FILM CRITICISM and historiography
Besides the obvious relevance of critical reception to any effort of contextualization, and as such part of a method I do cherish, and apart from a few forays into the early Italian cinema magazines [La fotografia nelle riviste di cinema italiane (1907-1918)]. I am particularly interested in the study of film criticism from the point of view of the relationship established within academic historiography between rigor and inhibition, that is between tradition and innovation (of topics and methods), and the other way round between innovation and sanction, methodological challenge and institutional absorption.
Thus, on the one hand the establishment of scholarly traditions, methods, theories, and practices (not to mention fashions) which aim at determining what can be the subject of a research (and how it should be addressed) through recognitions of methodological rigor and cultural prestige. My research on Luchino Visconti, for example, is inspired also by the desire to reconstruct the way in which some commonalities settled on the literature has become prescriptions of academic ways of thinking (occasionally endorsed by theoretical assumptions) which, under their apparent scrupulousness, have authorized interpretations that in their partiality did not interest me just as polemical targets, but also to trace the roots of this scholarly knowledge to postwar leftist criticism, with all their cultural and ideologic conditionings.
On the other hand, oppositional forms of criticism have become academically fashionable, or have asserted a freedom so unreserved to compromised rigor, supported by postmodern deconstructionism, eventually establishing themselves as theoretically prescriptive for a lazy and dutiful tradition based on unverified repetitions. In caphter 5 of Nell’ombra di Hitchcock, for example, my concern with the first slasher horror cycle of the 1970s and early 1980s is also linked to the intention to review the feminist literature on it, particularly J. Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws (1992), as an example of a tradition become influential aside from its accuracy, indeed questionable in this case.
Nowadays this is the case also of queer theory, which is influencing more and more the study of sexuality in the academia (in Italy too) with controversial results as far as cinema is concerned. In this case the issue is (borrowing Carlo Ginzburg’s terms) the conflict between historiography, rhetoric and proof. My book Homosexuality and Italian Cinema is also an attempt to bring the research on homosexuality back from queer theory rhetoric to historical and archival research. The book examines also forms of discourse traditionally ignored, like gossip, whose meaning as countercultural weapon, when adopted by a social minority, can hardly be denied.
The volume also reflects on the odd coincidence between the instruments adopted by the homosexual minority and, on the opposite side, by ultraconservatives, such as gossip itself and a film criticism characterized by a strong one-sideness, which is the object of my current research on a criticism that can be defined as marginal with respect to its ideological extremism, its limited circulation, and the social position of the readers it targeted.
The last chapter of Homosexuality and Italian Cinema, devoted to the magazines of the gay rights movement, it is just an example of how these kind of sources can be useful to reconstruct a cultural history of cinema and also as roots of forms of discourse later formalized in academic traditions such as the feminist film theory and gender studies. Of this kind is also the study devoted to trace the history of the film magazine Films and Filming [‘Una rivista equilibrata per spettatori intelligenti’…]. This is also an example of a magazine which uses cinema instrumentally (in this case to target a homosexual readership). I studied two similar cases: the precocious erotic magazine Mascotte and Forza e salute (which later changed its name in Ercole), one of the first Italian magazines of bodybuilding [Forzuti, fusti, maggiorati...].
Thanks to a post-doc fellowship, in 2014 I began to extend my investigation to the ultraconservative press produced by the most extreme fringes of the lay right-wing in the after-war. Giorgio Padoan's judgement of this press as “barks of rearguards without a real cultural insight and moreover scarcely influent on the following events” is a clear example of the refusal to acknowledge any relevance to it which has characterized the studies so far. Nonetheless, to rebuff this press so drastically means to miss that it was not just the polemical reversal of the politically egemonic one, or simply devoted to repeat dogmas which one would have preferred to think outdated. On the contrary, exactly because of its rudeness, the ultraconservative press is interesting on three different levels. Firstly, as a source to trace the development of the relics of fascism in the republican years, a recurring shadow in Italian history (most notably with Tambroni’s government in 1960 and the years of lead, not to mention what is going on in Italy today). Secondly, it mirrors better than any other press aspects relevant to a reconstruction of Italian cultural history (cinema included) which other forms of press (often as much ideologically connoted) preferred to ignore, or addressed in a much more cautious way. Thirdly, it allows to measure how much the hegemonic cultural tradition established by the left (and particularly by communism intelligentsia), higly influential also in the Italian academia, is neither the repository of an indisputable truth nor necessarily less rhetorical or opportunistic, as some theories and methods inherited by academic studies pretend it to be. As far as cinema is concerned, this press can help not only to enlighten obscure points in the knowledge, theories and methods (and thus proscriptions) we have inherited, but also to understand why these exact points have remained obscure instead of others.
I am working on a book on the subject. In the meantime I presented a few papers (some of them have been published in the proceedings, or are due for publication soon) about preliminary samplings capable of enlightening the relationship between this press and the cinema as well as crucial aspects of its imagery. Masculinity, the communist antagonist (in the person of Luchino Visconti: Alla corte di Re Luchino…), pornography, and the so called peplum genre [Forzuti, fusti, maggiorati...] are the subjects I have discussed so far.
OUTCOMES OF THE RESEARCH