Italy is the birthplace of Art Cinema and the stylistic aspect of film has been the most important factor in the history of Italian movies. In the early 1900s, artistic and epic films such as Otello (1906), The Last Days of Pompeii (1908), L'Inferno (1911), Quo Vadis (1913), and Cabiria (1914), were made as adaptations of books or stage plays. Italian filmmakers were utilizing complex set designs, lavish costumes, and record budgets, to produce pioneering films. One of the first cinematic avante-garde movements, Italian Futurism, took place in Italy in the late 1910s. After a period of decline in the 1920s, the Italian film industry was revitalized in the 1930s with the arrival of sound film. A popular Italian genre during this period, the Telefoni Bianchi, consisted of comedies with glamorous backgrounds.
The country is also famed for its prestigious Venice Film Festival, the oldest film festival in the world, held annually since 1932 and awarding the Golden Lion. In 2008 the Venice Days ("Giornate degli Autori"), a section held in parallel to the Venice Film Festival, has produced in collaboration with Cinecittà studios and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage a list of 100 films that have changed the collective memory of the country between 1942 and 1978: the "100 Italian films to be saved".
L'Inferno (1911) the first full-length Italian feature film ever made
The French Lumière brothers commenced public screenings in Italy in 1896: in March 1896, in Rome and Milan; in April in Naples, Salerno and Bari; in June in Livorno; in August in Bergamo, Bologna and Ravenna; in October in Ancona; and in December in Turin, Pescara and Reggio Calabria. Lumière trainees produced short films documenting everyday life and comic strips in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Pioneering Italian cinematographer Filoteo Alberini patented his "Kinetograph" during this period.
The Italian film industry took shape between 1903 and 1908, led by three major organizations: Cines, based in Rome; and the Turin-based companies Ambrosio Film and Itala Film. Other companies soon followed in Milan and Naples, and these early companies quickly attained a respectable production quality and were able to market their products both within Italy and abroad.
Quo Vadis (1913), regarded as the first blockbuster in the history of cinema
Enrico Guazzone's 1913 film Quo Vadis was one of the earliest "blockbusters" in cinema history, utilizing thousands of extras and a lavish set design. Giovanni Pastrone's 1914 film Cabiria was an even larger production, requiring two years and a record budget to produce, and it was the first epic film ever made. Nino Martoglio's Lost in Darkness, also produced in 1914, documented life in the slums of Naples, and is considered a precursor to the Neorealist movement of the 1940s and 1950s.
Between 1911 and 1919, Italy was home to the first avant-garde movement in cinema, inspired by the country's Futurism movement. The 1916 Manifesto of Futuristic Cinematography was signed by Filippo Marinetti, Armando Ginna, Bruno Corra, Giacomo Balla and others. To the Futurists, cinema was an ideal art form, being a fresh medium, and able to be manipulated by speed, special effects and editing. Most of the futuristic-themed films of this period have been lost, but critics cite Thaïs (1917) by Anton Giulio Bragaglia as one of the most influential, serving as the main inspiration for German Expressionist cinema in the following decade.
The Italian film industry struggled against rising foreign competition in the years following World War I. Several major studios, among them Cines and Ambrosio, formed the Unione Cinematografica Italiana to coordinate a national strategy for film production. This effort was largely unsuccessful, however, due to a wide disconnect between production and exhibition (some movies weren't released until several years after they were produced). Among the notable Italian films of the late silent era were Mario Camerini's Rotaio (1929) and Alessandro Blasetti's Sun (1929).
During the 1930s, light comedies known as telefoni bianchi ("white telephones") were predominant in Italian cinema. These films, which featured lavish set designs, promoted conservative values and respect for authority, and thus typically avoided the scrutiny of government censors. Important examples of telefoni bianchi include Guido Brignone's Paradiso (1932), Carlo Bragaglia's O la borsa o la vita (1933), and Righelli's Together in the Dark (1935). Historical films such as Blasetti's 1860 (1934) and Carmine Gallone's Scipio Africanus: The Defeat of Hannibal (1937) were also popular during this period.
In 1934, the Italian government created the General Directorate for Cinema (Direzione Generale per le Cinematografia), and appointed Luigi Freddi its director. With the approval of Benito Mussolini, this directorate called for the establishment of a town southeast of Rome devoted exclusively to cinema, dubbed the Cinecittà ("Cinema City"). Completed in 1937, the Cinecittà provided everything necessary for filmmaking: theaters, technical services, and even a cinematography school, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, for younger apprentices. The Cinecittà studios were Europe's most advanced production facilities, and greatly boosted the technical quality of Italian films. Many films are still shot entirely in Cinecittà.
During this period, Mussolini's son, Vittorio, created a national production company and organized the work of noted authors, directors and actors (including even some political opponents), thereby creating an interesting communication network among them, which produced several noted friendships and stimulated cultural interaction.
By the end of World War II, the Italian "neorealist" movement had begun to take shape. Neorealist films typically dealt with the working class (in contrast to the Telefoni Bianchi), and were shot on location. Many neorealist films, but not all, utilized non-professional actors. Though the term "neorealism" was used for the first time to describe Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film, Ossessione, there were several important precursors to the movement, most notably Camerini's What Scoundrels Men Are! (1932), which was the first Italian film shot entirely on location, and Blasetti's 1942 film, Four Steps in the Clouds.
Ossessione angered Fascist officials. Upon viewing the film, Vittorio Mussolini is reported to have shouted, "This is not Italy!" before walking out of the theater. The film was subsequently banned in the Fascist-controlled parts of Italy. While neorealism exploded after the war, and was incredibly influential at the international level, neorealist films made up only a small percentage of Italian films produced during this period, as postwar Italian moviegoers preferred escapist comedies starring actors such as Totò and Alberto Sordi.
Poetry and cruelty of life were harmonically combined in the works that Vittorio De Sica wrote and directed together with screenwriter Cesare Zavattini: among them, Shoeshine (1946), The Bicycle Thief (1948) and Miracle in Milan (1951). The 1952 film Umberto D. showed a poor old man with his little dog, who must beg for alms against his dignity in the loneliness of the new society. This work is perhaps De Sica's masterpiece and one of the most important works in Italian cinema. It was not a commercial success and since then it has been shown on Italian television only a few times. Yet it is perhaps the most violent attack, in the apparent quietness of the action, against the rules of the new economy, the new mentality, the new values, and it embodies both a conservative and a progressive view.
Although Umberto D. is considered the end of the neorealist period, later films such as Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954) and De Sica's 1960 film Two Women (for which Sophia Loren won the Oscar for Best Actress) are grouped with the genre. Director Pier Paolo Pasolini's first film, Accattone (1961), shows a strong neorealist influence. Italian neorealist cinema influenced filmmakers around the world, and helped inspire other film movements, such as the French New Wave and the Polish Film School. The Neorealist period is often simply referred to as "The Golden Age" of Italian Cinema by critics, filmmakers, and scholars.
At this time, on the more commercial side of production, the phenomenon of Totò, a Neapolitan actor who is acclaimed as the major Italian comic, exploded. His films (often with Peppino De Filippo and almost always with Mario Castellani) expressed a sort of neorealistic satire, in the means of a guitto (a "hammy" actor) as well as with the art of the great dramatic actor he also was. A "film-machine" who produced dozens of titles per year, his repertoire was frequently repeated. His personal story (a prince born in the poorest rione (section of the city) of Naples), his unique twisted face, his special mimic expressions and his gestures created an inimitable personage and made him one of the most beloved Italians of the 1960s.
In the late 1940s, Hollywood studios began to shift production abroad to Europe. Italy was, along with Britain, one of the major destinations for American film companies. Shooting at Cinecittà, large-budget films such as Quo Vadis (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), Ben-Hur (1959), and Cleopatra (1963) were made in English with international casts and sometimes, but not always, Italian settings or themes. The heyday of what was dubbed '"Hollywood on the Tiber" was between 1950 and 1970, during which time many of the most famous names in world cinema made films in Italy.
With the release of 1958's Hercules, starring American bodybuilder Steve Reeves, the Italian film industry gained entree to the American film market. These films, many with mythological or Bible themes, were low-budget costume/adventure dramas, and had immediate appeal with both European and American audiences. Besides the many films starring a variety of muscle men as Hercules, heroes such as Samson and Italian fictional hero Maciste were common. Sometimes dismissed as low-quality escapist fare, the Peplums allowed newer directors such as Sergio Leone and Mario Bava a means of breaking into the film industry. Some, such as Mario Bava's Hercules in the Haunted World (Italian: Ercole Al Centro Della Terra) are considered seminal works in their own right. As the genre matured, budgets sometimes increased, as evidenced in 1962's I sette gladiatori (The Seven Gladiators in 1964 US release), a wide-screen epic with impressive sets and matte-painting work. Most Peplum films were in color, whereas previous Italian efforts had often been black and white.
Sergio Leone is credited as the inventor of the Spaghetti Western genre.
On the heels of the Peplum craze, a related genre, the Spaghetti Western arose and was popular both in Italy and elsewhere. These films differed from traditional westerns by being filmed in Europe on limited budgets, but featured vivid cinematography.
Several countries charged Italian studios with exceeding the boundaries of acceptability with their late-1970s Nazi exploitation films, inspired by American movies such as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. The Italian works included the notorious but comparatively tame SS Experiment Camp and the far more graphic Last Orgy of the Third Reich (Italian: L'ultima orgia del III Reich). These films showed, in great detail, sexual crimes against prisoners at concentration camps. These films may still be banned in the United Kingdom and other countries.
Poliziotteschi (Italian pronunciation: [polittsjotˈteski]; plural of poliziottesco) films constitute a subgenre of crime and action film that emerged in Italy in the late 1960s and reached the height of their popularity in the 1970s. They are also known as polizieschi, Italo-crime, Euro-crime or simply Italian crime films. Most notable international actors acted in this genre of films such Alain Delon, Henry Silva, Fred Williamson, Charles Bronson, Tomas Milian and others international stars.
The 1980s crisis
Between the late 1970s and mid 1980s, Italian cinema was in crisis; "art films" became increasingly isolated, separating from the mainstream Italian cinema.
Also considered part of the trash genre are films which feature Fantozzi, a comic personage invented by Paolo Villaggio. Although Villaggio's movies tend to bridge trash comedy with a more elevated social satire; this character had a great impact on Italian society, to such a degree that the adjective fantozziano entered the lexicon. Of the many films telling of Fantozzi's misadventures, the most notable were Fantozzi and Il secondo tragico Fantozzi.
1990 to present
Ennio Morricone has composed over 500 scores for cinema and television since 1946.
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