For Many But Not For All. Italian Film History and the Circumstantial Value of Audience Studies

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Abstract

Two assumptions are deeply rooted in Italian film history: during the Fifties “everybody went to the movies” and “the crisis of the cinema was caused by the arrival of television”. These statements are partly true: during the Fifties cinema was really at the core of both mediascape and social life; and the arrival of television, at the end of decade, undoubtedly contributed to reduce movie consumption. However, these assumptions need to be more thoroughly scrutinised. Saying that “cinema was popular” does not mean that “everyone went to the movies”: even at its peak, movie-going was in Italy an experience only for certain kinds of people (urban, higher and middle-class, living in Northern and Central Italy..). By the same token, saying that television caused the crisis of cinema doesn’t mean that specific audiences - adult Italian women, for instance - “abandoned” the movie theaters even before TV mass consumption. In other words, these assumptions risk to conceal the conjuncture of variations and micro-changes affecting movie audiences during the Fifties, which are pivotal in order to explain cinema’s social, political and cultural role along this period and also in the following years. Therefore, this essay aims at achieving a deeper scrutiny of the audience in Italy and its evolution during the Fifties and, at the same time, at introducing a ‘conjunctural approach’ within the Italian audience studies and cinema history. Using the metaphor of a cinema moving from the “centre” to the “periphery” of Italian social, cultural and political life, I want to highlight the complex set of changes occurring at this time and affecting cinema in all its aspects, from production to consumption. Furthermore, the metaphor captures the complexity of the shifts happening and their fluidity, which cannot be identified with a precise date or a single event. Finally, this metaphor stresses the spatial and geographical dimensions as decisive factors within Italian moviegoing: provinces and cities, Southern and Northern Italy, industrial and rural areas; mountains and countryside are separate worlds, as some impressive research of the time, spectators’ life histories, and other data demonstrate. The essay adopts a multidimensional approach, grounded in different sources: statistical data on cinema and media consumption; data on social identities and cultural profiles of cinema audiences; sociological and psychological surveys conducted during the Fifties and Sixties on Italian audience and in general on the national lifestyle; and the debate on the audience undergoing on the main film and media journals. Triangulating these data, the essay aims at explaining the specific conjuncture that between Fifties and Sixties downsizes film audiences and redefines social, cultural and political function of cinema in Italy.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteThe Routledge Companion of New Cinema History
EditorBiltereyst Daniel, Maltby Richard, Meers Philippe
Pagine387-394
Numero di pagine8
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2019

Keywords

  • Italian Film history
  • audience studies
  • film history
  • moviegoing
  • spectatorship

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