Luchino Visconti and the Alchemy of Adaptation

By Brendan Hennessey

Subjects: Film Studies, Italian Studies, Comparative Literature
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Hardcover : 9781438484976, 268 pages, September 2021
Paperback : 9781438484983, 268 pages, January 2022

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Literary Sources, Cinematic Frameworks

Part I: Neorealist Interiors in Word and Image

1. La terra trema (The Earth Trembles, 1948): Inhabiting The House by the Medlar Tree, from Verga to Visconti

2. Ossessione (Obsession, 1941): In from the Outside: Literary Interiors in Neorealist Exteriors

3. Senso (1954) and Le notti bianche (White Nights, 1957): Voice and Body: Books through Stars of the Screen

Part II: The Super-Spectacle Adaptations

4. Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers, 1960): Passion and Pugilism in Visconti's Boxing Film

5. Il Gattopardo (The Leopard, 1963) and Il lavoro (The Job, 1962): Wedding Bestseller with Blockbuster

6. La caduta degli dei (Götterdämmerung) (The Damned, 1969): A Queer Macbeth in Nazi Uniform

Part III: The Late Works, Page to Screen

7. Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa (Sandra, 1965) and L'Innocente (The Intruder, 1976): D'Annunzio, Decadence, and Tragic Masculinity

8. Lo straniero (The Stranger, 1967): Crime and Punishment in a "Failed" Adaptation

9. Morte a Venezia (Death in Venice, 1971): Ode to the Elegant Art of Adaptation


Examines the place of book-to-film adaptations by one of Italy's most famous postwar film directors.


Since the beginning, much of Italian cinema has been sustained by transforming literature into moving images. This tradition of literary adaptation continues today, challenging artistic form and practice by pressuring the boundaries that traditionally separate film from its sister arts. In the twentieth century, director Luchino Visconti is a keystone figure in Italy's evolving art of adaptation. From the tumultuous years of Fascism and postwar Neorealism, through the blockbuster decade of the 1960s, into the arthouse masterpieces of the 1970s, Visconti's adaptations marked a distinct pathway of the Italian cinematic imagination. Luchino Visconti and the Alchemy of Adaptation examines these films together with their literary antecedents. Moving past strict book-to-film comparisons, it ponders how literary texts encounter and interact with a history of cultural and cinematic forms, genres, and traditions. Matching the major critical concerns of the postwar period (realism, political filmmaking, cinematic modernism) with more recent notions of adaptation and intermediality, this book reviews how one of Italy's greatest directors mined literary ore for cinematic inspiration.

Brendan Hennessey is Associate Professor of Italian in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Binghamton University, State University of New York.


"…the book has an admirable range and supplies a convincing account of the director's work in its Italian social context and of international film culture in the postwar decades." — CHOICE