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xiii I N T R O D U C T I O N A soldier gets down from a truck, takes a look around and mutters “Holy crap!” He had imagined a conventional Africa, with tall palm trees, bananas, and dancing women, a mixture of Turkey, India, and Morocco, the dream land of Paramount Pictures’ “Oriental” films . . . what he finds instead is a place like home, but even more unwelcoming and indifferent. They had cheated him. ennio flaiano’s take on the gap between imperial fantasy and re­ ality, written while he was in Ethiopia during the 1935–1936 Italian war on that country, is an apt introduction to a book on Italian Fascism’s empire­cinema. The allusion to Ameri­can ­cinema as the reference for Italian popu­ lar imaginings of exoticism sums up the challenges and possibilities Mussolini ’s dictatorship faced in developing its own imperial film aesthetic. By the mid-­ 1930s, Italy had been in Africa for decades, with the occupation of Ethiopia following those of Eritrea (1890), Somalia (1908), and Libya (1912), as well as the Dodecanese Islands (1912), and each of these colonies had fig­ured in privately funded exploration films or in newsreels and documentaries made by the state-­run Istituto Luce. Yet only Libya, Italy’s one North Af­ri­can colony, had been the setting for a consistent number of film productions from the onset of Italian control through the slowdown of the Italian industry in the late 1920s. Libya offered a brand of Orientalist scenery made recognizable from Hollywood, French, and other national­ cinemas, whereas East Africa had no pub­ lic recall in terms of screen imagery . The perennial imperialist vision of Africa as an “empty space” to be filled in the image of the colonizer’s fantasy had particular influence among the Fascist officials and film professionals involved in developing xiv Introduction a cine­matic profile for the Italian East Af­ri­can Empire so grandly declared in May 1936.1 In Britain and France as well, film played a key role in engaging national publics with imperial agendas, offering metropolitan spectators experiences of virtual immersion in worlds very different from their own. Even in National Socialist Germany, which had lost its colonies in the 1918 Versailles Treaty, visual culture kept alive the mirage of expansion outside of Europe. Nazi films drew on native traditions (Alpine mysticism) and foreign ones (the Ameri­can West­ern) to communicate the thrill of exploration under the safety of hierarchical command.2 Fascist empire ­cinema developed in dialogue with all of these parallel projects, and even during World War II, shared needs to innovate in the realm of film propaganda kept circuits of international influence flowing among Axis and Allied nations. At the same time, Fascism’s empire ­cinema project reflected a collective conviction among officials and film professionals that unfamiliar East Africa could create a market niche for Italy and that North Africa could be depicted with fresh eyes. As one commentator asserted in urging investment in movies about the Italian colonies, such films could speak to the “profound reasons” that people went to see movies in general— “an appetite for the vast world, a desire to expand one’s own mental and sentimental horizons”—while showcasing the particularities of Italy’s possessions.3 Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema discusses nine features made in this spirit that move among Italy, Africa, and Greece: Kif Tebbi (Mario Camerini ,1927);Ilgrandeappello/TheLastRollCall(MarioCamerini,1936);Lo squadrone bianco/The White Squadron (Augusto Genina, 1936); L’Esclave blanc/The White Slave—Jungla nera/Black Jungle(started by Carl Theodor Dreyer, finished by Jean-­ Paul Paulin, 1936, and referred to henceforth by its French title); Sentinelle di bronzo/Dusky Sentinels (Romolo Marcellini , 1937); Luciano Serra, pilota (Goffredo Alessandrini, 1938); Sotto la Croce del Sud/Under the South­ern Cross (Guido Brignone, 1938); Bengasi/ Benghazi (Goffredo Alessandrini, 1942); and Un pilota ritorna/A Pilot Re­turns (Roberto Rossellini, 1942). Although some of these works are remembered today because of their stars or their directors, others are virtually unknown. Lino Micciché charged in a groundbreaking 1979 essay that movies made during the Fascist dictatorship (1922–1943) were xv Introduction “the skeleton in the closet” of the Italian film industry. As features supporting Fascist wars and occupations, empire films were at the heart of this uncomfortable film body, and they have remained among the least examined films of this period.4 Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema is the first in-­depth...


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