- Futurist Cinema: Studies on Italian Avant-garde Film ed. by Rossella Catanese
In his monumental Futurism and Futurisms, Pontus Hultén writes that “Futurist cinema does not exist and has never existed.” (448) This is a common position, based on such facts as the absence of references to film in the avant-garde movement’s inaugural text, Marinetti’s 1909 manifesto, the diminutive number of films produced under the movement’s auspices, and the failure of most of those films to live up to the aesthetic and ideational principles set forth in the manifesto and other programmatic writings of the Futurists. On the other hand, Marinetti eventually embraced film in 1916, scripting Vita futurista (Arnaldo Gina) and publishing “Manifesto of Futurist Cinema.” Futurist Cinema, a highly useful and readable collection of essays edited by Rossella Catanese (Adjunct Professor od Italian Cinema and Society at Lorenzo de’Medici Institute), draws much of its intellectual energy from Futurism’s ambiguous relation with cinema.
The book consists of a preface, sixteen chapters concerning primarily either with theoretical issues or select case studies, and a detailed filmography and chronology. Futurist Cinema opens forcefully with a contribution by Giovanni Lista, which – along with Catanese’s preface – functions partly as a road map to the thematic preoccupations of the entire book, identifying an interest in medium specificity as the main field of convergence between Italian Futurism and subsequent cinematic avant-gardes, and positing the art movement’s imaginary to range “from streams of consciousness to the kaleidosciopic scenery of the metropolis in action.” (31) Paolo Bertetto’s “Speed and Dynamism: Futurism and the Soviet Cinematographic Avant-garde” narrows down the discussion of Italian Futurism’s influence on later “isms” of the twentieth century by comparing the movement with its counterpart in Russia (which Marinetti visited in 1914). Bertetto’s reference to Eisenstein’s use of the term “Futurist” in relation to the “expositive procedure […] based on the pure assembly of associations to describe a determined fact” (ibid.) is a succinct yet powerful evidence of Marinetti’s legacy in the art scene of the Soviet Union, and Bertetto is undoubtedly correct to cite the ideological fissure between the Italian and Russian Futurists as the reason that commentators have hitherto downplayed the lattter group’s lineage in a movement that would – in the 1920s – come to be associated with a political orientation proscribed throughout the second half of the twentieth century. However, he fails to pursue the implications of this crucial difference between the two related strains of theoretical and artistic production. The fact that their common attraction to speed and power (“in a word, dynamism” ) lead the two groups to antihetically opposed political positions, however, begs the question of whether the notion of dynamism possesses the breadth necessary for capturing the points of convergence between the two Futurisms.
Valentina Valente’s “Futurism and Film Theories: Manifesto of Futurist Cinema and Theories in Italy in the 1910s–1920s” expands the canon of Italian Futurist theory on cinema by exploring theoretical ideas implicit in their films, critical texts, and manifestos. (45) Justified by the Futurists’ emphasis on the “interrelation among the arts,” (47) this choice obliquely opposes Lista’s in its demarcation of the boundaries separating cinema from other arts, but reveals a commonality with it in stressing the artists and theorists’ collective endeavor to transcend the mechanical mimeticism of the film apparatus and endow it with non-realistic properties available to such artforms as music. The theoretical basis of Futurist cinema is explored further in Sabine Schrader’s bifurcating “Film Aesthetics Without Films”. The first line of Schrader’s argument pits Marinetti’s eventual proclamation of cinema as his favorite artistic medium against the fellow Futurist Umberto Boccioni’s unwavering criticism of it. The comparison is warranted by Marinetti and [End Page 96] Boccioni’s common concern with cinema’s potential to represent mental time of duration, as well as velocity and simultaneity – which the Futurists perceived as key principles of modernity and consistently endeavored to articulate. The other line of argument explores the...