“As a child, I went to the cinema for the atmosphere: I loved the noise […] and the way the people went out into the street – men and women stunned by the spectacle.”
– Federico Fellini
On May 10th, Cinetopia will screen Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso and a selection of Italian short films at Custom Lane – CINEMA ON THE SHORE. In effect, through 3 films (by no means definitive of the Italian canon), we present here a kind of ode to Italian cinema; a gush over a national cinema that provoked the eyes, dazed the mind, and stirred the heart.
First up, it’s Federico Fellini’s La Strada. One of the films that got this writer into ‘arthouse’, it rests here as a benchmark for something greater. Though undoubtedly a favourite as both a film on its own and one from Fellini, to me it is the keystone for a stalwart love of the Italian cinema across its colourful history – a jewel among many on the crown of Cinecitta. La Strada is a bridge from the Italian cinema that was (the Pastrones, Rossellinis, & De Sicas), to what it would become (the Viscontis, Antonionis, Bertoluccis, Pasolinis, Olmis, Leones, Rosis, Tornatores, Benignis, Sorrentinos, & Guadagninos). From (neo)realism and fantasy, to opera and giallo.
Like many Italian masterpieces, La Strada is, among many things, a film of departures. It is incredible to see how many Italian pictures convey this aspect on a personal and cultural level – from the small-town goodbyes of Fellini’s previous I Vitelloni to the lavish decadence of Visconti’s The Leopard. Consider again the images of Giulietta Masina’s wave to the camera, bidding farewell to her poor family. Melancholic images for sure. Yet in a film which depicts the tyranny of Anthony Quinn’s Zampano over his assistant Gelsomina (Masina), images of leaving align themselves to her encounters with ‘The Fool,’ or scenes in which she finds herself alone playing a trumpet. Sad images, but temporary escapes from suffering, and thus moments of joy – of beauty. Ciao bellissima.
But then there are of course the genre flicks – the Spaghetti Western, Macaroni Combat, Poliziotteschi, and Giallo films that reigned from the mid-1960s through to the 1980s. Ultimately, these films represent both a parody and innovation upon traditionally American genres – an Italian take on the films that flooded their mainstream venues.
While much can be said here of Argento and Fulci’s influence on the stylings of contemporary horror cinema and many more, the films of chief genre progenitor Sergio Leone always have a foothold in this discussion, and in particular his final masterpiece Once Upon a Time in America. Though a film partially driven and ruined by American market concerns (thank you Ladd Co. for the extensive excisions), Once Upon a Time… ultimately represents Leone’s most overt statement on his fascination with America, yet stunningly retains the atmosphere of his Italian mentors and peers.
As with any given frame from his neo-realist predecessors, the film is populated by children, lost and struggling in a world of poverty, wide-eyed looking for magic. Evoking Bicycle Thieves and Cinema Paradiso later on, one sequence shows us a boy who spends his last penny on a cake for a crush, only to eat it himself while waiting on the steps for her – overcome by his innocent desire, uncaring and free. Pulsing to the melancholic lilt of Morricone’s strings, the scene plays like many in the Italian mode: banal, ordinary moments becoming a thing of grandeur – an opera of the everyday – and thus a new way of looking.
And finally, Cinema Paradiso; a kind of touchstone for international Italian cinema in the last half of a century marked by innovation, passion, and adventure. A middle-aged film director reminisces about his formative years in Sicily – his ‘apprenticeship’ with the gruff projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), encounters with first love, and the oppressive, censorious forces of the Catholic Church. The cinema, as we are shown, became as important as the gathering of a church crowd in post-war Italian society – where the image of a child enchanted by the moving image is as vibrant as what is illuminated on the silver screen.
Soon, the film director awakes from his dream and is found again in a theatre, moved by these pictures in his head. This dream of childhood which lives in all of us, vivified by a screen and a beam of light from the projection room.
In a writer’s workshop, Pauline Kael observed that several of the innovative directors from the New Hollywood group unsurpsrisingly had Italian roots (e.g. Scorsese, Coppola, Cimino), adding that with centuries’ worth of a ‘headstart’, the Italian cinema demonstrates an unmatched visual culture – of truly ‘looking’ at people and places, ‘of colour and vivacity.’ For once Pauline, we can agree on something.
However, with our screening for CINEMA ON THE SHORE, the importance of the Italian community in Edinburgh and Scotland at large, is not lost on us. Most notably, Leith became a hotspot for a significant portion of Italian immigration from the late 19th Century onwards, while iconic sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi was also born in the area. Moreover, David Bargna from our sponsors at the Italian Chamber of Commerce, has noted the importance of Italian cinema as a cultural export, stating ‘Cinema has always been an exceptional way to bring communities together, including the Italian one in Edinburgh. Considering the incredible history and the impact Italian cinema has had on culture worldwide, we are happy to collaborate in making the project possible and […] being part of this exciting journey.”
And so, we hope to see you on May 10th, it’ll be a big one. For those still wondering: yes, there will be pizza. And for those who wish to discuss Pasolini’s most infamous film in hushed tones, I will be at the back of the room ready for your questions.
Cinema on the Shore: bit.ly/2GRr8xP