Launched in 2013 and funded by the AHRC, the Italian Cinema Audiences project gathered the memories of over 1,200 post-war cinema-goers from around the country. These memories form the basis of a new jointly-authored book published by Bloomsbury in October 2020. Entitled Italian Cinema Audiences: Histories and Memories of Cinema-going in Post-war Italy, the book is the final major output of this collaborative, interdisciplinary project.
It feels strange, but also somewhat timely that our book (which was seven years in the making) has come to fruition at a moment when cinemas around the world have been forced to close due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic. In the absence of opportunities to physically congregate in cinemas, theatres and concert venues, there is a sense that we have all found ourselves looking back at these past experiences of culture shared. During the Italian Cinema Audiences project many of our interviewees brought our attention to the social loss associated with the closure or repurposing of the cinemas of their youth. Similarly, for regular cinema-goers and those in the industry, 2020 has been a year to reflect on the role that cinema plays in the social fabric of everyday life. Earlier this year in response to the fallout of the Covid-19 crisis, over 130 independent cinema operators from across Italy penned an open letter highlighting the importance of local cinemas as a social outlet:
‘Il cinema spesso è l’unico avamposto culturale di una comunità e il più facilmente fruibile, trasversale a tutte le età e le fasce sociali, un luogo dove le emozioni vengono amplificate dalla visione condivisa.’
Their characterization of the cinema as a space of community and shared emotion echoes strongly with the many personal accounts shared with the Italian Cinema Audiences project. Reflecting on what cinema meant to him at that time a participant from Cagliari described it as ‘un momento di svago e socializzazione’, while another from Bari referred to it as ‘la fonte di tante sensazioni e ricordi che ancora sono vivi dentro di me’. Understanding the social and cultural imprint that cinema has left on Italy’s post-war audiences is very much the point of departure for the research we present in the book.
The book in a nutshell
While much has been written about Italy’s cinema history from the perspective of its directors and stars, the experiences of ordinary cinema-goers have been largely absent from this narrative. From the outset, the aim of this project has been to address this imbalance by documenting and giving voice to Italy’s cinema audiences. We have sought to achieve this aim in two ways: through the book, we provide a detailed analysis of the audience questionnaires and interviews, but we have also made all of this data freely available on the CineRicordi website where researchers, students and the general public can view these sources in their original form. In the book, the analysis of the audience data is integrated with archival materials and is divided into three parts. In the first part, we examine cinema as a space of both film consumption and socialization, while also exploring how audience memories can inform our understanding of the business of exhibitors and distributors. In part two, we look at audience tastes and preferences with regard to film genre and examine how neorealist films like Roma città aperta (Roberto Rossellini, 1945) figure in popular memory. In the final part, we consider the role that cinema and stars played in shaping and challenging gender identities among the post-war generation. We also reflect on the methodological implications of the video-interview as a research tool and consider the challenges and opportunities that this kind of memory work presents.
In addition to being of interest to scholars in the field of Italian Studies, we hope that the book will prove to be a helpful point of reference for researchers and students in the fields of Film Studies, Cultural Studies and History. And until life as we used to know it resumes, we invite readers to revisit the cinema-going experience through the memories of all those who so generously contributed to this research.
The Italian Cinema Audiences Team: Daniela Treveri Gennari (Oxford Brookes University), Catherine O’Rawe (University of Bristol), Danielle Hipkins (University of Exeter), Silvia Dibeltulo (Oxford Brookes University), Sarah Culhane (Maynooth University).