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Cultural commodification and Italian cinema after ww2

Few countries in postwar Europe were able to resume their cultural activities in the fields of cinematography after 1945 with such playfulness and endeavor as Italy. It’s one of the interesting incongruences of the autocratic, to say the least, regime during the fascist ventennio, that the so called tenth muse or seventh art, the moving pictures, weren’t exposed to censorship to such an extent as the press or the theater. Cinema and the economy of entertainment became a political stronghold for the regime, that wasn’t per se used for ideological indoctrination, but functional in spreading an auratic imagery of the leadership. The first edition of the Venice Film Festival took place in 1932, strongly enforced and funded by the regime. Cinecittà, the largest conglomerate of film studios and facilities in Europe, was inaugurated in 1937 by Benito Mussolini. Marxist critics like Michelangelo Antonioni and writers from both sides of the political spectrum contributed to ‘Cinema’, the prominent journal of film reviews. As chief editor, and therefore responsible for the content from 1938 to 1943 signed no other than Vittorio Mussolini, the son of the Duce. The relative freedom of expression and the politically enforced continuity of cinematographic production throughout the war led to the emergence of a unique strand of cinematographic aesthetics, the Italian Neorealism. But Neorealism wasn’t meant for the crowds of passionate moviegoers. It always had a hard time when measured against the revenues at the box office from US American productions. For the majority of spectators in the audience the neorealist aesthetics meant to be exposed and directly confronted again with the darkness of the war. The orthodox Neorealist movement consumed itself in a factious political statement that served only the incestuous dispute between both sides of the political spectrum. To counterbalance the dominance of foreign USAmerican movies, Giulio Andreotti, as the state undersecretary in charge of entertainment, enforced from 1949 onwards the nascent neorealismo rosa, the commedia all’italiana. ‘Less rags more legs’ was his not so hidden directive. His regulations provided the possibility for projects to access public funding, to bestow subsidies upon the production companies for working with local resources. The impact of these measures on the entertainment sector forced a leveling of a vast part of the cultural landscape and led simultaneously to a commodification of cultural content. Processes of social transformation could easily be controlled by political parties, via, what we now call, the mass media. Consequently media and communications technologies underwent a progressive sophistication: the tv apparatus present in every household became the symbol of personal freedom and professional success. At the same time through a constant process of adulteration it morphed into the preferred means to exert social and political leverage upon the consumer by campaigners of every couleur. Video by itself did not kill the radio stars, it was the collision between culture and commodity, the subjection of quality under the principles of revenue through marketing possibilities. Growing up In Italy in the 1970is we witnessed the mediatic success of the neoliberal ventennio, that started politically in the late 1980is. Federico Fellini concisely summarized the future role of television in an interview for ‘L’Europeo’ in 1985: ‘The ongoing interruptions during the transmissions of  movies in private TV are an act of disrespect for the author and the authors work, and the audience too. The spectator gets used to a hiccuping, stuttering storyline, to a suspension in mental activity, to a vast array of tiny ischemic events in his attention span, all this in the end resulting in a collective of impatient cretinous viewers, incapable to concentrate, to think, to connect mentally, to foresee, and even to envision the musical sense, the harmony, the eurythmy that were always present when telling a story… Twisting every incipient of articulated syntax results in an endless crowd of illiterates…’

(Original Quote: “Le continue interruzioni dei film trasmessi dalle televisioni private sono un vero e proprio arbitrio e non soltanto verso un autore e verso un’opera, ma anche verso lo spettatore. Lo si abitua a un linguaggio singhiozzante, balbettante, a sospensioni dell’attività mentale, a tante piccole ischemie dell’attenzione che alla fine faranno dello spettatore un cretino impaziente, incapace di concentrazione, di riflessione, di collegamenti mentali, di previsioni, e anche di quel senso di musicalità, dell’armonia, dell’euritmia che sempre accompagna qualcosa che viene raccontato… Lo stravolgimento di qualsiasi sintassi articolata ha come unico risultato quello di creare una sterminata platea di analfabeti…”. (Tullio Kezich, Federico Fellini, La vita e I film, 2010, p354))

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