Sophia Loren: Moulding the Star

Sophia Loren: Moulding the Star

by Pauline Small


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781841502342
Publisher: Intellect, Limited
Publication date: 08/01/2009
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.80(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Pauline Small is senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London.

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Sophia Loren

Moulding the Star

By Pauline Small

Intellect Ltd

Copyright © 2009 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84150-328-8


Why Sophia?

Why Sophia? A study of the career of Sophia Loren has intrinsic interest – she is after all the nearest the nation has to 'an Italian icon' (Gundle 1995: 367) – but it is also important for the insights it affords into the era in which her image was forged. Hers is a career full of contradictions. She came from the poorest and most humble origins, yet came to be associated with glamour and great elegance. In much of her early career she made comedies, yet in her international career few of her films fit that category. Although considered an international star, a retrospective film season of the films of Sophia Loren is virtually unheard of. While the international reputation of postwar Italian cinema is largely based on arthouse productions, Loren's Italian output is wholly defined by the popular genres of comedy and melodrama. Although now seen as highly popular, there were periods of her career when she was vilified, particularly in the Italian press, for her marriage to Carlo Ponti and for the difficulties they later encountered with the Italian tax authorities. And finally, although she is rightly judged to be the one Italian actor of the postwar generation who made a success of her Hollywood career, few of the films that she made in Hollywood had box-office success either in Italy or in the international market. Like any artist, there are two dimensions to her story, the personal and the professional. Loren is generally thought of as a star well known to her public. The bibliography of this book lists numerous biographies of her, as well as books she has authored on beauty, cooking and fashion. From earliest years Loren has fed information about her life to the press, regularly offering individual and syndicated interviews to tell her story. At the same time there has always been huge media coverage of her public image highlighting her many appearances at film festivals in Cannes and Berlin, on-set reports on her films in Hollywood and on location in London, the Oscar successes, and major events in what was supposedly her private life – marriage to the producer Carlo Ponti, and the birth of her two children. It is a type of coverage that has largely neglected to focus on the very considerable importance of her professional career, to the extent that it seems as if she has not merited serious consideration as an artist. This book sets to redress the balance, to fill a major gap in our understanding of Italy's most prominent and enduring star by uncovering and analysing a wealth of information about how she achieved that stardom. It is a book that studies the films of Sophia Loren, but the films are taken also as a means of assessing the context – cultural, historical, industrial – within which her career emerged, the years 1950–64, when the star image of Sophia Loren was moulded.

Sophia Loren is not the only European film artist whose star image has been largely neglected. Indeed, a range of critics have noted the more general absence of a sustained body of analytical work on European stars. Ginette Vincendeau terms star studies in European cinema a 'forgotten category' (1998: 445), while Andy Willis points out that the 'concentration [on Hollywood performers] has overshadowed the operation of stardom within other markets' (2004: 3–4). The hegemony of Hollywood in the film industry itself in turn gives a certain logic to the domination in critical and biographical analysis of Hollywood stars. It also has to be acknowledged that the star system began as one of the major strategies in the marketing of films in early Hollywood (Butler 1998: 345) and as such to a degree remains anchored in the Hollywood system. Italian film-making, particularly in the world market, has built its reputation on arthouse cinema: as a result, in critical terms, much greater importance has been afforded to film directors as the defining presence. One could even argue that critics have given the star treatment to directors of the calibre of Fellini, Visconti and Antonioni rather than to the actors who appeared in their films. In relation to British cinema Bruce Babington argues in a vein similar to Willis and Vincendeau that on 'indigenous stars' there is 'strangely little significant writing' (2001: 3). Babington notes that in Stars (1979), the work of Richard Dyer that gave fresh impetus to the field of star studies, Dyer himself addresses, briefly, 'the problematics of applying a theory based on Hollywood stars to other cinemas' (1979: 4). Babington continues:

[Dyer] writes that he believed that the 'theorising and methodology' underpinning his book are 'broadly applicable' to stars of other cinemas, provided that 'the specificities of these other places where stars are to be found would always have to be respected' (Dyer 1979: 4). In other words, the institutions of film stardom exhibit major constants running across different film cultures, but each national cinema produces different inflections of them. (Babington 2001: 4)

One of the main aims of this book will be to analyse the career of Sophia Loren in relation to the 'inflection' that was the Italian star system of the 1950s, when her career began; and, by clarifying the distinctiveness of that system, to reach an understanding of Loren's career through a focus on the film industry from which her career emerged. In keeping with other European stars, Loren's place in the national film industry – her Italian stardom – derives from a set of structures radically different from those of classical Hollywood. Industrial patterns in the European film market have always been much less stable and much less straightforward to summarize than the Hollywood model. Ginette Vincendeau characterizes European production in general as 'small-scale, fragmented and disorganised' (1998: 442) while Barbara Corsi describes the Italian film industry as 'a random mix of high-minded projects and improvised adventures, developed in the spirit of a game of chance, as if filmmaking was the equivalent of playing roulette' (2001: 10). As a consequence, the study of the career of an individual European star requires close reference to the frequently shifting economic conditions that prevailed at the time of production. As we shall see, in the era following the Second World War the Italian film industry itself evolved with remarkable rapidity and at the same time was modified substantially by changes in the international market following the demise of the Hollywood studio system. Sophia Loren's career was forged in the cinema of 1950s Italy and of Hollywood, and the book will investigate how the structures of national and international cinema shaped her particular brand of stardom.

Questions of national cinemas remain relevant to analysis of the stardom of Sophia Loren, but in the light of recent critical debates the use of the term 'national cinema' requires some clarification. In his initial work on the subject Andrew Higson argued:

A national cinema is a particular industrial structure; a particular pattern of ownership and control of plant, real estate, human resources and capital, and a system of state legislation which circumscribes the nationality of that ownership – primarily in relation to production. [...] At the level of production, we need to take into account both the means and modes of production employed. (Higson 1989: 42)

Higson has himself revised some of his ideas, particularly the implicit argument of his earlier work that he now believes erroneously assumed that national identity and tradition are already fully formed and fixed in place (2004: 63). In particular, the question of international funding of cinema in the late twentieth century, and the drive to find a cinema with international appeal has blurred the concept of national cinema, and encouraged critics to term film products – from Bond films to the so-called European heritage cinema – as transnational in character. However, broadly speaking it appears that while the validity of the concept of a 'national cinema' continues to be intensely debated and challenged, the notion of a 'national star' is deemed much less problematic. Though few in number, several recent publications on star studies take the notion of the national star as fundamental to their analysis, namely the already cited work on British stars (Bruce Babington 2001), male stars of Spanish cinema (Chris Perriam 2003), and most recently a study of the phases of Italian stardom from the beginnings of cinema to the present (Marcia Landy 2008). At the same time a few monographs on individual stars have been published (very few, if we consider the deluge of material on Hollywood stars and stardom): on Simone Signoret (Susan Hayward 2004), Marcello Mastroianni (Jacqueline Reich 2004) and Catherine Deneuve (Lisa Downing and Sue Harris 2007). Following the route of national stardom does not mean, however, that critics interpret the role of the chosen star purely in relation to national culture. For instance, Downing and Harris view Deneuve as an example of European stars who 'tend to float across a series of national cinemas, bearing the weight of representing their own nationality' (2007: 10–11). Alastair Phillips and Ginette Vincendeau have published a collection of essays (2006) on European stars who tried their fortune in Hollywood but who, as the different analyses show, nevertheless retain in some sense a national labelling be it French (Chevalier) British (Olivier) or German (Dietrich).

This study investigates extensively the particular characteristics of the Italian film industry in the early years of Loren's career in the belief that they offer a valuable route to explicate the ways in which her star identity was constructed. The publications of Gian Piero Brunetta on Italian film history have been an important source of knowledge for this period (2003 and 1998); Thomas Guback (1976 and 1969) and Lorenzo Quaglietti (1980 and 1974) offer two of the few attempts, in English and Italian language respectively, to clarify the funding of the industry, and this area of studies has been very usefully augmented by Chris Wagstaff (1999, 1998, 1995 and 1992) and Barbara Corsi (2002 and 2001). At the same time, Martin Dale's study of Hollywood and the European film industry (1997) gives a very useful, more broad-based overview of the subject. However, with regard to Italian film-making, it is noticeable that these studies do not constitute an extensive or closely integrated body of work. Despite the very necessary commercial dimension – cinema is after all an industry dependent on financial backing and paying customers – there has been greater concentration on the artistic and cultural dimensions, an emphasis true of the present field of film studies in general. This is generally speaking the direction of the innovative work of Stephen Gundle, who has published extensively on the cultural signification of Loren and the other female stars of the period such as Gina Lollobrigida (1999, 1996 and 1995). It is a body of work widely cited, and explicitly acknowledged in Reich's 2004 study of Mastroianni, and Landy's 2008 publication on Italian stardom. Most recently, he has considered the roles of the shapely stars of 1950s Italy as part of a more extensive analysis of the meaning of beauty manifested across the centuries of Italian society (Gundle 2007). At the same time articles of Reka Buckley (2008 and 2006) have shown how the meanings of stardom and female identity in the 1950s may be fruitfully explored through the perspective of fashion and style. However, this means that the subject still remains open to fresh areas of exploration. The intention of this book is to show the value of studying the progress of a star career by linking it to contemporary industrial practices. The career of every artist is inextricably linked to and shaped by the context within which it evolves, a context that in turn largely determines both the prospects and the limitations of that career. As we shall see, the context of Loren's work crosses a number of cultural and industrial models – from early 50s Italy, to late 50s Hollywood, to early 60s Italy and beyond. An analysis of the construction of her star image thus results in greater understanding both of the career of Loren herself and the place of the star – of Europe and of Hollywood – in this most interesting transitional period for film and for postwar culture. The structures this book identifies as subtending the career of Loren, particularly in the context of Italian filmmaking, are relevant to the careers of many of her contemporaries of greater or lesser stature, from Marcello Mastroianni to Silvana Pampanini, from Marisa Allasio to Alberto Sordi. To this end, the book has relevance beyond the detail of the single star identified in its title.

One of the most recent developments in film studies has been an emphasis on the importance of understanding that, at the level of audience reception, the term 'star' does not signify a single, unified persona but is instead composed of elements that are much more fragmentary in nature. The star image comes about through a process of 'negotiation' (Gledhill 1999: 166) that affords the star a diversity of meanings deriving from the cultural make-up of a range of audience types, all fundamental to the process of producing the star's meaning. Gledhill argues that the experience of reading and viewing is 'a social practice, which differs between groups and historical periods and shapes the meaning audiences derive from cultural products' (Gledhill 1999: 172). A number of critics have based sustained analysis on this premise: Moseley (2003) charts the meanings Audrey Hepburn, a star of the 1950s, might hold for audiences of the late twentieth century. In an earlier study, Jackie Stacey (1994) reviewed the meaning of a range of Hollywood studio stars as perceived by British female audiences. The current study will show that adopting an approach based on diversified meanings of the star image gives particularly rewarding insights into Loren's career: as a product located within separate film cultures, the national-Italian and the international-Hollywood, we shall see that 'Sophia Loren' takes on meanings to be found in the separate, very particular characteristics and audiences of these two main groupings. Throughout the book close reference will be made to Loren's on-screen performance with textual analysis of individual films particularly in the separate case studies; but the films will also be considered more generally as a body of work that raises issues of casting, funding, and the publicity and promotion attendant on the films. In Stars Dyer contends that the means by which a star's persona is constructed may be divided under four main headings: promotion, films featuring the star, publicity, and critical reception and comment. Clearly the way that Loren was received and promoted will vary from the equivalent experience of a Hollywood star, but while registering differences in the specific form they take I will demonstrate that these categories remain central to the way Loren's star status is realized. The book concentrates on the years that are crucial to the constructing of the star Sophia Loren: from 1950, when she had her first walk-on film part in Mervyn Le Roy's production Quo Vadis, to 1964, when she completes Marriage Italian Style/Matrimonio all'italiana directed by Vittorio de Sica. This film was the second of two comedies she made with Marcello Mastroianni on her return to Italian filmmaking. It follows Two Women/La ciociara (1960), where she also worked with De Sica as director, the film that was to mark the climax of her national and international success. The chronology of Loren's career offers natural divisions to map out her ascendancy as a star, and these may be summarized as follows:

Phase 1: beginnings as an Italian national star 1950–7

Phase 2: Hollywood career 1957–60

Phase 3: merging of national and international status 1960–4

Phase 4: transnational star and celebrity 1964–the present

The book's approach, although to some extent chronological, will be subdivided under the headings: Chapter 1: Why Sophia?; Chapter 2: Loren and Ponti; Chapter 3: Loren and Hollywood; Chapter 4: Loren and De Sica; Chapter 5: Loren and Mastroianni; Conclusion: Cercando (Still Looking For) Sophia. Chapter 1 is introductory and Chapter 3 considers the Hollywood years. The remaining chapters give focus to Loren's work through the spectrum of three major personalities with whom her star status in closely linked: Carlo Ponti, Vittorio De Sica and Marcello Mastroianni. Each of these chapters includes a case study that offers close analysis of an individual film that at the same time amplifies the main thrust of the chapter's arguments. There are a number of reasons why this division of material offers the more fruitful approach. Firstly, it facilitates a study of the industry through a specific set of professional partnerships: the interaction of Loren with a producer, with a director and with another actor. Thus it becomes a means whereby we understand better both the detail of a single star's career, and the more general industrial framework of the era. Secondly it is proper to argue that a star image does not evolve in purely linear fashion, but is made up of a series of intermittent, nonconsecutive phases that combine to produce a whole: Loren's films with Mastroianni cover two distinct chronological phases, but from an artistic perspective can be analysed as a homogenous body of work, where aspects of their separate careers continue to inform the discourse of their on-screen partnership. In the case of De Sica, the partnership is also intermittent, but as will be demonstrated, is productively studied as a unified body of work. Thirdly, such a division of material allows the possibility of addressing the way Loren's star status has been represented both in the critical and the popular press. The attitude is encapsulated in this extract from a Life article on her background: 'During those early years Sophia eked out a bare existence [...] then Carlo Ponti came on the scene, her name was changed to Loren, and the famine was over' (Hamblin 1961: 38). Such a perspective is not at all restricted to accounts in the popular international press. Loren is explicitly and repeatedly cited as being guided by a Pygmalion figure – a dominant sophisticated male to her supposedly pliable female role. While biographers Moscati (2005: 97), and Masi and Lancia (2004: 129) assign the Pygmalion role to Carlo Ponti, the film critic Spinazzola (1985: 50) and the film historian Brunetta (1998: 260) characterize De Sica in the same way. There is no doubt that these figures were highly important to Loren's career. In her recent study of the career of Rita Hayworth, Adrienne McLean (2004) shows ways in which, like Loren, Hayworth's public and private life was extensively reported and analysed with particular reference to her marriages and 'the men in her life'. By giving attention to the considerable resources that fed her extra-textual image, we will identify how the press used Loren and how Loren used the press to enhance her career. Like McLean, this book contends that the career of an important star merits fresh consideration. It will provide a clearer and more informed understanding of the role of the individuals and the processes that moulded Sophia.


Excerpted from Sophia Loren by Pauline Small. Copyright © 2009 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1  Why Sophia?
Chapter 2  Loren and Ponti
Chapter 3  Loren and Hollywood
Chapter 4  Loren and De Sica
Chapter 5  Loren and Mastroianni

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