Italy in Early American Cinema: Race, Landscape, and the Picturesque

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Giorgio Bertellini traces the origins of American cinema's century-long fascination with Italy and Italian immigrants to the popularity of the pre-photographic aesthetic—the picturesque. Once associated with landscape painting in northern Europe, the picturesque came to symbolize Mediterranean Europe through comforting views of distant landscapes and exotic characters. Taking its cue from a picturesque stage backdrop from The Godfather Part II, Italy in Early American Cinema shows how this aesthetic was transferred from 19th-century American painters to early 20th-century American filmmakers. Italy in Early American Cinema offers readings of early films that pay close attention to how landscape representations that were related to narrative settings and filmmaking locations conveyed distinct ideas about racial difference and national destiny.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Fra Noi
"Bertellini has done a great service not just to scholars of American film, but also to the Italian-American citizen, by concentrating on this overlooked, but rich vein of American culture." —Fra Noi, August 2010
Times Literary Supplement
"Bertellini's sophisticated interdisciplinary study addresses questions of race moving between Italy and America in the prehistory and early history of film.... Bertellini's persuasive thesis that identity-formation works, among other things, through the picturesque, provides a further explanation for our persistent need for a local aura of realist 'authenticity' in our idea of what Italian cinema should give us." —Times Literary Supplement
Film History
"Bertellini's Italy in Early American Cinema is simply an extraordinary achievement.... He has been meticulous and indefatigable in discovering a wealth of original historical source material and honed and re-honed the text into an exemplary model of lucid, sophisticated, critical historical analysis." —Film History, Vol. 22, 2010
"The book is beautifully illustrated and its sources are often spectacular. Bertellini finds historical evidence where previous researchers found none.... Unlike much of recent film historical research, which remains confined to a rather empirical presentation of previously unknown documents, Bertellini wants to insert these archives into a rich interdisciplinary, long-term development." —Altreitalie, July - December 2010
Marcia Landy
"Bertellini moves with ease through social history, art history, anthropology, and theories and histories of cinema.... His work offers an important and unique scholarly treatment... fascinating reading for Italians, Italian-Americans, and general readers interested in the history, culture, and ideology of immigration." —Marcia Landy, University of Pittsburgh
Donna R. Gabaccia
"Italy in Early American Cinema is a terrific book: erudite, wide-ranging, and eye-opening. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the early cinema or in the complex history of Italy’s relations to the wider world." —Donna R. Gabaccia, University of Minnesota
Millicent Marcus
"To read Bertellini’s superb book is to enter into an intense, rich, and intricately layered experience of Italian immigrant culture in the New York of the 1900’s and 1910’s." —Millicent Marcus, Yale University
Historical Journal of Film
"Bertellini situates early cinema within a broad geopolitical framework that 'calls for a reconsideration of race as a long-lasting visual form' and invites the film scholar to reexamine the medium's specificity. This makes Italy in Early American Cinema a seminal contribution to the field of cinema studies." —Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, June 2011, Vol. 31:2
From the Publisher
To read Bertellini's superb book is to enter into an intense, rich, and intricately layered experience of Italian immigrant culture in the New York of the 1900's and 1910's.—Millicent Marcus, Yale University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253221285
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 11/18/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Giorgio Bertellini is Assistant Professor of Screen Arts and Cultures and of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan. He is author of Emir Kusturica. His edited and co-edited volumes include The Cinema of Italy and (with Richard Abel and Rob King) Early Cinema and the "National."

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Transatlantic Racial Culture and Modern Visual Reproductions
Part 1. Picturing Italy's Natural and Social Landscapes
1. Picturesque Mode of Difference
2. The Picturesque Italian South as Transnational Commodity
Part 2. Picture-Perfect America
3. Picturesque Views and American Natural Landscapes
4. Picturesque New York
5. Black Hands, White Faces
6. White Hearts
7. Performing Geography
Afterword: "A Mirror with a Memory"


Indiana University Press

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