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118 S 5 Imperial Bodies, Part I Italians and Askaris The narratives of empire film, like empire itself, revolved around the management of imperial bodies. Both colonizers and colonized had value as a productive force (infrastructure, agriculture, conquest ). They reinforce, and sometimes transgress, social and racial hierarchies and are marked by the displacements and journeys occasioned by Italian wars and occupations and by the encounters, for all races, with alterity. The films of chapter 5 and 6 stage the relations of intimacy, estrangement , and exploitation that marked these encounters. The titles of chapter 5’s two films, Lo squadrone bianco and Sentinelle di bronzo, limn their putative homages to Libyan meharisti and Somali dubat. These narratives of military advance are twinned with dramas of sentimental attachment that complicate masculine comradeship among both Italian and indigenous men. Chapter 6’s movies, L’Esclave blanc and Sotto la Croce del Sud, focus on attractions between white men and black and “Levantine ” women on plantation settings in Somalia and Ethiopia. In most of these films, flows of white desire for women interfere with military duty and governance of the indigenous. In all of them, the nomad and the nomadic feature as the Italian empire’s internal enemy, whether in the form of indigenous tribes, wayward female temperaments, or the mal d’Africa that afflicts their male protagonists. A series of contradictions revolve around the imperial body, influencing the ways it is filmed, its place within a larger network of images and ideologies, and its relationship to the bodies behind the camera and in 119 Imperial Bodies, Part I the movie theater. The films examined here proclaim Italian dominance and superiority with respect to the occupied populations, but reveal the d­ egree of Italian dependence on those populations for conquest, governance , labor, and sexual satisfaction. On the ground, the small size of the settler population made colonial intermediaries such as foremen, interpreters , and askari leaders indispensable, but contributed to a sense of insecurity that registers in feature and nonfiction film. Language is a measure of this. Lacking much knowledge of local tongues, Italians relied on these intermediaries to convey their commands, whether on agricultural fields, battlefields, or film sets. The indigenous man performing the act of translation, set apart from the rest of the native labor force, was a common sight in Fascist propaganda, but the scant knowledge of in­dige­nous languages among Italians meant that the content of the translation very of­tenremained amystery.A 1930 articlehadacknowledgedthis problem, calling the interpreter an “unreliable and sometimes dangerous­intermediary . . . who constitutes a grave unknown (incognita) as far as the honesty and impartiality of the very delicate work that he is given.”1 This incognito persists in empire features, with their untranslated speech by interpreters and others, whereas Luce nonfiction replaces native speech with the narrator’s gloss on the action, leaving the colonized to speak through their bodies. The mix of alienation and attraction that came with the audition of untranslated speech marks the more general use of ethnographic elements in empire feature films. The demands of “authenticity” and spectacle led to the use of documentary conventions to showcase exotic peoples and landscapes. Such practices were not unique to Italy, and Fascism’s empire­ cinema entered into a filmic field already crowded with Ameri­ can and British desert films, French colonial films, and a new generation of Orientalist sound films emanating from Hollywood. Fascist officials such as Freddi were well aware of this other dimension of Italian belatedness. The emigration films discussed in chapter 4 constitute one approach to the particularity of the Italian experience; enabling the ethnographic eye was another. Officials and cineastes engaged in pub­lic discussions about how to visually exploit the specificities of Fascism’s territories, highlighting their “little known lands, unusual and diverse races [and] undiscovered customs” for Italian and international spectators.2 120 Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema Fascist empire films shot in North and East Africa present divergent profiles in this regard. As part of North Africa, Libya was assimilated to other Sahara desert landscapes and Maghrebian settings that had featured in international features since the silent period. The Italo-­Turkish War had given rise to silent features shot partly on location, and even a specialized production company, Libya Films, which made La figlia del deserto/The Daughter of the Desert (A. Di Natale, 1923), photographed by Craveri but released only in Tripoli and Bengasi. More successful features included Camerini’s Maciste contro lo sceicco and Kif...


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