Italian Fascism's Empire Cinema

Italian Fascism's Empire Cinema

Italian Fascism's Empire Cinema

Italian Fascism's Empire Cinema

Synopsis

Ruth Ben-Ghiat provides the first in-depth study of feature and documentary films produced under the auspices of Mussolini's government that took as their subjects or settings Italy's African and Balkan colonies. These "empire films" were Italy's entry into an international market for the exotic. The films engaged its most experienced and cosmopolitan directors (Augusto Genina, Mario Camerini) as well as new filmmakers (Roberto Rossellini) who would make their marks in the postwar years. Ben-Ghiat sees these films as part of the aesthetic development that would lead to neo-realism. Shot in Libya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, these movies reinforced Fascist racial and labor policies and were largely forgotten after the war. Ben-Ghiat restores them to Italian and international film history in this gripping account of empire, war, and the cinema of dictatorship.

Excerpt

A soldier gets down from a truck, takes a look around and mutters “Holy
crap!” He had imagined a conventional Africa, with tall palm trees,
bananas, and dancing women, a mixture of Turkey, India, and Morocco,
the dream land of Paramount Pictures’ “Oriental” films … what he finds
instead is a place like home, but even more unwelcoming and indifferent.
They had cheated him.

Ennio Flaianou's take on the gap between imperial fantasy and reality, written while he was in Ethiopia during the 1935–1936 Italian war on that country, is an apt introduction to a book on Italian Fascism’s empire cinema. the allusion to Ameri can cinema as the reference for Italian popular imaginings of exoticism sums up the challenges and possibilities Mussolini’s dictatorship faced in developing its own imperial film aesthetic. By the mid-1930s, Italy had been in Africa for decades, with the occupation of Ethiopia following those of Eritrea (1890), Somalia (1908), and Libya (1912), as well as the Dodecanese Islands (1912), and each of these colonies had figured in privately funded exploration films or in newsreels and documentaries made by the state-run Istituto Luce. Yet only Libya, Italy’s one North African colony, had been the setting for a consistent number of film productions from the onset of Italian control through the slowdown of the Italian industry in the late 1920s. Libya offered a brand of Orientalist scenery made recognizable from Hollywood, French, and other national cinemas, whereas East Africa had no public recall in terms of screen imagery. the perennial imperialist vision of Africa as an “empty space” to be filled in the image of the colonizer’s fantasy had particular influence among the Fascist officials and film professionals involved in developing . . .

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