- Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader ed. by Giorgio Bertellini
In film scholarship, Italian cinema subsequent to neorealism has been commonly regarded as a small collection of historical epics. The thirty essays included in Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader, edited by Giorgio Bertellini, stand as a counterpoint to this overgeneralized claim, as the reader's fruitful contents introduce various historical accounts of Italy's often overlooked silent era. Bertellini's introduction establishes the lens through which its audience might view the various texts, as it primarily addresses the history and transnational contexts of (particularly English-language) silent cinema scholarship and Italian silent cinema's place – or lack thereof – within these existing frameworks. This foregrounding allows for an organic flow back and forth between the broader panorama of silent film study and the various histories and productions of particular Italian silent films. By doing so, Bertellini's collection ensures its importance within the larger conversation about film history and its transnational and interdisciplinary nature.
Part I, "Objects and Methods," provides a preliminary overview of Italian silent film scholarship. Gian Peiero Brunetta's "Silent Film Historiography and Italian (Film) Historiography" tracks the evolution of historical research on Italian silent film at both the national and transnational level from the 1970's on. As Brunetta's emphasizes, Italian silent film arguably first gained worldwide attention in 1970 at the retrospective on Italian silent cinema organized by Davide Turconi. This conference was followed by a period of academic momentum that continued throughout the 1980s, as interest in interdisciplinary research was also on the rise. Brunetta notes that due to innovations in the research process itself, progress continues to be made within this particular field. This swift synopsis of Italian silent film study is subsequently paired with "A Brief Cultural History of Italian Film Archive (1980–2005)" by Paolo Cherchi Usai. This essay not only tracks the historical construction of Italy's major (film) archives and their accessibility, but it also briefly addresses the evolution of Italy's film restoration movement. Through Part I's brief yet thorough account of both that history and the archives in which it generally occurs, the reader successfully establishes a solid context through which its subsequent content should be understood.
The reader continues to set up its historical framework in Part II, "Italian Silent [End Page 83] Cinema's Visual Cultures." Essays by Carlo Alberto Zotti Minici, Giorgio Bertellini, and Marco Bertozzi address the relationship between Italian film and pre-cinematic visual culture, early photography, and urban views. Though unique and systematic in their own right, each essay speaks to the broader connection between Italy and the notion of global imagery. The advance of photography enabled a "radical formal updating of preexisting representational modules." The Italian city that was once the subject of traditional painting continued to remain a center subject of early photography and cinema. As Bertozzi argues, cinematic representation(s) allowed for the "invention and articulation of new urban imaginaries," as a familiar city view could now be awakened and disrupted with the chaos of realistic urban movement. These extensive, earlier interconnections between painting, the camera, and the Italian city reveal an 'urban relationship' within Italian cinema that predates that encountered in more academically celebrated movements. The reader thereby establishes Italian cinema as a complex and interdisciplinary practice from its very beginnings, which prompts a reconsideration of how it has been generally conceived within English-language film studies.
Following the reader's earlier concentration on the notion of Italian silent film study, Parts III and IV focus on various early Italian production companies and the various national contexts and genres they produced. Part III provides extensive overviews of silent studios such as Ambrioso Film, Itala Film, and Cines via essays that focus on each respective studio's origins, labor, and international relations and/or distributions. These are accompanied by essays that further establish Italian silent cinema in regional and technological terms.
Part IV specifically focuses on early genres undertaken by these and other studios as a means of going beyond the usual association made between Italian...