Cinema Italiano - Book Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide From Classics to Cult - Howard Hughes I.B Taurus Books (2011)
Attempting to encapsulate the output of the entire Italian film industry, both genre and art house, over the twenty years of its Golden Age as well as its decade of decline (the 1980s) is nothing if not an ambitious undertaking. The number of genres and sub genres alone is prodigious enough without even thinking about the hundreds, forget that, thousands of actual films produced during that most prolific of eras. So no one could accuse Howard Hughes of being anything but brave in taking on such a project. The sheer volume of work, let alone the complexities of titles and availability of prints could easily prove an insurmountable challenge for a single, medium length book. But, despite these obstacles and within the parameters in which he approaches the subject, he really doesn’t make a bad fist of it at all. This should come as no surprise to those who have read Hughes’ previous books on cinema and his work on Spaghetti Westerns in particular as he has a proven quality of penmanship and a genuine enthusiasm for his subject. This again comes through in this latest effort and proves, along with a welcome element of humour to be the book’s greatest asset.
The book is structured largely on chronological lines but is divided into chapters based on the filoni which emerged and dominated as the period progressed. Starting with the Peplum and Sword and Sandal flicks of the late fifties and continuing through to the Cannibal and Post Apocalyptic ones which heralded the last death throws of Italian commercial cinema. In between, Hughes covers everything from Gialli to Poliziotteschi to Comedies and Westerns but also, perhaps surprisingly, makes room for the more internationally respected ‘arthouse’ films of directors such as De Sica, Visconti, Antonioni, Fellini and Pasolini. As a result the reader is treated to an extremely comprehensive journey of discovery through the entire gamut of films produced during this period. And, as a journey of discovery, it works very well; acting like a series of ‘must see’ lists in which a series of films are described in varying detail. This strength, however, could also, depending on the reader’s prior knowledge of the films and genres discussed, be seen as its weakness. If you are unfamiliar with the films or filoni being discussed you will find lots of useful information and a valuable introduction to the world of Italian commercial cinema. If, on the other hand, you are already a committed fan and have extensive viewing experience in this area you are less likely to find very much that is new to you. Hughes does not, for the most part, try and delve very deep into roots, trends or possible politics of these films or the genres in which they fit. Neither does he attempt to discuss the themes which may be at work within them. Rather, each section consists of a series of synopses with some background information added in for good measure and this ‘synopsis heavy’ approach can wear a little if you are reading about films you have already seen.
That being said, if you are well versed in some of the genres discussed but not so much in others, there is still plenty to gain. For my own part, I found the section on Westerns, Gothic Horror and Gialli the least informative as I have explored these genres myself quite extensively over the years but found the chapters on Pepla, Adventure and the 80s genuinely informative; supplying me with a list of films to seek out and experience for myself. This then, despite its limitations of depth, can be seen I think as one of the the book’s greatest strengths. Unless you are an expert on every phase of the period there will be something to pick up in one section or another and if you are something of a novice it will serve as an excellent guide to the whole field. It may not dig too deep in any one area but it sure as hell covers a lot of ground and Hughes is to be congratulated for that alone. Also, it should be noted that even for the more committed fan, there are still nuggets of information to be gleaned. Hughes’ inclusion of filming locations for most of the titles he discusses was of real interest to me and furnished me with knowledge I haven’t picked up before now.
But in addition to this, the book is genuinely entertaining to read. Hughes is obviously a committed fan but, like all of us, is able to recognise the absurd where it appears and he is able to have fun with this aspect and injects a lightness of tone throughout. He seems to take particular delight in the use of puns and I for one enjoyed many laugh out loud moments from his incisive humour and clever use of words. It appears this was a fun project for him to write and it certainly becomes that for the reader too.
It could have been even more fun though with the inclusion of more images from the era. Without wishing to sound too much like Dan Quayle’s librarian, I would have liked to see a lot more pictures. This, after all, is a book about moving images and, in the absence of any academic or thematic discussion, some nice poster art and publicity shots would go a long way. This is, to be fair, a criticism aimed more at the publishers than the author and to temper that it should also be noted that the book is very reasonably priced; a pleasant occurrence which may well have been impossible with the inclusion of any colour plates.
Cinema Italiano is ultimately an introductory book for its field. It offers a swathe of wide ranging information without ever being able to delve deep into any one area. This is, however, fully understandable for a book that covers a subject so rich in material. It is impossible to be all things for all people in a project of this scope and by restricting himself to the ‘highlights’ and maintaining a healthy sense of humour throughout he has managed to produce a work which is still informative at one level or another for most of us and genuinely entertaining for everyone. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it. --Phil H 14:22, 27 June 2011 (CEST)