Italian Cinema: History, Context and Analysis

Ellen Nerenberg • Thursday, 6:30-9:15 p.m. (OR, if possible, with screenings beginning at 6:00 p.m.)

Course Calendar

NOTE: This is a proposed syllabus. The definitive syllabus will be distributed at the first class session

  Our subject is Italian cinema, from the "golden" era of silent films to approximately the mid-1980s. We will examine films both for their cinematic particularity as well as for their historical, social, and cultural importance.

We will spend the majority of our time on cinema produced after World War II, including films by Rossellini, De Sica, Fellini, Visconti, Bertolucci, and Wertmuller. What were the effects of the War on Italian society? How did the "Economic miracle" of the postwar "Boom" affect Italian culture? How was the memory of the War and Fascism represented cinematically?

This course has no prerequisites, and no prior knowledge is assumed. Students will read one chapter of Louis Giannetti's Understanding Movies each week, alongside readings explicitly linked to the films, in order to solidify their existing knowledge of cinematic terms and concepts.

At each class session we will screen the film and then discuss it. Students will be required to see three films, detailed below, on their own before class sessions. Please see special note immediately below

Special Note About Class Time

So that we may adequately discuss the films the evening of their screenings, we will need slightly more time. We will explore at the first class session the possibilities of either beginning at 6:00 OR concluding at 9:15. Three films (Rocco and his Brothers, La Dolce Vita, and The Conformist) are too long t accommodate our screening and discussion in one evening. Students should see these films BEFORE the dates indicated on the syllabus. These films are readily available as rentals (Blockbuster and internet rental sources), through public library loan, and, as a last resort, are on reserve at Olin Library. Class time will be reduced accordingly on these evenings.

Special Presentation

Professor Millicent Marcus, DeVito Professor of the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, will speak on the Italian cinematic representation of the Holocaust at the Russell House on Monday, April 26 at 8:00. This presentation, firmly anchored to the material of the course, will be considered a class session. This presentation, as well as the Colloquium the following morning (Tuesday, April 27, 9:30 am, Center for the Humanities), should your schedules permit, are designed with this course in mind.

Required Texts:

L. Giannetti, Understanding Movies (9th edition) (available at Broad Street Books)
M. Marcus, Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism (available at Broad Street Books)
Course Reader (available at Minuteman Press, Main Street)

Course Calendar

January 26 Introduction, The Golden Era of Silent Cinema

Cabiria, dir. Pastrone, 1913 (duration: 123')

Read: delle Vacche on Cabiria in Course Reader before class, if possible.
Giannetti: Chapter 1 (for film journals)

February 5 Fascism and Film

La signora di tutti, dir. Ophuls, 1933

Read: White on La signora in Course Reader before class
Giannetti: Chapter 2 (for film journals)

February 12 Neorealism

Rome, Open City, dir. Rossellini (duration: 105')

Read: Marcvus 31-53 before class
Giannetti: Chapter 3 (for film journals)

February 19 Neorealism?

The Bicycle Thief, dir. De Sica

Read: Marcus on The Bicycle Thief 54-75 before class
Giannetti: Chapter 4 (for film journals)

Due at class time: Film Journals (Chapters 1-4 Giannetti, responses to Pastrone, Ophuls, Rossellini).

February 26 Italy of the Boom-I*
*Special Note:
Students should see Rocco and His Brothers BEFOR class.

Rocco and His Brothers, dir. Visconti, 1960 (duration: 170')

Read: Gramsci "The Southern Question" in Course Reader; Foot, "La gente e il buon costume" in Course Reader before class
Giannetti: Chapter 5 (for film journals)

*Class will run 6:30-8:30 this evening

March 4 Italy of the Boom-II*
*Special Note:
Students should see La dolce vita BEFORE class

La Dolce Vita, dir. Fellini, 1959 (duration: 178')

Read: P. Adams Sitney and Bondanella on La Dolce Vita in the Course Reader before class
Giannetti: Chapter 6 (for film journals)

*Class will run 6:30-8:30 this evening

March 25 Comedy, Italian Style (Boom-III?)

Divorce, Italian Style, dir. Germi, 1960 (duration: 101')

Read: Marcus on Seduced and Abandoned 228-244
Giannetti: Chapter 7 (for film journals)

Due at class time: Film journals (Giannetti chapters 5-7, responses to De Sica, Visconti, La Dolce Vita)

Distributed: Take Home Midterm Exam, due at GLSP Office by 16 March, 4 p.m.

April 1 Fascism on Film: The Memory of Fascism I*
Special Note:
Students should see The Conformist BEFORE class

The Conformist, dir. Bertolucci, 1970

Read: Giannetti: Chapter 8 (for film journals)

Class will rune 6:30-8:30 this evening

April 11 Fascism on Film: The Memory of Fascism II*

Amarcord, dir. Fellini, 1974 (duration: 127')

Read: Bondanella on Amarcord in Course Reader before class
Giannetti: Chapter 9 (for film journals)

April 15 Fascism and Film: The Memory of the Holocaust III

Seven Beauties, dir. Wertmuller (duration: 115')

Read: Ravetto on Seven Beauties in Course Reader before class
Giannetti: Chapter 10 (for film journals)

April 22 Neo-Realism

Night of the Shooting Stars, dir. Taviani Bros., 1982 (duration: 107')

Read: Marcus 360-90 before class
Giannetti: Chapter 11 (for film journals)

April 29 Conclusions

In class portion of Final Exam
Take-home exam distributed. Due at GLSP Office by May 6, 4 p.m.

Read: Giannetti: Chapter 12 (for film journals)

Due at class time: Film journals (chapters 8-12, responses to Germi, Bertolucci, Amarcord, Wertmuller, Taviani Bros.)

Course Assignments

Film Journals Students will write six-page "journal" entries throughout the semester, due at the times indicated, for a total of 18 pages. The material to be includes is indicated on the syllabus. Journals allow students to express their responses to the films, framing them in terms of class discussion. Students must also incorporate the readings from Giannetti's Understanding Movies. Giannetti will not be discussed explicitly and is meant to provide students with the critical vocabulary to discuss film on and in cinematic terms. In fine, the journals constitute three "mini" papers. A more detailed explanation of the Journal will be provided at the first class session.
Midterm Exam There will be a take-home midterm examination distributed at the date indicated and due, in the GLSP Office, one week later.
Final Exam There will be one final exam. It will include an in-class portion, with the balance of the exam to be completed as take-home.
Grade Apportionment Film Journals: 55%
Midterm: 15%
Final: 15%
Quality participation in class discussion: 15%
Other Information 1. Films are on reserve at Olin Library. Please bear in mind that 40 Wesleyan undergraduates will also need to have access to these films.

2. Students should see Rocco and his Brothers, La Dolce Vita, and The Conformist before class times and class sessions, as indicated, will be shortened accordingly on these days.

3. These films, as well as the others for the course, are available for rental and loan through various resources: Russell Public Library of Middletown, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, Best Video (in Hamden, an excellent local resource), Mad Mike's Video (Wallingford, also very reliable). I highly recommend the internet film resources, where your rental arrives at your home or office via UPS. You are given about a week to view the film and you return it in the pre-paid media mailer provided. Students should try Video Library (, Net Flix (, or Facets Multi-media (