Cross-listed with Film 140, Section 3.
In 1975, Italy was, in one journalist’s words, “deep in crisis.” The postwar economic boom known as the miracolo italiano had given way to the long “Years of Lead,” marked by stagnation and foreign debt as well as by unrelenting political violence: routine kidnappings and assassinations, coups planned and exposed, neo-fascists clashing with left-wing militants. And while activists continued to work for economic justice, women’s liberation, and the end of what was already being called American empire, their revolutionary projects became increasingly difficult to sustain.
These desperate times called for desperate cinematic measures. So in 1975 Italian filmmakers went to new—and often unlikely—extremes. They experimented with endless-seeming long takes and scenes of mind-numbing boredom. They found new ways to frame brutal violence and to show what happens when such violence saturates everyday life. They devised incongruous and troubling generic hybrids like the “unwatchable” art film, or the comedy about the Holocaust.
In this course, we’ll study these and other cinematic responses to the Italian crisis. In order to look deep into—even at the risk of dwelling in—this crisis, we’ll attend closely to films made in Italy in 1975 alone. But we’ll also discuss films from elsewhere that let us situate the Italian case in a global context. We’ll ask what it means that so many of that year’s films, both in Italy and internationally, produce a sense of claustrophobia and closure, on the one hand, and cataclysm or even world-ending, on the other. How does film form relate to historical transition and social conflict? How have directors both registered and resisted states of stagnation, and how have they challenged us to imagine transformation?
Many of the films that we’ll consider—from documentary to dark comedy and from the exquisite to the deliberately opaque—deploy radical strategies that remain resonant and engage with debates that are still relevant to art and activism today, including debates on decolonization, race, “women’s work” or reproductive labor, the legacies of fascism, the ravages of capitalism, and the meaning of revolution.
We will study films by Ackerman, Antonioni, Celentano, Duras, Gerima, Guzmán, Losey, Lumet, Mills, Monicelli, Pasolini, Rocha, Sembene, Straub and Huillet, Visconti, and Wertmüller. A required course reader will include texts from the period by Berger, Federici, Fortini, Mulvey, Negri, Sontag, Truffaut, and Tronti, among others, as well as more recent critical and historical essays.
Course Requirements: Active and thoughtful participation will be required, as will short, weekly response papers. These will help students to prepare for class discussions and to practice the attentive, analytical writing that they will do for full-length essays. Students will write a midterm essay (4-5 pages) focused on one film as well as a comparative final essay (8-10 pages) that will address two films, one Italian and one international.