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Italian Cinema

With the invention of the cinema, Man’s long soughtafter dream of reproducing reality at last came true. The machine that could let people see life projected onto a screen at once proved extraordinary powerful as a means of captivating early audiences, who experienced the unprecedented sensation of watching utterly enchanted as images in motion showed them events and people of their own time.

The first film ever to be made in Italy was Umberto and Margherita of Savoy Walking in a Park, by Vittorio Calcina, of 1896. This and all other early films were short films documenting reality. Very soon though it was not just reality being projected; predictably, a need developed to narrate full-blown stories. The cinema then was obliged to embark on a quest that left very little choice but to take subject matter for its story lines from other art forms, drawing on the centuries of material that contained the fruits of the whole of human creativity and imagination. So it was that from a very early stage in the history of the cinema, literature became a primary source of inspiration for this new form of communication by images which, at the start of the XXth cent., was opening up hitherto unimaginable prospects and providing Mankind with a magical tool pointing to endless possibilities, as yet to be explored and tried out. In 1930 the first Italian sound film was made, called The Song of Love, inspired by a novel by Pirandello and made by Gennaro Righelli. But it was with Neo-realism that Italian cinema truly became master of its own expressive capabilities and was able to communicate with the rest of the world.

De Sica, Rossellini and Visconti made masterpieces of universal subject matter in a modern vein that were very strong on recognisable story content. Films such as Rome, the Open City and Paisà have become cult works in the collective memory, appealing to generations of audiences. Critical observation of society, new language and popolarity were the three key elements that made Italian cinema work, from Neo-realism onwards, and those same elements became the mainstay of Italian drama in the decade that followed, at least in the works of great directors such as Mario Monicelli, Pietro Germi, Antonio Pietrangeli and Dino Risi.

But during the Sixties Italian cinema also became experimental with directors such as Michelangelo Antonioni, in the avant-garde works of Mario Bava and Sergio Leone, and the poetic worlds of Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini. La dolce vita was an extraordinary phenomenon, with lasting effects on society as well; representations of a hard and violent reality – as shown through Neorealism – was superimposed with images of a dazzling world of luxury, empty and deprived of any form of ideals. The image of Anita Ekberg in her seductive evening gown, stepping into the Trevi Fountain, made its way into the history of cinema to become a legend. Also unforgettable are works of literary cinema by Luchino Visconti and controversial, political films by Bellocchio and Ferreri, all of whom are film makers who continue to have a strong influence on directors all around the world.


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