CINEMA AND SEXUALITY
In her last conversation, Pauline Kael stated: "I think half of the reason that people become interested in movies in the first place is sex and dating and everything connected with eroticism on the screen. And I felt that not to deal with all of that in its most naked form was to shirk part of what's involved in being a movie critic. I'd love to have written more about eroticism in the movies. I think it's a great subject". Sex is among the most recognizable obsessions of modernity – if it is true that we went so far as “to direct the question of what we are, to sex”, as stated by Foucault – thus inevitably of the entire film history, since cinema is a byproduct of modernity itself. Nonetheless, this relevance has been denied for a long time, especially by academia and not surprisingly since sex itself has been contained and controlled through a severe limitation of the contexts and of the discourses allowed to address it.
I have devoted a large part of my research efforts to this “great subject” (so closely related to cinema in its entirety), since years when in the Italian academia it was still encountering a certain opposition (nowadays almost dissipated), especially if taken as a key concept in the study of a major author like Luchino Visconti, as I did in my first research.
At the same time, I addressed issues related to the body and gender in relation to authors as diverse as Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma, Terry Gilliam, Edgar Reitz [Maria, Clarissa e le altre…], David Cronenberg [Polimorfi ma non perversi…], and Alfred Hitchcock [Cherchez la mère. Vertigo tra melodramma e trauma]. I particularly delved into the study of the connection between sex, death and illness established by Hitchcock in Psycho (1960) [Alfred Hitchcock. Psycho], which appears to have been capable of grasping with unexpectedly depth issues so culturally crucial in the western culture of the past century that it has been exercising an extraordinary influence for more than 50 years now through an endless series of reworks, despite constantly changing contexts. These rewrites are the object of a second book, Nell’ombra di Hitchcock, and of an article devoted to television variations [‘Do you (really) believe in evil?’…].
Studying such topics, subject to a long history of censorship and containment, a confrontation with the borderline genre of pornography can hardly be avoided since it has historically been invested with the compensative role of representing what had been removed from mainstream cinema. Indeed, it is the relationship between pornography and mainstream cinema that mostly interests me, on the part of the audience [Quadri piccanti e spettacoli indecentissimi…] as well as in the form of reciprocal imitations, for instance through the connecting form of parody [A Story of Love and Blood… and Il fumetto italiano per adulti e il cinema…] or, the other way round, through the attempt to violate the taboos, on the part of mainstream cinema, appropriating forms and contents of pornography. This is the case of the first Italian animated film which shyly approached pornography, Gibba's and Libratti's Il nano e la strega (1975) [Quando l’animazione italiana tentò la via del porno], as well as of the adoption of the representation of non simulated sex by a number of movies since the 1970s [see chap. 9 in Homosexuality and Italian Cinema and Dall’abiura di Pasolini all’Hard-core Art].
In the last few years I have focused on the relationship between homosexuality and Italian cinema, a topic remained uncovered despite it was a crucial part of that increasing eroticization which was possibly the most peculiar process in the history of Italian cinema between the 1950s and the 1970s. While advancing the research on Visconti and considering new case studies – starting from Pasolini's Comizi d'amore (1964) [Parlavo vivo a un popolo di morti’…] – I published a few preliminary surveys, particularly on the 1950s [Del tutto sconsigliabile per il nostro pubblico’…] and on catholic culture [Cattolici, cinema e omosessualità…], and I presented several papers in international Symposiums, including La censura dell’osceno in Italia tra gli anni ’40 e gli anni ’70 that I organized at University of Milan with T. Subini, with whom I also edited the first issue of the journal Schermi devoted to I cattolici, il cinema e il sesso in Italia tra gli anni ’40 e gli anni ’70.
The intent of the following book Homosexuality and Italian Cinema (of which an Italian edition, revised and augmented, is also available) is to conceive a model of cultural history of the relationship between homosexuality and cinema not limited to the evaluation of representations, but capable of involving a wide range of aspects spanning from the industrial organization to audience, from censorship to criticism and stardom, with all their fallouts on dominant knowledge, popular culture and representations themselves.
The last chapter of the book is devoted to a first survey of the magazines of the gay rights movements, and the way in which sexuality permeates film criticism is another topic which interests me. In particular, I addressed the history of the magazine Films and Filming [Una rivista equilibrata per spettatori intelligenti’…] and a pioneer of film criticism, Parker Tyler [Desiderio e allucinazione…], also translating his first book on cinema, Hollywood Hallucination, published in 1944. At the moment I am working on the Italian case, going through a large amount of magazines and newspapers which can be considered marginal with respect to their ideological extremism, their limited circulation, and the social position of the readers they targeted. Besides the already mentioned gay press, this is the case of the laic ultraconservative press, in whose imagery sexuality is critically important, and particularly a certain myth of masculinity [Forzuti, fusti, maggiorati... and Alla corte di Re Luchino…].
OUTCOMES OF THE RESEARCH