170: Immigrants, Gangsters, and Fighters: Italian Identities from Ellis Island to Hollywood

TuTh 12:30-2 | Dwinelle 105 | Instructor: Margherita Ghetti

Units: 4 Satisfies L&S Arts & Literature breadth requirement.

Italians gesticulate, cannot stand in line, go around the dinner table to kiss each guest on the cheek twice, and drink an espresso in less than 15 seconds. All of these stereotypes are true. Why are there so many more die-hard legends about Italians and their customs? And why do these clichès mainly have to do with shrewdness and lack of respect for the law – from nepotism to driving past the speed limit? Blame the movies. It is no secret that cinema has helped crystalize rumors, stock characters, and stereotypes through movie scenes and quotes indelible ever since.    This Spring we’ll travel around Italy – and across the Atlantic to and from the US – departing from Ellis Island in the early 20th century, moving South to Sicily, to explore Italian portrayals of the mafia, and from there back to the US. In the first part of the course we will deal with narratives about Italian immigrants that, since the turn of the 20th century, have influenced the portrayal of Italian as criminals, as well as with internal migration from South to North during the years of the “economic miracle.”
The second part of the semester will revolve around the representation of the mafia in Italian cinema, such as Francesco Rosi’s stunning black and white Salvatore Giuliano (1963), and Marco Tullio Giordana’s One Hundred Steps (2000) – to finally move to the US with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather I (1972). The third and last part of the course will address the creation of a “necessary other.” We will first touch upon Neorealism and explore the trope of Italians as fighters – mainly as a result of WWII and the Resistance – as in the street fights and racial discourse of Brooklyn’s iconic pizza parlor in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) and Peter Farrelly’s Green Book (2018). Overall, the course will be an occasion to reflect on Italian cinema, as well as on the cultural and material exchanges between Italy and the US, and how at different historical times, different stereotypes and notions called upon the redefinition of gender roles and race in order to shape new cinematic identities, and in turn new narratives.


Film list:
The Italian (Reginald Barker, 1915), The Immigrant (Charlie Chaplin, 1917), Nuovomondo (Emanuele Crialese, 2006) Italianamerican (Martin Scorsese, 1974), The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1964), Senza pietà (Alberto Lattuada, 1948), Paisan (Roberto Rossellini, 1946), Mafioso (Alberto Lattuada, 1963), Salvatore Giuliano and Le mani sulla città (Francesco Rosi, 1962 and 1963), The Sopranos (David Chase, 1999-2007), Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968), I cento passi (Marco Tullio Giordana, 2000), The Mafia Kills Only in the Summer (Pif, 2016), Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989), La terra dell’abbastanza (Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, 2018).

Rules & Requirements:
• Mandatory attendance to lectures (one excused absence) and screenings (it’s important to be there and watch the film on a big screen, in the dark, with other people, not multitasking)
• Weekly readings (refer to syllabus, and bCourses)
• Weekly 1-2 page responses: integrate readings and screening and come up with a point of entry, focus on something specific and show you have read, processed and elaborated on the material.
• Active participation in class (raise your hand, ask questions, comment)
• One 7 minutes presentation
• BAMPFA screenings
• Final project

Taught in English, readings and screenings in English and Italian (with English subtitles and translations provided).