Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

United We Drill: ENI, Films, and the Culture of Work

Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

United We Drill: ENI, Films, and the Culture of Work

Article excerpt

I'm not against progress. But there are people who, by their nature, by their moral makeup, have to wrestle with the modern world and can't manage to adapt to it.

(Michelangelo Antonioni on Deserto Rosso (Architecture of Vision 285)

In 1950s Italy, theatrical feature films were only marginally interested in representing the country's reconstruction and economic recovery. On the one hand, so-called neorealist films focused either on the flaws of the process,--for example, Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. (1952)--or on the remnants of a premodern society in the South,--Visconti's La terra trema (1948). (1) With regard to women, as Leslie Caldwell points out, while "a general project aimed at harnessing particular images of femininity to ideas of the republic, the neorealist productions cast female characters that could be hardly reconciled to it" (133): for example, Giuseppe De Santis's Riso amaro (1949). (2) On the other hand, male protagonists failed to represent the model Italian citizen in his twofold role of productive individual and head of the household, as, for example, Antonio Ricci in Vittorio De Sica's Ladri di biciclette (1948). (3) An area of filmic exploration that remained specifically ignored in fictional movies was that of industrial work, despite the fact that industrialization was central to the process of modernization that Italy underwent in the aftermath of War World II. According to film historian Ansano Giannarelli, industrial work as narrative subject ("centralita narrativa") is almost irrelevant in Italian cinema (6). Giannarelli neglects to mention, however, the hundreds of short films sponsored by private and public agencies that were shown, until the early 1960s, before theatrical features in many movie theaters, and those that were delivered at outdoor public screenings by means of mobile trucks inherited from the ex-Fascist Istituto Luce. Such an omission is not surprising. Studies on sponsored or corporate films in Italy are scarce, and the documentation on the subject matter is strikingly lacking. (4) Both the sparse interest and the fact that attention in this area of study has recently developed only for the contributions by well-known directors are symptomatic of habitual practices in Italian film critical historiography, which has often ignored productions outside of commercial cinema and only recently has shown some interest beyond fiction. (5) In fact, the issue at stake is not the assimilation of sponsored films to commercial cinema and the assessment of both within the same theoretical frameworks; rather, it is that of a change in perspective.

In this essay, I focus on what Acland and Wasson define as "the enduring and stable parallel industry to the more spectacular realm that we commonly think of as commercial film" (4). As they explain in the introduction to Useful Cinema, besides the world of public commercial entertainment, this other cinema had more to do with function than with beauty, exploiting film's ability "to transform unlikely spaces, convey ideas, convince individuals, and produce subjects in the service of public and private aims" (2). In this vein, I focus on the films sponsored by the Italian state-owned oil and gas industry ENI (Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi) and examine their educational function, demonstrating that the imperative behind the film narratives was that of making Italian citizens fit in the modern world. Viewers received instructions on how to "adapt" to the changing life-style and landscapes affected by industrialization. Rather than indoctrinating viewers, ENI films excited and mobilized the emotions of audiences with lures of prosperity and happiness. In particular, industrial work was praised for its positive effects on employees and their families, as well as the nation, in opposition to rural activities that were identified with univocally poor, pre-modern economy and society. This eulogy of industrial work functioned within the political discourse of transition from Fascism to democracy, based on the conversion from warfare to workfare. …

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