ways it is a pastiche of Federico Fellini's filmmaking techniques. In some ways it is not. My first impression of the film is that it is the bastard child of a ménage à trois between Fellini's La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, and Roma. Moreover, one could write an entire book comparing Fellini's depictions of Rome and Sorrentino's. For the sake of length, I wish to highlight a few important similarities with Fellini's well-known films and also question the film's use of juxtaposition, within the text and between texts.

On the macro scale, the film expresses the role of the Italian director as storyteller, a hallmark of the Fellini era. This can then get very specific: these films share phallocentric narration and employ the protagonist as a guide to the text. In La Grande Bellezza and in La Dolce Vita, our storytellers are detached writers; in 8 1/2 he is a hapless director; and in Roma, Fellini himself is the storyteller via the camera.

And even more specifically, there are direct ties to La Dolce Vita within the film. Jep alludes to a sea monster in La Grande Bellezza, while Fellini shows one. Using the same set as Fellini, Sorrentino places a magician and a giraffe in the famous baths of Caracalla, amounting to a circus act that Fellini would have approved of; "It's all a trick," the magician says. But perhaps the most obvious allusion is the mysterious key man who gives Jep and his lover, Ramona, a night tour of Rome. Dressed in strikingly similar haute couture with the same candelabra, Sorrentino's characters are firmly situated within a time and space detached from reality by juxtaposing the so-called glorious past with the superficial present.

Candelabra and setting in La Dolce Vita

Candelabra and setting in La Grande Bellezza

Fashion and dress in La Dolce Vita

Fashion and dress in La Grande Bellezza
Both films utilize chiaroscuro lighting in these scenes with different outcomes; in Fellini's scene the lack of light is spooky, while in Sorrentino's it is romantic and endearing. In addition, the episodic structure and fragmented editing of Fellini's masterpiece is directly reflected in Sorrentino's film. The editing is jumpy, erratic, static; shots fly at you, they swoon, stop, and sweep. Combined with myriad jib camera movements, widely varying shot lengths, and static shots, the pace of the film is hard to pinpoint. This in turn supports an episodic structure. In one instance, Sorrentino even uses the same episode as Fellini by including the "saint" Maria, which closely mirrors the episode in La Dolce Vita when two children create a spectacle when they see the virgin Mary under a tree. Furthermore, the endings of both films are almost identical: in both, the last shot is an image of a young woman looking toward the camera, cut to black, followed by the title of the film over a black screen.

Juxtaposed one step further with Fellini's ouvre, Sorrentino adds a dose of reality to his film to give it contemporary relevance. Mixing current events with the film has the effect of bringing it out of the clouds and down to earth again. The island, Isola del Giglio, where Jep falls in love, is also conveniently the site of the recent Costa Concordia cruise ship wreck. Given that his editor begs him to write an article about the wreck at the beginning of the film, it is also a timely narrative opportunity for Jep to come to terms with his lost love toward the end of the film.

Another aspect of La Grande Bellezza's contemporary relevance is its out of touch, high-society purview. Indeed, the spectacle of the rich in Rome, from pop singers to decaying nobility, combined with modern cinematography, imbue the film with a commercial feeling similar to a Gucci perfume advertisement. As Fellini used Nico and Adriano Celentano, Sorrentino uses popular figures like Antonello Vinditti and Sabrina Ferilli to allude to the mini-spectacle of the 2001 National Championship game in which Ferilli gambled to emerge nude at Vinditi's concert if Rome won. Notably above the street, overlooking the city, Jep's swank apartment is literally next door to the Coliseum and Nero's gardens, yet none of these shots include a single tourist and they hardly ever feature a pedestrian without cocktail attire. Is this really today's Rome? It seems as if his characters live in the Rome of the past, when tourists were few(er), nuns were ubiquitous, and prime real estate was within a journalist's salary range.

In the end, all of these contemporary allusions enhance the film's relevance and Rome's artistic importance, but they also firmly separate it from reality in the sense that they mimic, and perhaps mock, current events. Superficial juxtapositions of real events and realistic events thus blurs the lines between art and commercialization. In a time where excessive wealth is particularly frowned upon in southern Europe, Sorrentino posits his characters as out of touch with reality. Perhaps for this reason, Maurizio Acerbi titled his review of the film, "La dolce vita è diventata amara (the sweet life became bitter)", with direct reference to Fellini's optimistic decadence.

This brings us back the original dilemma: what meaning are we to make of this film? Why does Sorrentino go through so much trouble to juxtapose present and past? Given that La Grande Bellezza earned handsome returns within Italy, repaying its budget in the domestic market in its first weekend, suggests popular support. And given the alternatives for audiences in tongue-and-cheek rom-coms and family dramas in Italian theaters today, the film is a breath of fresh air, but barely exportable. Is this, then a commentary made for Italy? Has the sweet life for Sorrentino indeed "gone sour"?

Perhaps the great beauty of Rome lies in Sorrentino's juxtaposed presentation of the city as both prison and playground, inspiration and distraction. La Grande Bellezza thus serves as a stark reminder of the faltering Italian capital, while also decadently distracting the viewer from this very fact.




Box office statistics from BoxOfficeMojo.com and MyMovies.it

Further Reading
Acerbi, Maurizio. "La dolce vita è diventata amara," Il Giornale, 30 May 2013. http://www.mymovies.it/film/2013/lagrandebellezza/pubblico/?id=667618

Vivarelli, Nick. "Italo Film Industry Elated About 'Great Beauty' Golden Globe Win," Variety, 13 January, 2014. http://variety.com/2014/film/news/italo-film-industry-elated-about-great-beauty-golden-globe-win-1201051797/

Filmography 
8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1960)
LA DOLCE VITA (Federico Fellini, 1960)
ROMA (Federico Fellini, 1972)

29 January 2013

The Formation of National Identity in the Italian Musical: A Study of Carosello Napoletano (1954)

The following essay is adapted from a presentation I gave at the University of Southampton Genre Beyond Hollywood Postgraduate Conference, 2012.



Labeled a nonexistent genre, one of popular escapism, and indebted to American influence, the Italian musical has become a misunderstood and often overlooked genre that merits further study and clarification within Italian national cinema studies. Simone Arcagni argues that due to the Hollywood production standards and theatrical precedents of the musical genre, the Italian musical was considered a one-hit wonder, and exists solely in the form of Carosello Napoletano / Neapolitan Carousel (Ettore Giannini, 1954). However, many other Italian films with musically-waxed narratives, singing, and dancing clearly exist. How does Arcagni account for this discrepancy? Furthermore, if Carosello is indeed the only Italian musical, an assertion which I openly challenge, then what differentiates this musical from other musical films produced in Italy? I argue that what distinguishes Carosello Napoletano is its creation of a sense of hybridized national identity that is reworked in future Italian musicals, and that these newer musicals do not merit a separation from the musical genre.
First, I will provide a basic industrial and cultural context for the production of the Italian musical, which will outline Carosello’s relationship to the influence of the American film industry (Hollywood). Second, I will analyze cultural representations in Carosello and the way that Italian identity is formed and sustained through what Arcagni calls “fragmented structure” (struttura frammentaria) and what Daniela Treveri Gennari calls a “cross-fertilisation process”. Although I focus mostly on Carosello Napoletano, I will also draw comparisons to later Italian musicals and their representations of national identity such as the musicarelli of the 60s and 70s, Roberta Torre’s “postmodern” musicals from the 90s, and John Turturro’s musical documentary Passione / Passion (2010). In briefly touching upon these newer musicals, I challenge the belief that the Italian musical is a “one film genre.”

Music, industrial influence, and Italian identity
Early musical films combined the arts, opera, and the commedia dell’arte, which struck a chord with diverse Italian audiences. In tandem with the changing Italian industrial economy, an individualist rationale, a lower birth rate, and other aspects of modernization, the musical film evolved at the end of World War II. As a result of the collapse of fascism in Italy, the invasion of the American film industry in Italy can be seen in the significant proportion of American films screened and consumed in Italy during the time of production of Carosello. In 1954 alone (the year of Carosello’s release), American films claimed 56% of box-office intake as opposed to 36.2% of Italian films, accounting for some 800 million total film spectators. As Daniela Treveri Gennari argues, there was a considerable amount of American influence in political and religious circles.
Giulio Andreotti
She mentions the influential Giulio Andreotti, aka the Little Pope, of the ruling post-war Christian Democrat party as a key figure in the connection between the Italian government, the Pope, and the United States (On a side note, Andreotti is still in the Italian government and has been deemed Senator for Life, one of the highest political honors in Italy). Added to this connection between church and state, Andreotti was instrumental to the changing film environment as he “executed a cinema policy that sought both to respect Catholic morality and to favour the American film production industry.” However, Andreotti’s production laws instituted conflicting protections for national films by limiting the importation of American films, while at the same time increasing funding for domestic production with American money. As Pierre Sorlin argues, this constant battle between domestic producers and international interests is not so much an issue of protecting national identity or promoting values; instead, he says it is “no more than the attempt of professionals to keep in the business.” I would argue that, based on these facts, a careful balance of audience interest, cinema law, the business of domestic production, and the systemic preference toward Catholic values and American films can be traced in Carosello. Indeed, the mixture of industrial, cultural, and creative elements along these lines suggests that this is a film of the hybrid kind, neither completely Italian nor American, Catholic or secular. Its outstanding quality is its ability to fuse fragments of national and international influence into a unique representation of Italian identity.

Carosello and fragmented structure
Arcagni attributes the struttura frammentaria of Italian musicals to the variety show, in which random acts would alternate within one continuous spectacle. As it shares similarities with the narrative flow of the theater, this fragmentation of the continuous spectacle has “defined the experience of [the Italian] musical” and paved the way for the film revue (la rivista), which “attempts, for the first time, to create unity in the spectacle.” This type of unified, yet fragmented, narrative structure is precisely what Carosello resurrects in its treatment of the history of Naples, as it was originally a touring play written also by Giannini, the director. Unlike earlier filmed plays, Carosello does not seek an exact reproduction of its literary or historical text, but rather a new “linguistic approach” that employs attributes of the American musical as a way to seamlessly fuse fragments of Italian history.
So how does this fragmentation create a unified narrative in Carosello? By looking at other well-received American musicals released in Italy around the time of Carosello, notably An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Guys and Dolls, a trend emerges that marks similarities with the narrative structure and mise-en-scène of Carosello. In these American films, heterosexual romance is psychologically negotiated through a progressive narrative of magnificent song and dance numbers, in what Rick Altman terms “the American film musical as dual-focus narrative.”
Paolo Stoppa leads the family as well as the story.
In Carosello, this dual-focus structure is fragmented between the progressive narrative of the homeless musical family, led by Don Salvatore (Paolo Stoppa), as they are constantly displaced on the streets of Naples. Each movement of the family elicits a distinct song and dance sequence that ruptures a sense of the present by progressively inserting past historical events.
In one particular scene, Stoppa explains the history of trade in Naples. It starts with the development of trade and the insertion of the foreign into the Italian community. The various audiovisual, spatial, and temporal interruptions and juxtapositions in the trade sequence are no exception. The whole film continues in this manner, telling history by mixing it with past and present. The combination of operatic music and staging with jazz, the juxtaposition of Italian and English, and the literal split set between past and present (going from left to right), suggest a connectedness that is difficult to deconstruct. In addition, the extremely crowded compositions create an entity teeming with particularities that necessitates that the eye darts around looking for pieces of information. This narrative and stylistic stitching occurs so often in Carosello that it is the defining rule by which Ettore Giannini “hides many threads that weave the story of the theater and the cinema beside the Italian musical” and unites the history of Naples into a cohesive structure. The layering of sequences and a piecemeal musical score in Carosello supports Arcagni’s assertion that it is this fragmented structure which lends itself to a unique Italian musical, analogous to the American musical. Despite obvious gaps in history, Carosello creates a sense of unity through its fragmented, and perhaps intentionally omitted, representations of the past, like its lack of mention of World War II. The final scene of Carosello sums all of these aspects nicely, culminating in a grandiose finale number rarely seen in Italian cinema:

 

Carosello’s fragmentation creates a choreographed spectacle of the Italian mass in an attempt to elicit a harmonious sense of community and commonality, but its sheer narrative excess, saturated imagery, and solid two-hour score turn a blind eye to historical relevancy. What accounts for Carosello’s contradicting structure is that it represents an attempt to define Neapolitan and Italian history through the lens of an international industrial framework, namely the competition with contemporaneous American musicals, as mentioned previously. Therefore, Carosello’s contradictory structure and historical representations, bundled in an excessive spectacle, call attention to the “cross-fertilisation” of American and Italian musical characteristics. One way of looking at Carosello’s American-ness can be the way it translates American musical elements into a metaphor for Italy itself, its culture, values, and identity, whether imaginary or real.

The formation of the national in Carosello Napoletano and the Italian musical
Pierre Sorlin asserts that the main challenge to Italian cinema was, and is, the need to produce, distribute, and exhibit films within a global capitalist market that simultaneously resonated with fragmented domestic regions. When applying Sorlin’s two main Italian national traits, Catholicism and communalism, to Carosello, there are obvious similarities, but also striking differences in relation to these characteristics. While the film revolves around the importance of family and community cohesion through Don Salvatore’s migrant street family, as well as touching upon the Catholic Adam and Eve ballet sequence, it also deviates to include other, not-so-Christian representations of the female body...
Clearly, these “self-contradictory structures” show in Carosello, highlighting the differences between national interests and cultural tastes. Carosello also molds Italian nationality by introducing characters throughout the film that represent other nations.
The city is constantly bombarded with foreigners: from the beginning we witness the invasion of the Saracen pirates, the European traders who strip Nadia Gray (as a symbol of Naples), then the Gershwin-esque American sailor who causes the harbor to freeze for a moment while he saunters in, and also the loathsome Scandinavian tourist (Gustafsson) who complains of the noise (but later starts a business in Naples). These contrasts delineate not only the cohesiveness of the Naples’ harbor community, but also the acceptance of foreigners in the Italians’ daily activities. In the end it is difficult to determine what is untouched by foreigners, or whether foreign influence has had a positive or negative effect on the local community. As the community embraces these outside influences, the result is a mixed culture of global influence, set in the perfect community. Even the film’s content and distribution, with its blend of Neapolitan folk song, Italian opera techniques, and American jazz, the fact that it was partially filmed in Rome, and the Grand Prix it received at Cannes would also suggest a broad acknowledgement of the hybridization of Italian cultural and national specificities.
Interestingly, Carosello was challenged by Achille Lauro, the Mayor of Naples at the time of the film’s release, as “exhibiting to foreigners that jumble of clichés that seem collected and mixed together by an enemy of Italy and Italians." Although Lauro considered Carosello as misleading, the wide success of the film contradicts this statement. Reviewed and praised by audiences and critics at the time, Carosello did very well at the box-office, and was praised by Gianni Rondolino as “one of the first and most valid examples of the Italian ‘film revue’.” Carosello still maintains a positive critical reception as an example of Italian culture. Out of several recent reviews, critics have described Carosello to be “unanimously considered as an authentic masterpiece,” or “a vintage jewel…that challeng[ed] Hollywood,” and that it “represented the sense of a culture.” I would argue that the domestic and international acclaim would strongly suggest that Giannini’s film did not fit comfortably within a purely national framework. Carosello’s exceptional quality is its hybridity. The successful weaving of regional, national, and international specificities through music, culture, and foreign influence set the standard for future Italian musicals.
Arcagni’s entire book is set upon the “one film genre claim,” but he confusingly proceeds to define other types of musicals using terms that subdivide the genre, such as the musicarello, “rock musical,” and the “postmodern musical.” I agree that an essential definition of the musical genre would be problematic, particularly from a non-Italian perspective, but these films all exhibit generic qualities that do not compartmentalize very neatly. Although they differ in form and content from Carosello Napoletano, the Rita Pavone star films like Rita la Zanzara / Rita the Mosquito (Lina Wertmüller, 1967) and Little Rita nel West / Crazy Westerners (Ferdinando Baldi, 1967) strike me as ‘updated’ musicals, or what Arcagni labels the musicarello. This musical subgenre refers to the period between 1960 to the mid-1970’s that features music for a younger generation, often employing famous singers to play protagonists, with screaming voices (urlatori), that resemble drawn-out music videos with thin, romantic plots. Arcagni asserts that these films are not musicals because the interests of the film center on the music rather than the plot, and they insert new themes, sounds, and rock and roll to create a new category of film.


However, Arcagni’s assertion is problematic because it is impossible to describe these films without referring to their indebtedness to the musical; the films recycle, instead of recreate, Italian themes, such as the spaghetti western or the use of Verdi opera, and introduce new elements like rock and roll, English-language songs, and Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin impersonations to create contemporary appeal.
The Roberta Torre satirical musicals Tano da Morire (1997) and Sud Side Stori / South Side Story (2000) are considered by Arcagni to be “postmodern musicals” due to their indebtedness to Italian television spectacles with different stock characters, and are full of “parodic rereading and the grotesque real.” Both films feature Sicilian communities as they struggle with family, marriage, the Mafia, and religious customs. However local the films’ appeal, there remain ties to foreign influence such as American hip-hop in Tano Da Morire, and Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story as the foundation of Sud Side Stori’s plot. Rather than subdivide the genre, I assert that these films give breadth (and breath) to the Italian musical and contradict Arcagni’s claim that an Italian musical is an exclusive category defined by theatrical codes, whether American or Italian. It is important to include these films, and many others, within the genre because the further it becomes defined along other lines, the easier it is to claim that the Italian musical does not exist at all.


Carosello Napoletano may have been the first recognizable Italian musical, but it certainly is not the last to have surfaced in Italy. John Turturro’s gritty musical documentary Passione (2010) is also set in Naples, features Neapolitan music, and utilizes the people and spaces of the city’s streets, and it still retains hybrid qualities that hearken back to Carosello. It is similar to Carosello in the sense that it uses song and dance to drive an ephemeral narrative about the culture, people, and history of Naples. Furthermore, it features Italian, American, and North African music, foreign languages, gawking crowds and tourists, John Turturro’s American English narration, and a candid, wandering feeling reminiscent of Wim Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club (1999). Yet it is still a Neapolitan-focused, Italian musical with global influences like Carosello. That the “process of glocalization” is evidenced in the lineage of these films supports Treveri Gennari’s research on the historically-based and lasting influence of American and foreign film industries in Italian society.




The difficulty of pinning down the Italian musical rests primarily in its definition; for Italians and non-Italians, terminology subjugates these films to categorized scrutiny, but examined cohesively they exhibit a striking dependency on musical narratives, dance, mass spectacle, cultural specificity, religion, communalism, and foreign influence. Achille Lauro’s claim that Carosello Napoletano does a disservice to representations of Italy by jumbling cliches together does not mean that it is not representative of national identity. Instead, his claim highlights the fluidic and diverse tastes of Italian audiences, producers, distributors, and exhibitors as they collectively reform Italian identity and its cinematic representations.

References
Arcagni, Simone. Dopo Carosello: Il Musical Cinematografico Italiano. Alessandria: Ed. Falsopiano, 2006.

Brunetta, Gian Piero. The History of Italian Cinema: A Guide to Italian Film from its Origins to the Twenty-First Century. Translated by Jeremy Parzen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Caprara, Valerio. Spettabile Pubblico: Carosello Napoletano di Ettore Giannini. Naples: Guida, 1998.

Dalle Vacche, Angela. The Body in the Mirror: Shapes of History in Italian Cinema. Princeton, N.J.; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Higson, Andrew. “The Concept of National Cinema.” Screen 30, no. 4 (1989): 36-47. http://screen.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/4/36.extract

Landy, Marcia. Italian Film. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Mereghetti, Paolo. “La Napoli del Cinema che Achille Lauro Censurò.” Corriere della Sera, 14 November 2006. http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/2006/novembre/14/Napoli_del_cinema_che_Achille_co_9_061114011.shtml.

Pezzotta, Alberto. “Dagli Anni 50 il Raro ‘Carosello Napoletano’.” Corriere della Sera, 6 March 2005. http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/2005/marzo/06/Dagli_Anni_raro_Carosello_napoletano_co_7_050306149.shtml.

Porro, Maurizio. “Sette Quadri Musicali con Sophia Loren.” Corriere della Sera, 21 August 2007. http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/2007/agosto/21/Sette_quadri_musicali_con_Sophia_co_9_070821055.shtml.

Smith, Anthony. National Identity. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1991.

Sorlin, Pierre. Italian National Cinema, 1896-1996. London: Routledge, 1996.

Treveri Gennari, Daniela. Post-war Italian Cinema: American Intervention, Vatican Interests. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Willemen, Paul. Looks and Frictions: Essays in Cultural Studies and Film Theory. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Further reading
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 2006. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/heb.01609.

Comuzio, Ermanno. “Il Musical Italiano. Un Fantasma?” Cineforum 48, no. 2 (2008): 96. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88 -2004&res_dat=xri:fiaf&rft_dat=xri:fiaf:fulltext:005/1467310551.

Bolton, Lucy and Christina Siggers Manson, eds. Italy on Screen: National Identity and Italian Imaginary. New York: Peter Lang, 2010.

Bondanella, Peter. A History of Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present. New York; London: Continuum, 2009.

Dyer, Richard. Nino Rota: Music, Film, and Feeling. New York: Palgrave Macmillan on behalf of the British Film Institute, 2010.

Grassi, Giovanna. “Francesco Rosi: ‘Il Cinema Deve Entrare nelle Scuole’.” Corriere della Sera, 55, 10 January 2004. http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/2004/gennaio/10/Francesco_Rosi_cinema_deve_entra re_co_10_040110066.shtml.

Piepergerdes, Brent. “Re-envisioning the Nation: Film Neorealism and the Postwar Italian Condition.” ACME 6, no. 2 (2007): 231-257. http://www.acme -journal.org/vol6/BJP.pdf.

Russell, Catherine. “Senso.” Cineaste 36, no. 3 (2011): 52-54. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&res_dat=xri:fiaf&rft_dat=xri:fiaf:fulltext:004/0389700.

Speck, Oliver. “Addressing European Identity in National Cinemas.” Film International 4, no. 21 (2006): 112-114. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88 -2004&res_dat=xri:fiaf&rft_dat=xri:fiaf:fulltext:004/0335085.

Filmography
CAROSELLO NAPOLETANO (Ettore Giannini, 1954)
LITTLE RITA NEL WEST (Ferdinando Baldi, 1967)
PASSIONE (John Turturro, 2011)
RITA LA ZANZARA (Lina Wertmüller, 1967)
SUD SIDE STORI (Roberta Torre, 2000)
TANO DA MORIRE (Roberta Torre, 1997)