In search of Italian cinema audiences in the 1940s and 1950s: Gender, Genre and National Identity

Lead Research Organisation: Oxford Brookes University
Department Name: Faculty of Tech, Design and Environment

Abstract

We know a lot about the directors and stars of Italian cinema's heyday, from Roberto Rossellini to Sophia Loren, but what do we know about the Italian audiences that went to see them? In the golden years of Italian cinema, the 1940s and '50s, when Italian cinema produced the internationally influential Neorealist movement, with figures like Rossellini, De Sica and Fellini achieving world renown, cinema-going was the most popular national pastime, at its peak representing 70% of leisure expenditure by Italians. However, we know little about how Italian audiences chose films, which genres and stars they preferred, and how region, location, gender, and class influenced their views. With this project, for the first time, oral and written accounts of film-going in the period will be contextualised by press reception, box-office figures, and industry data in order to uncover the hidden side of Italian film history: its spectators.
The project, a collaboration between three academic experts in post-war Italian cinema, Daniela Treveri Gennari, Danielle Hipkins and Catherine O'Rawe, will draw on the support of six non-profit organisations in Italy. Three of these (ANASTE, Blumedia and Unitre) will help us distribute 1000 questionnaires amongst groups of Italy's over-65s, in order to gather statistics about cinema-going in the 1940s and '50s. Then, drawing on the survey's findings, Memoro (an organization that records and disseminates online video interviews with elderly Italians) will conduct 160 interviews on cinema-going, with a carefully chosen sample of interviewees from across Italy. These interviews will form the core of our understanding of the everyday practices of cinema-goers in the 1940s and '50s. An initial 20 interviews we recorded in Rome (available at www.memoro.org) already challenge our views of cinema-going. Moreover, thanks to the successful British Academy Mid Career Fellowship Funding, the data the PI is gathering (250 questionnaires and 50 interviews in Rome) will provide further evidence on audiences memories.
This is precisely the kind of information that we want to elicit: stories that expand the speculative official history of Italian audiences, which was based on limited numbers of interviews, often carried out by left-wing intellectuals with an ideological desire to promote certain kinds of film-making (see, eg, Pinna 1956). We will be asking participants questions about genre, stars, and gender, and placing these subjective accounts in the context of our archival research, aided by two statistical bodies: SIAE (Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori) and AGIS (Associazione Generale dello Spettacolo). We will examine how preferences expressed by interviewees relate to box-office figures and contemporary reviews. We will ask how regional location might influence admiration of a particular star or genre. Readers' letters and contemporary diaries will also play a crucial role in our project, moving us away from repetitive auteur-led readings of Italian cinema.
We will develop a website that provides access to the interviews and the data taken from those and our questionnaires (using NVivo software). We will also disseminate our research through papers at three international conferences, two articles and two books, and our PhD student will receive a strong foundation for research in Italian film.
This project offers a unique opportunity to uncover a hidden history that is fundamental to Italian and European identity. In a period when Italy went through one of its most dramatic changes, from a predominantly agricultural nation to a leading industrial power, cinema was a constant for its people. Crucially, at the centre of this project are those people whose stories about cinema need to be told, understood and disseminated. We believe their stories, and the project, will be important for all those interested in the culture, history and sociology of Europe.

Planned Impact

This project explores the history of Italian cinema audiences. It is the first to use qualitative and quantitative data to examine the nature of cinema-going in Italy in the post-war period, and to trace national and regional patterns in cinema exhibition and audience preferences.
This is an innovative collaboration with 6 Italian organizations: the first, Memoro, interviews elderly Italians and uploads the interviews to their website to preserve the memories of previous generations (www.memoro.org); the second is Blumedia (www.blumedia.org), which supports activities that foster understanding between generations; the third is ANASTE, the national organization of residential care homes for the elderly in Italy (www.anaste.it). The fourth and fifth are SIAE (Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori) and AGIS (Associazione Generale dello Spettacolo), national bodies that collect data on the entertainment industry. The sixth, Unitre (Universita' della Terza Eta') has around 300 branches which disseminate culture amongst elderly in Italy.
Memoro will conduct interviews with 160 people; a link to our website on their website will allow dissemination to over 3 million visitors, and world-wide reach, with dedicated international sections. Blumedia, ANASTE and Unitre will use their contacts to help us with the dissemination of 1000 questionnaires on cinema-going. SIAE and AGIS have agreed to supply box-office data for the period in question.
Memoro are collaborating with us because our project chimes exactly with their goals: to promote greater understanding of the Italian past, and to encourage younger generations to engage more deeply with the lives of the older generations. There has already been wide media interest in their project in Italy and abroad: their work has had coverage on national Italian and British television (Rai Uno, Due and BBC) as well as in international newspapers and magazines (La Repubblica, L'Unità, La Stampa, Le Monde).
In order to engage witmembers of the public and interest them in our project, research findings will be communicated to Italians via talks at events i.e. SeViCol (http://www.sevicol.it), an annual exhibition and conference in Rome on the elderly, as well as a "Sharing Memories" event at the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin. In the UK, we have made contact with the director of the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture, at the University of Exeter (www.ex.ac.uk/bdc), who is interested in mounting another "Sharing Memories" event, using the Centre's holdings of film memorabilia, and inviting local groups of older people who might be interested in sharing their own memories of cinema-going. Further potential beneficiaries are organizations involved in the study, support and research into old age, as well as Europe-wide policy-makers and practitioners, those interested in learning about new ways to increase the engagement of older people with new technologies. For example, ANASTE are happy to facilitate the distribution of questionnaires in the nursing homes they operate throughout Italy; they see it as an important way of reaching out to the disenfranchised elderly, and they are interested in expanding the project to their European partners. The project will integrate Italian audience studies into the burgeoning field of audience studies within film studies and social sciences. It will offer cinema historians and sociologists a fuller understanding of cinema-going trends in Italy, and of the experiences of audiences in post-war Italy. It will also offer an innovative platform for bringing together academic researchers and policy-makers; for example, the PI has been invited to present the project at Oxford University's Institute of Ageing, where she will emphasise the use of digital video cameras as a way to capture memories and disseminate them via internet.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Title Freetime/Tempolibero - Daniele Sambo 
Description This series of photographs was created as part of a wider and ongoing research project on cinema venues in Italy: the roles they played, the relation with the general public and space. Notes, interviews and archival materials are interposed with a series of photographs created at the British School at Rome in the winter 2014. Some of the work was realised by creating a temporary installation to reconnect selected public spaces with the role they played as open-air cinemas, suggesting the presence of screens, fences and shelters. The artist used our website to exhibit his work - related to our project - by intertwining materials from different sources with the aim of offering a bridge between artistic and academic research. The process saw the materials first organized in the form of a zine, a small book that led to the creation of the blog-post. The texts are drawn from three different interviews, all collected in Venice, with M.Osetta: a partisan, R. Benedetti: an assiduous cinema-goer, and G. Bortolotti: a projectionist and manager of cinema venues. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Great interest on the website once we promoted the blogpost to several academic mailing lists. 
URL http://italiancinemaaudiences.org/blog/freetimetempolibero-daniele-sambo/
 
Description The project has generated significant new knowledge in relation to post-war Italian society and culture (and more specifically in terms of the role cinema-going played for the audiences of that time); new skills and research methodologies have been used in the project, like the geographical visualization of film exhibition, distribution and memories.
The project, has, moreover, opened up some new ad unexpected research questions (like the role of different generations of cinema audiences in relation to the sharing of cultural heritage) which can be explored with the collaboration of the University of the Third Age and the national education authority.
Exploitation Route The new methodologies employed in our project have already gathered the interest of scholars from other universities: the team was invited to present the use of geographical visualization of data at the University of Orebro (Sweden) and a new collaboration has stem from this event. Moreover, some school teachers in Italy have shown an interest in our use of oral history and in the results of our project in relation to the role of cinema theatres in Italy and have already used some of our data in small research project conducted in class.
Sectors Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
URL http://www.italiancinemaaudiences.org
 
Description The Italian Cinema Audiences team has presented the project at a series of events organised in collaboration with our associate partner UNITRE. The events were hosted in Turin, Potenza and Messina (in this last one it was announced the winners of the school contest "La Trasmissione della Memoria storica Locale" - The Transmission of Historical Local Memory). The event in Turin at thhe Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Cinema Museum) included the screening of one of the favourite films of the 1950s remembered by our project respondents. Moreover, the team invited film audiences to share their memories of cinema-going in the 1950s and 1960s in an event at the Bill Douglas Museum in Exeter. The event was an opportunity to find out about research into audiences from the 1940s to the 1960s carried out by the University of Exeter, Oxford Brookes University, University of Bristol and University College London.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Societal
 
Description Training/educational developments
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Sharing memories across generations: A Historypin project. The team carried out a pilot project tested at the Istituto Comprensivo Guido Milanesi School in Rome, involving schoolchildren aged thirteen years and a group of 1950s Roman cinema-goers. As part of this project, schoolchildren helped elderly audiences to map their cinema-going memories in 1950s Rome using Historypin, a crowdsourcing platform. The team has created a Historypin collection on cinema-going in Rome in the 1950s, where users can upload and map their memories. The aim of this project is to enable interpersonal digital encounters between older people and schoolchildren, thereby empowering the older generation to share ownership of their own cultural history.
URL http://italiancinemaaudiences.org/sharing-memories-across-generations-a-historypin-project/
 
Description AHRC Follow on funding
Amount £99,599 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/P00928X/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 02/2017 
End 01/2018
 
Title Italian Cinema Audience website 
Description The project's website has a section especially dedicated to emotional mapping (mapping memories of cinema-goers). 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The emotional mapping page was presented at an international conference in Milan in June 2014 and received a great interest form international scholars. 
 
Title SWW DTP Training Day 
Description The Italian Cinema Audiences Team took part in the SWW DTP Training Day held at Exeter University (College of Humanities). The aim was to offer training in research methods and methodology to doctoral students whose doctoral research relates to the theme of gender and the body. The sub-heading 'transnational perspectives' emphasizes the extent to which the academics involved in the training day will not be restricted to an Anglo-American perspective in terms of the focus of case studies and research methods.The aim was to deliver the training on the theme of gender and the body via a range of activities: a plenary lecture, workshops, round-table discussion and interactive group work. The day included a workshop run by the project team: Mapping Memories of Star Bodies: Cinema Audiences in the 1950s. Taking the Italian star Sophia Loren as its focus, this workshop explored research methods employed as part of a major AHRC-funded project on Italian cinema audiences in the 1950s. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The session made use of archival material from the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, located on Exeter University Campus, and interview material from the project in order to show how this method can be used to re-evaluate existing narratives in relation to star bodies. 
 
Title National Exhibitors Association Trade Journal database 
Description We have collected the data from the Bollettino dello Spettacolo, which is the trade journal of the National exhibitors association. The journal contains box-office data and other relevant exhibition data which has been used as contextual material in the data analysis. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The dataset has already been used by the team in several conference papers and articles (Homer conference in Glasgow and article on Censorship published in Requiem of a Nation) and will also be included in the ICAMAP digital archive funded by the AHRC follow on. 
 
Title Programming dataset for cinema exhibition in January 1954 in the 8 cities across Italy 
Description We have collected a dataset of programming across the eight cities involved in the project (Rome, Milan, Turin, Cagliari, Florence, Naples, Bari, Palermo) for the month of January 1954. this dataset has been extensively used in the research and will also be part of the Follow on project funded by the AHRC 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The dataset has been used by our project in several research papers we have presented at international conferences (SIS in Oxford, Homer in Milan and Glasgow) and is also being currently used to develop a model of research in a funding application for a European comparative project. 
 
Description Cinema, Memory and the Community Research network 
Organisation De Montfort University
Department School of Computer Science and Informatics
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have been invited to take part in the Cinema, Memory and the Community Research network. This project brings together academics, public bodies and other groups interested in the collection, exploration and creative use of cinema memories. It aims to foster and support this community by providing a space for discussion, skills training and the sharing of best practice. I have been invited to share the results of the project, discuss aspects of methodology and be involved in a funding application.
Collaborator Contribution De Montfort University has set up two workshops (Nov 2016 and Feb 2017) in order to brings together academics, museums, archivists and other groups interested in the collection, exploration and creative use of cinema memories.
Impact This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration as it involves memory experts, public services representatives, museum and archives professionals. The outcomes have been the two workshops held in Leicester.
Start Year 2016
 
Title VIEWER SYSTEM FOR "AUDIENCE MEMORIES" TAGGED VIDEOS 
Description This software was developed to connect the video to the Nvivo file was the requirements to develop a system that will allow to tag the video-interviews according to the nodes that the researchers have created on Nvivo. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact This software will allow the general public to access the video-interviews according to themes and special areas of interest. 
 
Description Cinema and Memory Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Italian Cinema Audiences organised a workshop to reflect on the methodological practices used in interdisciplinary research, which unites digital humanities, oral history, new cinema history, memory studies and work on ageing. The aim of the workshop is to bring together researchers, practitioners, curators and cultural organisations from different backgrounds so that they can share ideas and their experiences of working in areas related to cultural memory, oral history and digital technologies (deep-mapping, online archives).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Historypin Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The Italian Cinema Audiences team carried out a pilot project tested at the Istituto Comprensivo Guido Milanesi school in Rome, where schoolchildren helped elderly audiences to map their cinema-going memories in 1950s Rome using Historypin, a crowdsourcing platform.

The team has created a collection on cinema-going in Rome in the 1950s, where users can upload their memories.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Remembering Italian Cinema 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In conjunction with Bristol Bright Night we held a screening of the 1964 comedy Matrimonio all'italiana (Marriage Italian Style) starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. This event was an opportunity for audiences to learn more about our project and to contribute their own memories of Italian cinema and stars.
Bristol Bright Night was part of the European Researchers' night.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Remembering Italian Cinema 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In conjunction with Bristol Bright Night we held a screening of the 1964 comedy Matrimonio all'italiana (Marriage Italian Style) starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. This event was an opportunity for audiences to learn more about our project and to contribute their own memories of Italian cinema and stars. Bristol Bright Night was part of the European Researchers' night.

Several members of the audience filled in a brief questionnaire to share their memories of Italian cinema
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Sharing Memories 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Italian Cinema Audiences Team invited film audiences to share their memories of cinema-going in the 1950s and 1960s. The event was an opportunity to find out about research into audiences from the 1940s to the 1960s carried out by the University of Exeter, Oxford Brookes University, University of Bristol and University College London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description The Italian Cinema Audiences Team on Italian National Radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Italian Cinema Audiences team talked about the project on Hollywood Party, an Italian radio show about cinema. Several audiences emailed their memories on the Radio website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description UNITRE - Museo Nazionale del Cinema Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Italian Cinema Audiences team presented the project at an event
organized in collaboration with our associate partner UNITRE and the Museo
Nazionale del Cinema (National Cinema Museum). The event included the
screening of one of the favourite films of the 1950s remembered by our
project respondents. Participants also had the opportunity to visit
the museum.

The National Cinema Museum is one of the most important of its kind in the
world thanks to its vast collection and the many different scientific and
educational activities it carries out. The museum is located inside
the Mole Antonelliana, a bizarre and fascinating monument which is the
symbol of the City of Turin. And the various areas inside the Mole
Antonelliana were the starting point for the Swiss set designer François
Confino who, with talent and imagination, multiplied the museum's
itineraries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description UNITRE Messina Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact he Italian Cinema Audiences team presented the project at an event
organized in collaboration with our associate partner UNITRE. The event
was hosted by UNITRE Messina. On this occasion UNITRE announced the
winners of the school contest "La Trasmissione della Memoria storica
Locale" (The Transmission of Historical Local Memory).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description UNITRE Potenza Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Italian Cinema Audiences team presented the project at an event
organized in collaboration with our associate partner UNITRE. The event
was hosted by UNITRE Potenza.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015