Italy Cinematography – The Sound and the War Years

The crisis, therefore, came in the early 1920s. But at the end of the new decade the arrival of the sound film imposed itself – with The song of love (1930) by Gennaro Righelli – and the halls were filled again also for the numerous projections of The jazz singer (1927; The singer of jazz) by Alan Crosland, which caused a heated controversy for or against sound on the third page of “Corriere della sera”, with articles by O. Vergani and S. Pittaluga, among others. The protectionist policy of fascism encouraged the production and if in 1931 G. Bottai presented a law on cinematography, the previous year the new sound pavilions of Cines had been inaugurated. In 1933 the Titanus of Goffredo Lombardo began the activity, the lux film); then other companies were founded (Manenti film, Scalera film, Rizzoli and C., G. Amato), until Cinecittà (v.) was born in 1937, a venue suitable for expressing the delusions of grandeur of the regime, for example. with Gallone’s Scipio the African (1937). The number of films made grew every year and contacts with international cinemas were ensured starting from 1932 with the first International Film Festival in Venice, while the courses of the Experimental Center of Cinematography, founded in 1932, prepared the new leve, and the Luce newsreels (see newsreel and Istituto Nazionale Luce), begun in 1927, amplified the figure of B. Mussolini and propaganda rhetoric with sound. According to, the subject films ranged from comedy to melodrama, to adventure films, and as a whole that of the Fascist period was more white than black, given the predominance of the so-called ‘white telephone’ comedies over open propaganda films such as Shirt Nera di Forzano (1933), Old Guard by Alessandro Blasetti (1935) or The Great Appeal by Mario Camerini (1936). Perhaps it is only in Luis Trenker’s Condottieri (1937) that, as noted by F. Savio, a Teutonic fascism and deadly restlessness can be felt. Of course, in the finale of that extraordinary film that is Rotaie (1930) directed by Camerini, the two protagonists leave the lounges and terraces of the coastal hotels not to return, as in the beginning, to their gray twilight world from Kammerspiel, but to head towards a factory and a modest suburb with a vaguely autarchic and Mussolini flavor; just as in Blasetti’s Terra Madre (1931), where the young Duke Marco prefers the healthy rural life to the dangerous consequences of urbanism, and in the remarkable La Tavola dei Povero (1932, by and with Raffaele Viviani), again Blasetti indicates in the vigorous productivity of the Italian industry a an alternative to the decadence of the aristocracy and the cunning cynicism of the underclass (a similarly positive role, as indeed in the original text by G. Giacosa, was played by the honest and hard-working Massimo with respect to the frivolous Rosani family in Come the leaves, 1935, by Camerini ). But, in these and in other cases, it is a generic and right-thinking bourgeois attitude, towards which even more ‘aligned’ directors such as Goffredo Alessandrini or as Genina, who, following the adventures in the desert or in the besieged fort in the West, brought back, respectively, the Spanish-Franco events of the Siege of the Alcazar (1940) and the colonial ones of Benghazi (1942).

However, it would be unfair to reduce Blasetti and Camerini to the level of regime directors alone. If the former could be appreciated by the regime for the Risorgimento fresco of 1860 (1934) – full of beautiful ‘Soviet’ taste en plein air images and a successful verbal multilingualism ‒and for the packed pseudo-historical choreography of Palio (1932), by Ettore Fieramosca (1938) and the very happy An Adventure by Salvator Rosa (1939; but already the kitsch delirium of The Iron Crown, 1941, appears imbued with a suspicious yet generic and confused pacifism), Camerini represented a world unto itself. Always labeled, with rigid schematism, as a modest provincial and petty-bourgeois precursor of Neorealism, he was in reality, together perhaps only with Roberto Rossellini, the only Italian director of the years between the thirties and forties who, albeit with a good dose of sane and skeptical empiricism, was concerned with integrating individual destinies in a dimension that transcends them anyway, perhaps at the cost of making them. aspire, dissatisfied and restless, to emigration to another setting and to another film: like the newsagent Gianni (Vittorio De Sica) in Il signor Max (1937), or Annetta (Assia Noris) who dreams of being invited to the ball across the lake (A romantic adventure, 1940). Despite these internal tensions – but all the Italian cinema of the Thirties, in anticipation of the neorealistic exit from the studios.

Between 1939 and 1944, Italian cinema appears marked by the directorial debut of Vittorio De Sica, initially polite and shy but soon, thanks also to the meeting with Cesare Zavattini, moved and decisive in The children look at us (1944). He could count on the melancholy comedies and on the elegant and intelligent melodramas, of great figurative taste, by Ferdinando Maria Poggioli and on the robust prose of Amleto Palermi, strengthened in the case of La peccatrice (1940) by the contributions of Umberto Barbaro and Luigi Chiarini and by the atmosphere branch of the Experimental Center of Cinematography; on the mastery of the cinematographic medium expressed in Lighthouses in the fog (1942) by Gianni Franciolini. Even Mario Mattoli’s modest sentimental and routine films appear to be built with great care (Luce nella tenebre, 1941; Labbra serrate, 1942), and the autarchic Italian stars, or some of these (Alida Valli, Assia Noris, Isa Miranda, Massimo Girotti, Osvaldo Valenti, Fosco Giachetti, Amedeo Nazzari, Clara Calamai), acquired an evocative aura, revealing hitherto unsuspected qualities and resonances. And there was also and above all the calligraphic vein of the costume film, the ‘beautiful form’, so reviled by the young critics of the time – engaged in pre-neorealistic battles for a more current and more alive cinema – but later rightly recovered not only in its external charm, in its not only evasive choices.

Faced with the most accomplished results of this trend (which saw the rookies Alberto Lattuada and Renato Castellani at the forefront, Mario Soldati Something different was perceived: for example, in that great visual and sound feast that is the snack on the grass in Castellani’s A Shot of a Gun (1942), we are not witnessing a courtly and complacent calligraphic exercise, but rather the neurotic refusal of images that are too beautiful, painful and deceptive, accumulated with frenzy and then caressed with yearning and immediately removed. As well as Marina’s madness (Isa Miranda), the candles that screech and sway in the wind, the embarrassment of the guests and bystanders in the final scene of Malombra (1942) by M. Soldati raise a tension that is difficult to sustain. Perhaps it depends on the awareness of the great tragedies of history, which would soon have spoiled once and for all those dinners on the verandas and those snacks on the lawns, but it is certain that the lights, music and scents of that impalpable cinema had spread, subtle and contagious, a veil of sadness, a sense of neurosis and precariousness.

Italy Cinematography - The Sound and the War Years