Academic journal article Film & History

Hollywood's Italian American Filmmakers: Capra, Scorsese, Savoca, Coppola, and Tarantino

Academic journal article Film & History

Hollywood's Italian American Filmmakers: Capra, Scorsese, Savoca, Coppola, and Tarantino

Article excerpt

Jonathan J. Cavallero Hollywood's Italian American Filmmakers: Capra, Scorsese, Savoca, Coppola, and Tarantino University of Illinois Press, 2011. 212 Pages; $ 75.00 hardcover; $27.00 paperback

The films of Frank Capra, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola are staples within American popular culture. These filmmakers and others like them have had great success in depicting family life and the American Dream on film. Yet even when such filmmakers are focusing on Italian-American themes, moviegoers often forget that the directors are themselves Italian Americans. In his book, Jonathan Cavallero not only reminds readers of the ethnicity of these directors, but he examines in great detail their contributions to how this ethnic group has been portrayed on film. In studying the movies of five Italian-American filmmakers, Capra, Scorsese, Coppola, Nancy Savoca and Quentin Tarantino, Cavallero traces the evolution of the depiction of Italian-Americans on film from what he terms Capra's "denial" of ethnicity to Tarantino's "performance" of ethnicity. In the process, he provides historians and students of film with a valuable tool for understanding the place of media in the study of history.

An Italian American himself, Cavallero admits that he was "not very ethnic" growing up (xiii). Yet he argues that ethnicity runs deep, that it is apparent in the way a family interacts and communicates. In studying the work of the above five filmmakers, Cavallero analyzes the concept of ethnicity as it relates to Italian Americans in various circumstances, whether they be immigrants newly arrived in the U.S. or second and third generation Italian Americans trying to find their place in the world while maintaining ties to their families and neighborhoods. He begins by examining the films of Frank Capra, a director working at a time of what the author calls "ethnic denial" (10), and ends his study with the postmodern oeuvre of Tarantino. Throughout, he carefully investigates the evolution of the perception of Italians and Italian Americans on film; he also discusses such issues as gender through Savoca's female working-class protagonists, the depiction of violence in Coppola's Godfather films, and the changing dynamic of the Italian family. His discussion of the Godfather films is especially interesting in this respect as he traces the various ways characters attempt to protect their loved ones even though the family is "always in jeopardy" in the trilogy (119). In addition, he uses the concept of La Beila Figura (the idea that there are social norms and modes of behavior that are acceptable within Italian American culture) to examine the dilemmas of many characters in these films who wish to break with tradition but do not know how or are afraid to do so-J. …

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