Italians gestures with their hands, cannot stand in line, will 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 certainly helped crystalize rumors, stock characters and indelible scenes and quotes. The question of how movies and reality shape each other is wide open… To answer this, and other questions, this Spring we’ll travel around Italy – and across the Atlantic to and from the US – starting from Ellis Island in the early 20th century, moving South to Sicily, and from there to the American “frontiers” of the Spaghetti Western in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and to Brooklyn’s iconic pizza parlor, in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989).
The course will mainly revolve around the representation of the mafia in Italian cinema – as well as its American gangsters iterations. We’ll revisit classics like F. F. Coppola’s Godfather I (1973), indulge in some binge watching with David Chase’s TV series The Sopranos (1999-2007), and compare them with renditions of the Sicilian mafia, like Marco Tullio Giordana’s I cento passi (2000), and of the Calabrian camorra, in Matteo Garrone’s 2008 adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s shocking book Gomorrah (2006). The course will also focus on genre and representation that grow peripheral to the mafia itself. In the first part we will deal with the narratives about Italian immigrants that, from the turn of the 20th century, have influenced the portrayal of Italian as criminals. The last part will address the creation of a “necessary Other” in order for Italian culture to recognize and affirm itself, as in the street fights and race discourse of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Overall, the course will be an occasion to reflect on the cultural and material exchange 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.
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).