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| 27 Fascist Imperial Cinema An Account of Imaginary Places Giuseppe Fidotta I amconfijidentthatcinemawillplayanimportantroleinthefutureof Abyssinia. Once Italy and its victorious troops have fijixed this country, it will be the task of cinema to help difffuse civilization” (quoted in W.T. 1935, 4). These words of Charles Gleyze, a French movie-theater owner working in Addis Ababa since theearly1920s,areexcerptedfromaninterviewmadeattheendof 1935byanItalian journalist for a popular fijilm magazine. Capturing the bewilderment of a section of Addis Ababa’s population that had made the city one of the most cosmopolitan centers of the continent, this text presents the reader with a seemingly sincere and thus disturbing excitement for the possibilities for fijilm culture and business in the event of Fascist Italian rule. As Gleyze reiterates throughout the interview, the new rulers had to come up with a cultural project in which cinema could be fully integrated, for it is the most impactful and communicative means at their disposal to get the Ethiopians on their side. A couple of years later, interventions pursuing the need for a specifijic fijilm production targeting indigenous audiences (Rava1936;Balestrazzi1939;Orano1939),aswellassignsof moralandculturalpanic provokedbythecirculationof fijilmsthreateningtherulers’racialprestige(V.M.1939; Balestrazzi 1939; Mattia 1940), inspired heated debates. The values, potentials, and merits of cinema for the sake of the colonial project were thoroughly discussed in “ 28 | Giuseppe Fidotta op-eds, reportages, and reviews appearing in both fijilm and colonial journals and also penned by prominent fijigures operating within the colonial administration. Nonetheless, the outcomes of Italy’s colonial and later imperial fijilm production do not bear the traces of any of these reflections, nor of any hint, even, of a short-term project encompassing local populations in any form. If these absences are to be considered as representative of the absence of any real common terrain between Italianimperialfijilmsandlocalrealities,thefactthattheformerhadneverseriously treated the latter appears to be an astonishing element to be taken into account for assessingthemeaningof Fascistimperialculture.Thesheerpresenceof non-Italian people in Italian documentary and feature fijilms set in the territories of the empire is in itself paradoxically surprising, for, as I will argue, these productions display an obsession with motifs, fijigures, and narratives all focused on Italian people fijighting for, building, and praising the empire. Behind all colonial and imperial European cinema there is a sense of ambiguity and fabrication, if not of total delusion, but the Italian case stands out for its opacity, that is, for the fact of it being essentially a product of several imaginations at work to invent a fijictitious reality responding to political and ideological imperatives. No wonder that according to Ruth Ben-Ghiat, these fijilms were greeted by Ethiopian people with laugher, thus creating “a sort of parallel soundtrack whose audience was Italians, who in turn experienced the fijilm through the screen of such mockery” (2003, 60). Although none of these fijilms were expressly intended for colonial audiences, such reactions illuminate the failure of the imperial cinema, while also providing at the same time a powerful comment on the alleged, though seldom demonstrated, efffectiveness of these fijilms. Such a healthy exercise in “subversive reading” already suggests the main argument of this essay, that is, the legitimacy of reading Italian colonial cinema as a solipsist product of fantasy. Thischapterintendstoprovideanoverviewof thebrief historyof FascistItaly’s colonial cinema in the light of both opacity and fantasy, which I will argue should be regarded as its most peculiar features. The fijirst section will address the issue of colonial representation through the notion of “scopic regime,” and in particular of its“African”variety,aframeworkthathelpsinunderstandingthediscursiveregimes behind the fijirst Italian fijilms realized within the Ethiopian territory and more broadly the pre-1935 fijilm production. Then, I will turn to wartime fijilm production and to what was perceived at the time as its failure in providing appropriate representations of war. By focusing on the imperial fijilm production, the third section will outline how the rhetoric of empire building meant translating governmental Fascist Imperial Cinema | 29 policies and practices into fantasies of identity and fantasies of power. Finally, in conclusion I will assess how Fascist Italy’s imperial cinema created the empire as an experimental space where these fantasies could be enacted. The Place of Spectacular Sights In the course of the early modern and modern periods, European cultural elites elaborated a set of discursive strategies and practices aimed at blurring the anomalouscharacterof Africabyturningitsradicalotherness—andthatof itsinhabitants with their enigmatic features...


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