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Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader

Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader

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Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader

Edited by: Giorgio Bertellini

“This carefully crafted, copiously illustrated anthology is a marvelous achievement!”

Publication date: 2013
Total pages: 408
ISBN: 9780 86196 670 7
Price: £ 25.00


Despite the wealth of studies of silent cinema in the English language, knowledge of the medium's first decades has remained attached to a canon in which Italian silent cinema appears deceptively familiar but largely absent. With thirty essays written by leading scholars in the field, Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader illuminates this understudied area of film history. Featuring over a hundred illustrations, the Reader brings into focus individual film companies, stars and genres and seeks to place the Italian production of dramas, comedies, serials, newsreels, and avant-garde works in dialogue with international film culture. To be of essential value for future research, the anthology includes an overview of broader subjects, such as the history of Italian film historiography and the challenges of archival access, as well as concrete advice about how to research films, photographs, and periodicals in Italy and online.


Giorgio Bertellini is an exception ... A leading scholar on the early history of moving pictures, he has striven for years to bring this collection to fruition. Well, the eagerly anticipated publication of Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader has finally arrived, and it does not disappoint. A veritable labor of love, Bertellini’s lavishly illustrated and masterfully edited volume provides scholars with an essential resource for understanding and exploring Italy’s film culture between 1905 and 1931.

The compelling presentation of the volume is certainly enhanced by its visual appeal — well over 150 images grace its pages. While the illustrations do bestow a necessary visibility to a bygone era, they also inform and complement the analyses. The inclusion of this extensive visual documentation is a testament to the publisher’s commitment to the endeavor and an integral aspect of the project’s content. The end result is that Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader makes an indispensable critical and historical contribution to film studies in and beyond the Italian context.

Piero Garofalo, University of New Hampshire

Annali d'Italianistica vol.32 (2014).

“From Giorgio Bertellini’s brilliant introduction, which provides a compelling framework for re-evaluating Italian silent cinema, to the final essays, which invite the reader to become an active explorer of this rich cultural heritage, Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader offers a compelling, multi-faceted matrix for all those ready to grapple seriously with a crucial national cinema of the silent era. Most importantly, its many insights into Italian film culture necessarily require a reevaluation of French, American and other European cinemas of the silent era and alter our understandings of the ways early cinema embodied conceptions of modernity.” - Charles Musser, Yale University

“This wide-ranging and original volume succeeds in its aim of silencing, once and for all, the familiar story that reduces Italy’s cinematic legacy to a few historical epics like Cabiria and Quo Vadis? while awaiting Italian cinema’s ultimate deliverance in post WWII neo-realism. The extraordinary thing is that it does so by maintaining a balance between rigorously detailed archival materials, historical specificity, and theoretically acute interpretive analyses. The result is a fascinating reconsideration of the conceptual models that have been foundational for histories of film and visual culture in English-language studies, and an essential reminder that our ability to assess cinema’s past depends on a commitment to international collaboration and translation. Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader represents the very best in film historical scholarship today.” - Jennifer M. Bean, Director of Cinema and Media Studies and Associate Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature, University of Washington

“This overflowing anthology achieves the near-impossible – in detail and aggregate alike a rich comprehensive examination of Italian silent cinema that is at once historical and transnational, providing approaches that identify and clarify the varied contexts for films’ emergence, the products, and the artistic, commercial and socio-political impetus that propelled a vibrant national film culture. Giorgio Bertellini’s book is a gift to the silent film novice (who may not fully grasp this editor’s largesse) and a trustworthy vademecum for the advanced scholar who will be aware of how much has been previously overlooked and which now awaits closer study.” - David Mayer, University of Manchester

“This volume is a major critical and historical reassessment of an important but sometimes overlooked era in Italian filmmaking. For the reader who thinks neorealism of the 1940s marked the entry of Italian film on international screens, this book will be a revelation. The specialist reader will benefit from the book’s inspired emphasis on creating a dialogue between Italian scholars and other film experts from across the globe. The result is that – like its subject – this carefully crafted, copiously illustrated anthology is a marvelous achievement!” - Gaylyn Studlar, David May Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and Director, Program in Film & Media Studies, Washington University in St. Louis


Introduction Giorgio Bertellini


Chapter 1 – Silent Film Historiography and Italian (Film) Historiography, Gian Piero Brunetta; Chapter 2 – A Brief Cultural History of Italian Film Archives (1980-2005), Paolo Cherchi Usai


Chapter 3 – Pre-cinematic Visual Culture from and About Italy, Carlo Alberto Zotti Minici; Chapter 4 – Photography and Cinema, and Vice versa, Giorgio Bertellini; Chapter 5 – Visualizing the Past. The Italian City in Early Cinema, Marco Bertozzi


Chapter 6 – The Giant Ambrosio, or Italy’s Most Prolific Silent Film Company, Claudia Gianetto; Chapter 7 – The ‘Pastrone System’ Itala Film from the Origins to World War I, Silvio Alovisio; Chapter 8 – Rome’s Premiere Film Studio: Società Italiana Cines, Kim Tomadjoglou; Chapter 9 – Milano Films. The Exemplary History of a 1910s Italian Company, Raffaele De Berti; Chapter 10 – Film Production in the South, Giorgio Bertellini; Chapter 11 – Italian Production in the 1920s, Jacqueline Reich; Chapter 12 – From Wonder to Propaganda: The Technological Context of Italian Silent Cinema, Luca Giuliani


Chapter 13 – Non-Fiction Production, Aldo Bernardini; Chapter 14 – “In Hoc Signo Vinces: Historical Films, Giuliana Muscio; Chapter 15 – Comedians and Comedy, Riccardo Redi; Chapter 16 – Diva Films, Angela Dalle Vacche; Chapter 17 – Early Italian Serials and Series and (Inter-)National-Popular Culture, Monica Dall’Asta; Chapter 18 – Futurist Cinema, Giovanni Lista; Chapter 19 – STRACITTÀ: Cinema, Rationalism, Modernism in Italian “Second Futurism”, Leonardo Quaresima; Chapter 20 – Istituto Luce: a National Company with an International Reach, Pierluigi Erbaggio


Chapter 21 – Film on Paper: Early Italian Cinema Literature, 1907–1920, John P. Welle; Chapter 22 – On the Language of Italian Silent Films, Sergio Raffaelli; Chapter 23 – Famous Actors, Famous Actresses: Notes on Acting Style in Italian Silent Films, Francesco Pitassio; Chapter 24 – ‘Our Beautiful and Glorious Art Lives:’ The Rhetoric of Nationalism in Early Italian Film Periodicals, John David Rhodes; Chapter 25 – Italian Film Theory: The Silent Period, Francesco Casetti


Chapter 26 – Disordered Traffic: Film Distribution in Italy (1905–1930), Chiara Caranti; Chapter 27 – “Pictures from Italy:” Italian Silent films in Britain, 1907–1915, Pierluigi Ercole; Chapter 28 – Local Film Exhibition and Reception, Paolo Caneppele


Chapter 30 – Where Can I Find Italian Silent Cinema?, Ivo Blom; Chapter 29 – Doing Film History Research in Italian Libraries, Luca Mazzei

Bibliography; Primary Sources; Secondary Sources; Contributors; Multiple Indexes


Giorgio Bertellini is Associate Professor in the Departments of Screen Arts and Cultures and Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan. Editor and co-editor of anthologies on Italian and silent cinema, he is the author of Italy in Early American Cinema: Race, Landscape, and the Picturesque (2010) and Emir Kusturica (2011; 2013).

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