The Folklore of Consensus

Theatricality in the Italian Cinema, 1930-1943

By Marcia Landy

Subjects: Women's Studies
Series: SUNY series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video
Paperback : 9780791438046, 352 pages, May 1998
Hardcover : 9780791438039, 352 pages, June 1998

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


1. Film, Folklore, and Affect

Revaluations of Fascism: Cinema and Consensus

2. Comedy, Melodrama, and Theatricality

Folklore, Opera, and "Putting in a Show" • Life as Film • The Everyday and Domestic Diplomacy of Fiction • Formulas for Success • Americanism and Fordism • Typists and "Happiness" • Screwball Comedy, Italian Style • Comedy, Folklore, and the Law • Family as Theater • Domestic Comedy and "Ordinary" People • Home Is Where the Heart Is • Escapism and Carnival • Regarding Friendly Fascism

3. The Uses of Folklore: History and Theatricality

Monumental History • Melodrama and Legend • Aesthetics and Folklore • Romantic Nationalism • The Biopic, Machiavelli, and Realpolitik • The Artisit as Doppelganger • The Musician as National Savior • The Operatic in Film • The Melodrama of National Unity • Melodrama and History as Elegy • Italian History and the Western • The Narrative of Conversion and War • The Presentness of the Past

4. From Conversion to Calligraphism

A Paradigmatic Text • The Prodigal Son • The Orphans' Return • Machines and Modernity • Martydom, Mourning, and Community Conversions • The Prodigal Father • Surrogate Fathers and Prodigal Sons • The New Man, Conversion, and Colonialism • The Family History, and the Nation • The Tenuousness of Conversion • "Calligraphism" • Fractured Masculinity • The Fictions of Homosocial Conflict • Decadence and Violence Unredeemed • Death in Life • A Portrait of Abjection

5. The Affective Value of Femininity and Maternity

The Maternal Machine • Working-Class Divas • The Family Meodrama and Becoming Mother • "Phallic" Femininity • Visual Pleasure as Unpleasure • Return to Mother • Calligraphism and Femininity • Blurring "Boundaries" • Women Beware Women • Sexual Politics, Power, and Femininity

6. Conclusion




Examines the Italian popular cinema's preoccupation with theatricality in the 1930s and early 1940s, arguing that theatricality was a form of politics--a politics of style.


Marcia Landy's The Folklore of Consensus examines the theatricality in the Italian popular cinema of the 1930s and early 1940s, arguing that theatricality was a form of politics—a politics of style. While film critics no longer regard the commercial films of the era as mere propaganda, they continue to regard the cinema under fascism as "escapist," diverting audiences from the harsh realities of life under fascism. The Folklore of Consensus problematizes the notion of "escapism," examining the complexity that redeems the films from frivolity and evasion. It shifts the focus from a preoccupation with cinema as the public and spectacular purveyor of "fascinating fascism" to a more immediate and intimate terrain that bears on formulations about the role of mass culture then and now.

Marcia Landy is Professor of English/Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of several books, including most recently Cinematic Uses of the Past; Film, Politics, and Gramsci; and Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama.


"As with everything Marcia Landy writes, this book is clear, well researched, and well written. It is full of extremely interesting material that is always both informed by theoretical perspectives as well as concrete and based upon close viewings of the works of art in question. Italy's cinema under the fascist government is a fascinating topic for research that has, in part thanks to Landy, begun to attract more serious attention than ever before. Her examination of the various genres employed by this cinema, as well as her desire to go beyond conventional generic considerations of melodrama as film genre and to view it as a conduit for an affect, are original contributions to the literature on the subject.

"Precisely because Landy's work makes it possible to discuss Italian prewar cinema in terms that have relevance to the conventional Hollywood cinema as well, I believe that even film scholars outside the Italian field will find this book very useful, since it makes two kinds of contributions: it sets up an interesting theoretical methodology to speak of certain universal topics that have application to the Hollywood model; and it therefore immediately makes an exploration of the specifically Italian works a far more interesting proposition than people had generally realized before this book." — Peter Bondanella, Indiana University

"I know of no other historian who has found theatricality, role-playing, performance, and spectacle to be such a widespread feature of these films, and Landy's demonstration of this extensiveness is quite convincing. She uses this practice to describe the display of power in Fascist Italy by proposing that these films are more or less about social subjects who engage their worlds through performance and that these films therefore offer a useful and often neglected way of understanding the formation of social (particularly gender) identity in Fascist Italy." — James Hay, University of Illinois