Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Keeping Up Appearances

"After the Liberation, while the Left was attempting to mobilize the masses, the Christian Democrats invested the state apparatus by either protecting ex-Fascist civil servants or occupying the managerial positions in all sectors of information. Mussolini had insisted that cinematic propaganda should never be too intrusive. The Christian Democrats did not forget the lesson. They preserved the Light Institute, founded by Fascism, to make documentaries likely to advertise Italy abroad. But newsreels, whose presentation was compulsory during any film-show, were offered to private companies. Fourteen production companies seized the chance. Since exhibitors were obliged to have a newsreel in their programmes, the product was sold in advance, so that little, if any, investment was necessary. One of the companies, Settimana Incom, tok the lead very quickly and its productions are worth a look. The tone, resolutely optimistic, was based on celebration of a changing Italy. Unlike Fascist documentaries, these films did not romanticise the traditional country. Beginning with a quick glimpse at the past, they stressed the improvements introduced by modern techniques and contrasted old ploughs with tractors or derelict farmhouses with hygienic, modern cowsheds. Emphasis was put on the diffusion of electrical power which made possible new light industries providing cleaner jobs and labour-saving consumer durables. There were also hints at employment for women and at the improvement of the female condition. In short, instead of advertising the government, Settimana Incom attempted to persuade its viewers that things were evolving rapidly and that the best they could do was to make the most of it. The Community Party tried to counter this hidden propaganda by makings its own documentaries. Filming the gloomy multi-storey buildings of Milan and the out-of-the-way villages of Sicily, they argued that the state had failed to carry out crucial reforms and that the price paid for a few economic advances had been dangerously high. These pictures were of course banned in right-wing constituencies but even in the districts that voted regularly for them, the Communist documentaries did not meet with an enthusiastic response because their vision was too critical. Spectators knew that the Communists were right and that Settimana Incom lied. However, being involved in an irreversible transformation from a country of sharecroppers and small shopkeepers into an industrial society, they did not want to ponder over what the cost of the changes would be."

--Pierre Sorlin, Italian National Cinema, 1896-1996 (pp. 85-86)

4 comments:

Renegade Eye said...

I have thoughts of Leni Riefenstahl, who galvanized the fascist aesthetic better than anyone.

Regards.

Zach Campbell said...

Thanks for commenting RE! So, definitely--Riefenstahl is actually one of the very few major, canonical filmmakers I've never (yet) been able to see a whole film by. It's hard to bring myself to it. I wonder to what extent Riefenstahl and other formative minds on the Nazi aesthetic (Speer et al.) have their aesthetics "tagged," however, in comparison with the more subtly co-opted fascist propaganda tactics documented in post-WWII Italy here. Different registers of cinematic hegemony, I think ...

dave said...

I'm specifically interested in those final sentences:

These pictures were of course banned in right-wing constituencies but even in the districts that voted regularly for them, the Communist documentaries did not meet with an enthusiastic response because their vision was too critical. Spectators knew that the Communists were right and that Settimana Incom lied. However, being involved in an irreversible transformation from a country of sharecroppers and small shopkeepers into an industrial society, they did not want to ponder over what the cost of the changes would be."

(False) hope is more powerful than fear, right?

dave said...

Triumph of the Will is like a lesson in how Riefenstahl constructs a fascist mythos in cinema - so much so that it could be counter-read as a deconstruction thereof. I recommend it as a good place to start. I remember quite liking the kino fist essays on Riefenstahl: Owen, Daniel, and IT.