Interview with the author
Freelance Italian journalist Sergio Caroli read my book and wrote asking for an interview, which we did by email. The version above was published yesterday (24 April) in La Sicilia, but was trimmed from the original text, which I add here.
"Con questo libro vorrei riuscire finalmente a indagare un fenomeno cinematografico che è arrivato a una tale popolarità e a una tale longevità nonostante sia detestato, come il suo pubblico, praticamente da tutti. Da non italiano è stato proprio questo dilagante disprezzo a incuriosirmi e farmi venire la voglia di studiare il cinepanettone”. Così scrive Alan O’Leary, professore all’Università di Leeds, presentando il suo saggio “Fenomenologia del cinepanettone” (Rubbettino, pp152, euro14).Studioso di cinema italiano e storia culturale italiana (è autore del volume “Tragedia all’italiana” sulla rappresentazione del terrorismo nel cinema), O’Leary, irlandese, non circoscrive l’analisi alla rassegna dei vari film o alla loro storia e alla loro fortuna (o sfortuna) di critica e di pubblico, ma realizza una indagine sociologica sull’argomento, utilizzando strumenti di ricerca e di ermeneutica messi a punto dagli studiosi di religione, in tal guisa giungendo identificarsi con il pubblico dei cinepanettoni, mantenendo però ben saldi i principi dell’oggettività. O’Leary si pone il fine di sviluppare una specie di tassonomia dei cinepanettoni e di motivare l’enorme successo, malgrado il disprezzo dei critici. Ad arricchire il saggio c’è una serie di interviste con attori, produttori, critici e fan.
1) Professor O’Leary, l’uso del termine “fenomenologia” richiama alla mente il celebre saggio di Umberto Eco, “Fenomenologia di Mike Bongiorno”. C’è qualche analogia?
Eco fornisce un modello imprescindibile per tutti noi che ci occupiamo della cultura di massa, ma ci tenevo nel libro a distinguere il mio tono dall’approccio ironico di Eco. È chiaro che Eco tratta Mike Bongiorno e il suo pubblico come «altro». Perfino l’uso che fa della polisillaba ‘fenomenologia’ suona più come una presa in giro. Io invece ho seguito l’esempio di studiosi della religione come Ninian Smart per cui ‘fenomenologia’ rappresenta un «tentativo di raggiungere un’oggettività empatica o una soggettività neutrale» verso il fenomeno preso in esame. Per me, dunque, fenomenologia sta a indicare un approccio che prende sul serio l’esperienza e i gusti dei pubblici per i cinepanettoni nonché offrire un’analisi neutrale degli stessi film.
2) Che genere di storia raccontano i cinepanettoni e di quali strategie narrative si servono?
Difficile rispondere in poche righe siccome si tratta di una forma complessa evoluta nel corso di trent’anni. I cinepanettoni doc sarebbero i film diretti da Neri Parenti a partire da Merry Christmas (2001), commedie generazionali che si svolgono in località straniere da sogno. Caratteristica comune è la trama costruita su storie parallele incentrate su Boldi e De Sica e i momenti più spassosi sono quelli in cui i due finalmente si incontrano, spesso in uno spazio ristretto, come in una doccia. I vari Vacanze di Natale, invece, seguendo il modello del film dei Vanzina del 1983, sono ensemble comedies tipicamente contenenti una colonna sonora dei tormentoni estivi dell’anno, elemento fondamentale per l’impatto dei film. Altri film accentuano la satira dei costumi maschili e dell’omosocialità (tema importante e ricorrente) e spesso prendono la forma di film a episodi. Un ulteriore gruppo, poi, si caratterizza per il tono parodico e per le citazioni di altri film. E così via. Insomma, una varietà piuttosto impressionante che sfida il mito secondo cui i cinepanettoni siano «sempre uguali».
3) Il suo libro intende rispondere alle critiche di carattere estetico e ideologico rivolte al cinepanettore. Lei dichiara di essere stato guidato da due autorevoli studiosi del ruolo della cultura popolare; uno è Pierre Bourdeieu che ha indagato sulla funzione sociale del gusto. Può spiegare la relazione?
Bourdieu mi serve per contestualizzare il diffuso disprezzo per i cinepanettoni. Il sociologo francese ha dimostrato che l’apprezzamento di un prodotto culturale non è una questione di un giudizio innato e individuale; è invece qualcosa che si acquisisce, legato alla classe sociale e al «capitale culturale». Il cinepanettone è considerato di basso livello culturale e questo disprezzo è il segno di una posizione sociale privilegiata, se non necessariamente in termini economici almeno in quelli culturali. Spesso si traduce questo disprezzo in termini politici: il cinepanettone sarebbe ‘di destra’ così come i suoi spettatori.
4) L’altro è Mikhail Bakhtin, che ha studiato la carica trasgressiva della comicità carnevalesca, la cui presenza lei individua nei cinepanettoni…
Il carnevale storico era un periodo di morte simbolica e rinascita durante il quale l’intera comunità veniva coinvolta in un rovesciamento delle gerarchie sociali e in una sospensione dei normali codici di comportamento. Il cinepanettone si presta a un’analisi in termini carnevaleschi, associato com’è alla sospensione in tempo di festa delle norme e dei bisogni quotidiani, e al ciclo di rinnovamento sancito dalla morte dell’anno appena trascorso e dalla venuta del nuovo. Il ricorso a un linguaggio volgare, il mettere in ridicolo pretese culturali e il ribaltamento delle normali convezioni morali che mette in atto, corrispondono perfettamente alla comicità carnevalesca teorizzata da Bakhtin.
5) Il cinepanettone viene spesso accusato di sfruttare l’immagine nuda del corpo femminile, ma lei osserva esso pone molto più spesso in evidenza le nudità grottesche del corpo maschile. Può esemplicare e spiegarne le ragioni?
Non voglio per niente negare il sessismo della forma, comunque mi colpisce il modo in cui il corpo nudo di Boldi, spesso fatto vedere nei film, è reso invisibile dalla critica, quasi come se si tratta di una rimozione. Boldi incarna alla perfezione il corpo grottesco descritto da Bakhtin, aperto al mondo esterno, con l’enfasi sugli orifizi e sulle protuberanze. Flaccido, sudato, a volte incontinente, Boldi rappresenta l’opposto, e l’equivalente parodico, del fisico tonico, abbronzato e perfetto della starlet di turno.
6) Lei descrive in un capitolo i risultati di un suo questionario sulla percezione e sul consumo del cinepanettone? Quali sono gli esiti che l’hanno maggiormente impressionata?
Non potevo non notare un tono estremamente negativo nelle risposte (ovviamente di non-ammiratori dei film) alla richiesta di scrivere una descrizione dello ‘spettatore tipico’ dei cinepanettoni, per molti un berlusconiano poco intelligente e di scarsa cultura. Il tono censorio sfocia nell’insulto in più di un’occasione. Ecco probabilmente la risposta più estrema: “un uomo porco a cui piace vedere culi e tette al vento e che si masturba ripensando alla battona di turno nel film.” Mi sembra che la forza del linguaggio sia sintomo di una frattura politica e culturale. Il cinepanettone è divenuto metafora di frustrazione politica e il suo pubblico è diventato capro espiatorio.
PS. and today (1 May) a longer (but still edited) version appeared in the Giornale di Brescia
Abbas Kiarostami and Karlheinz Stockhausen versus Christian De Sica and Scatman John
I was alerted to this by the boys over at cinepanettoni.it - an ad for an evening of cinepanettoni on Sky Cinema1. Interesting that the performance style seems to allude to the exaggerated mode of the cinepanettoni themselves.
I don’t remember where the tune in this ad is from in the films (maybe just ads or trailers?), but I found this remark on a comments thread devoted to tributes to the late Scatman John (1942-1999) : ‘cosa sarebbero i cinepanettoni senza questo pezzo?’. A different Scatman tune from the one in the suoneria traditrice is used in a surreal sequence of Vacanze di Natale ‘95 discussed here.
Un seno nuovo sotto l’albero
I follow up here themes raised in the previous post about the unruly and grotesque woman in the cinepanettone. I talked in that previous post about Christmas in love - not seen as one of the filone's finest moments, and not a huge box office success in cinepanettone terms, but it retains its interest because of the manner it which it foregrounds the social construction of beauty. The film does this not only through its ambivalent presentation of the unruly Concy’s ‘right to desire’ I have already discussed, but also in the theme of aesthetic surgery introduced in another of its story strands, in which Christian De Sica and Sabrina Ferilli play a divorced couple of plastic surgeons. (The film’s concern with the body also extends to men and aging, the theme of the Boldi story strand, which like the Concy strand features an American guest star, in this case Danny De Vito.)
The film introduces the theme of aesthetic surgery in the meta-discursive context of a television feature on breast surgery, with a remark by the programme host (Livia Azzariti) about whether the widespread wish by teenage girls to undergo mammaplasty ‘sia da condannare o meno’. The judgmental frame is invoked ironically, of course – the cinepanettone has no intention of entering into a moralizing debate about aesthetic surgery. How could it, when the faces of the stars in the scene have so candidly been subject to surgical or other procedures in order to retain their screen-ready freshness?
De Sica (1951), Azzariti (1954), Ferilli (1964). You should see the portraits in the attic!
A woman in a wedding dress with explosive diarrhoea
Other uses for a street in Bridesmaids
The licence granted to male characters in the cinepanettone to misbehave and to dispense abuse can be related to the ‘trickster’ figure found in traditional cultures, ‘an unruly male figure who breaks the rules, is governed by uncontrollable biological urges for food and sex and who often lacks a sense of unity and control of his own body parts’ (King, p. 64). Such a description applies well to aspects of the Boldi or De Sica personae, even if the trickster figures invoked by King are native to social and historical circumstances radically different from the populous and complex mass-media society that is contemporary Italy.
The risk of relating Boldi and De Sica to the trickster figure of traditional cultures is not only one of comparing historical unlike with unlike; it is also one of naturalizing an inequitable allotment of roles and power to the genders. Contemporary Italy is also a society where women, despite undoubted impediments, can and do work in the public spheres of business, media or politics, and so one might expect that certain symbolic forms of licence granted to men be extended also to women. Speaking of the cinepanettone, this seems to be the case only to a limited degree. Indeed, I suspect that one of the reasons the cinepanettone has failed to thrive in recent years is that it has not been brave enough with the grotesque or unruly representation of women. When the gross-out social satire Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011) was released in Italy it was compared to a cinepanettone – but no cinepanettone has ever featured a woman in a wedding dress with explosive diarrhoea. That, it seems, would be transgression too far even for the Italian transgressive form par excellence. The cinepanettone has the power to contravene social decorum through the antics of its male ‘tricksters’, but gender decorum is much harder to breach.
This is not to say that the cinepanettone is devoid of grotesque or unruly women, even if these have often been marginal figures constrained by the plot or restricted to the sentimental sphere.
Uomini uomini uomini
In a previous post I argued for the liberatory thrust in ‘Cacao meravigliao’, a carnivalesque episode of Anni 90, and by extension in the cinepanettone as a whole. My argument was constructed on the analysis of the performance of unruliness in female drag by white male Italian actors, and so begs the question: on behalf of whom is the transgression performed, and what are the costs of the transgression for other groups and identities? In the case of ‘Cacao meravigliao’, the cost seems to involve a stereotypical representation of the Other, the Brazilian ‘shemales’ whose abject, ‘composite’ bodies guarantee by contrast the unitary sex of the male protagonists. The cost for females is that they are effectively marginalized, confined to the roles of prostitute or wife, by the impersonation of unruly womanhood by men.
Trigamist Fabio Trivellone with his black family in Merry Christmas
Dance Sing Man Woman
When the characters played by Boldi and De Sica in S.P.Q.R. disguise themselves as raucous females in order to disrupt the affairs of Leslie Nielsen’s corrupt party leader, they are reprising a carnivalesque tradition of cross-dressing that employs the supposed unruliness of women as a means to upset social norms and power.
Natalie Zemon Davis, in a famous study called ‘Women on Top’, has recounted how the woman in early modern Europe (the same period described by Bakhtin in his book on Rabelais and the carnivalesque) was held to be inherently disorderly, subject to the destabilizing influences of the lower body. The misogynistic discourse of womanhood functioned to deny women the right to hold property or to work licitly outside the home, and ensured their subordinate status to their husbands, but it also enabled a potent representation of the transgressive ‘woman on top’ in literature and image-making, and the performance of the unruly woman in festive contexts like carnival.
Rude about our hero, the Godlike C. De Sica, but an uncanny impersonation. Short video from a series featuring the three presenters (plus brilliant invisible impersonator) of morning radio show on R101, broadcast from Milan I think, and part of one of Berlusconi’s media groups. See here for more.
The Cinepanettone, Postfeminism and DAMS Bologna
Catherine O’Rawe kicks off the Postfeminism conference in Bologna
I spent the last few weeks in Italy, taking the cinepanettone on a visit home. In this post I’ll talk about the Bologna conference 'Postfeminism: The Culture and Politics of Gender in the Age of Berlusconi' (7-9 June) and the paper I gave there, and also the paper I presented at the Bologna University DAMS (Drama, Art and Music Studies) on 8 June.
Interview transcripts (7): Tifosi (Canu, Di Nocera, Proietti, Tamburini)
In this seventh and last edited transcript from the interviews conducted by Luca Peretti and myself on the cinepanettone I excerpt the words of four fans of the filone.
Lorenzo Proietti is an avid filmgoer and also a cinepanettone regular – a combination demonstrated by all these interviewees and one that challenges the stereotype of the typical cinepanettone consumer who goes to the cinema just once a year. I spoke to Lorenzo in December 2010 in his office in the building in Rome where he works as a concierge. He showed me the tin box kept there which contained the ticket stubs for every movie he’d seen at the cinema since the turn of the century: a substantial batch.
Pietro Di Nocera
I have discussed here my interview with Pietro Di Nocera (in a posh Roman hotel bar in April 2011), one of the organizers of the Vacanze di Natale (1983) fan club and website. He is passionate about the original but scornful of the other films – especially those of Neri Parenti – though he admits to seeing them and to laughing.
Enrico Tamburini and Massimiliano Canu of cinepanettoni.it
I spoke by Skype videocall in February 2011 to the two organizers of a cinepanettone fan website based in Udine (I discuss the interview here). Massimiliano Canu and Enrico Tamburini were highly engaged with the filone and the kind of comedy they felt it represented. They were much less interested in the directors than the actors, and, interestingly, seemed to be embarrassed by the vulgarity held to be characteristic of the films and their exploitative representation of women.
Interview transcripts (6): parlano gli scettici (Antonangeli, Garofalo, Missaglia, Schirò, Uva)
In this sixth edited transcript from the interviews conducted by Luca Peretti and myself on the cinepanettone I excerpt the words of four members of a focus group of male university graduates aged between twenty-four and twenty-six: Riccardo Antonangeli, Damiano Garofalo, Nicola Missaglia and Enrico Schirò. As I explained to them, there were representatives for us of a certa intellighentsia who I hoped would help us to discern the substance of, and get some of the reasons for, a widespread dismissive feeling towards the cinepanettone on the part of those who consider themselves educated and culturally well-informed. The next post will be about the fans of the cinepanettone, but these are among the sceptics: I want to take seriously the perceptions of the public, sympathetic or unsympathetic, to help to understand and analyse the appeal or not of the film di Natale.
Gli scettici: Garofalo, Antonangeli, Schirò, Missaglia
Joining the four members of the focus group is the academic Christian Uva, who teaches film at Roma Tre University and who has appeared several times in this blog (see here and here). Christian is the author of the best study I’ve found of the films of Neri Parenti, in which he is brilliant on the persona of Christian De Sica (see the end of this post for details). Our conversation focussed on the ideology of the cinepanettone and on some of its formal characteristics.
Appassionati per caso: Srivastava, Uva, O’Leary
Interview transcripts (5): parlano gli attori (Boldi, De Sica, Ghini, Tabita)
Boldi and De Sica: even great love stories must end
Continuing from four previous posts (here, here, here, and here), more edited transcripts of the interviews myself and Luca Peretti have done about the cinepanettone, this time with the actors Massimo Boldi, Christian De Sica, Massimo Ghini and Barbara Tabita.
Natale in Sud Africa:Ghini, gurning, and Belen, verso
These were the most difficult interviews to do, and have generated the least interesting results - perhaps. Actors are very practiced at interviews and will often repeat material they know has entertained in the past. This was certainly the case with De Sica, who repeated stuff almost verbatim I had read elsewhere (the context itself was unfortunate: his mother had died the previous night after a long illness, but De Sica graciously preferred to go ahead with his appointments). Ghini’s was less an interview than a monologue that Luca and myself interrupted at irregular intervals. But at least those two interviews were face to face, which meant one could probe and respond politely. I’ve discussed the problems of my skypephone interview (audio only) with Boldi here, and I only recently managed to get an interview with a woman involved in the cinepanettoni, having failed to convince both Nancy Brilli and Sabrina Ferilli that I was anything but a sinister stalker geek. A colleague happened to know the Sicilian actor Barbara Tabita, who stared in Natale in Sud Africa, and the latter was kind enough to reply by email (from her iPhone) to my questions. Inevitably, I think, her responses were a little anecdotal and I would have liked to have been able to ask supplementary questions about a theme she was most interesting on, that of the body of female actor in a masculinist cinema culture.
The interview with Boldi took place in just before Christmas 2010, with De Sica and Ghini in January 2011, and Barbara Tabita sent me her answers by email in February 2012. My questions are signaled with an ‘A’. The interviews have been transcribed by Luca and Damiano Garofalo - sincere thanks to both of them.
Natale in Sud Africa: De Sica and Tabita on the menu
Interview transcripts (4): registi e sceneggiatori (Paolo Costella, Enrico Oldoini, Neri Parenti, Carlo Vanzina, Enrico Vanzina)
'Neanche Shrek fa riferimento alla realtà americana.’ (Neri Parenti)
Costella, Oldoini, Parenti
Continuing from the three previous posts (here, here, and here), more edited transcripts of the interviews myself and Luca Peretti have done about the cinepanettone, in this case of the screenwriters and/or directors, Paolo Costella (who directed the 2010 Boldi film A Natale mi sposo), Enrico Oldoini (who has also done a Boldi film and several Filmauro films in the 1990s), of stalwart cinepanettone writer and helmer Neri Parenti (too many films to mention), and Carlo and Enrico Vanzina, the writing/directing team who did the first cinepanettone (though they would refuse the term) and several since (they scripted 2011’s Vacanze di Natale a Cortina with Neri Parenti).
Carlo and Enrico Vanzina
The interviews with Paolo Costella and Neri Parenti took place in December 2010 (when Natale in Sud Africa was still on release). I spoke to the Vanzinas in February 2011 (Enrico twice) and a cautious Enrico Oldoini in April.
My questions are signaled with an ‘A’, and Luca’s with an ‘L’. The interviews have been transcribed by Luca and Damiano Garofalo - sincere thanks to both of them.
Interview transcripts (2): parlano alcuni sceneggiatori (Borsatti, Brizzi, Marciano, Martani)
Parlano alcuni sceneggiatori, del cinepanettone e no
Continuing from the previous post, here are some more edited transcripts of the interviews myself and Luca Peretti have done about the cinepanettone, in this case of two screenwriters historically involved with the filone, Fausto Brizzi and Marco Martani.
Brizzi and Martani established with Neri Parenti the formula that is considered the cinepanettone doc, and which led to the films’ created success in the last decade.
We also spoke to Cristina Borsatti, a script doctor, writer and teacher, about an article she had written in Film TV which deals with product placement in Natale in Sud Africa (she had actually worked on product placement in Natale in Crociera -for the press office associated with the cruise ship company that had allowed the use of ship), and the shortcomings of the film’s script.
Finally, I include here excerpts from my conversation with Francesca Marciano (above), a very experienced screenwriter who has worked with Carlo Verdone and Wilma Labate among others (Francesca heard about the project and asked to meet).
In transcribing the interviews (all of which took place in Rome in December 2010 and January 2011), we decided to maintain the natural pauses and hesitations characteristic of ordinary speech, but this has been done below inconsistently, which may give the impression the men were less hesitant than the women. This will be cleaned up in the final edit, which will have to be much shorter. Questions are signalled with an ‘A’ for Alan and ‘L’ for Luca. Readers are warmly invited to suggest what elements of the conversations they find most interesting.
Italian National Cinema… the Cinepanettone?
‘Above all else, comedy is an invitation to belong.’ (Andy Medhurst)
Massimo Boldi performs the ‘grotesque body’ in A Natale mi sposo
I’m writing a chapter on the cinepanettone for Peter Bondanella’s The Italian Cinema Book (BFI), a volume which, accordingly to Peter’s blurb,
will provide an accessible and innovative consideration of major critical issues in the history of the Italian cinema […]. This multi-authored work aims at moving beyond familiar approaches to the Italian cinema and will deal with a number of historical, cultural, and theoretical issues, including the evolution of Italian film culture over a century, the rise of Italian film stars, the structure of the film industry, the importance of the art film as well as the genre film, and the representation of Italian culture and history by the filmic image. […] Contributors will include not only some of the most distinguished senior scholars, critics, and film historians from a variety of national critical traditions but also some of the brightest and most innovative young scholars working in this field.
I’ll leave Peter’s description stand unremarked, but want to excerpt here some of the material I’m putting in my chapter. My argument, based on material in Catherine O’Rawe and my ‘Against Realism’ article, and on other stuff on the audiences for the cinepanettone discussed already in this blog, is that the cinepanettone has a good claim to be considered as ‘Italian National Cinema’ – as good a claim at least as the auteurist and realist canon of films that have been well received abroad and adduced as part of a kind of diplomatic project for the celebration of Italian culture. But what about what Italians actually watch in great numbers, and with regularity for many years? Isn’t that national cinema too? Here are some extracts from a draft of the chapter (the images are illustrations to the descriptive part of the article which I have not included because too familiar to the any readers of this blog).
Gestural energy: Christian De Sica in Natale a Beverly Hills
My purpose here is to claim for the cinepanettone the status of ‘Italian national cinema’. To argue as much is to challenge the conventional idea that Italian national cinema is comprised only of realist and auteurist works that have been appreciated outside Italy itself. It is also to refuse the idea that Italian national cinema should be conceived of as a kind of diplomatic project intended to represent the ‘best’ of the country’s cinematic culture at an international level. Given the contested quality and status of the filone it may seem a paradoxical gesture, but it is an essential one, to place the cinepanettone not at the margins but at the centre of discourse about Italian cinema.
National cultures have traditionally served as a way of demarcating academic areas of interest and, at least in the Anglophone academy, film studies have taken a foothold in departments of modern languages. Italianist cinema scholars therefore have a stake in retaining the national as a category of description, especially as the status of cinema studies was initially precarious within what were traditionally schools of literature, linguistics and history. It was institutionally imperative to assert a canon of individual film texts of undoubted aesthetic or ethical appeal, a canon (by analogy with the received litany of literary greats) that had ‘made Italy’ – indeed, that had ‘made Italians’.
In a context such as this, the study of genre cinema was unthinkable, and what emerged was a teaching and research syllabus that ignored most of the ‘popular’ in the sense of commercially successful within Italy itself. Italian cinema came to mean neorealism and the great auteurs, and the legacy of this approach is still with us today.
This legacy manifests itself in scholarship that defines its role in edifying and paternalistic terms, and that deals exclusively with the Italian cinema (however defined) the scholars believe should be known and admired rather than the range of films that have actually been produced and watched in Italy. This is often accompanied by a reflectionist model which sees a putative ‘best’ cinema as the ‘mirror’ of the Italian nation. In the Anglophone academy, this approach takes the form of a diplomatic project to celebrate those texts that resound to the glory of Italy, and the work of many writers on Italian film, perhaps especially in North America, is conceived precisely in terms of proselytizing for an Italian national culture.
Such a nationalistic cinema history has come in for criticism from within Italian cinema studies itself, from political and other perspectives. While areas of the discipline remain conservative, some have made the move from an essentializing model, in which the national cinema is seen as a direct reflection or expression of the national culture, to a constructivist model, in which the cinema is analysed as one of the means through which the ‘imagined community’ of the nation is posited and pictured. Some refuse the national cinema paradigm altogether, whether because it elides cultural discontinuities and the experience of, say, Italy’s minorities and incoming migrants, or because cinema is itself a transnational phenomenon, drawing themes, technologies, personnel and funding from across borders, and with designs on an international market.
I deploy the concept of national cinema here for strategic reasons, in order to put the experience and taste of a despised popular audience at the centre of our concerns. Some have argued that comedy ought to be considered as Italy’s quintessential national mode, based both on its commercial popularity and on its ability to ‘touch on themes very close and particular to the culture’ (Casetti and Salvemini 2007: 25). But I believe we should give equal attention to the context of the consumption of the cinepanettoni as to the content of the films (i.e., their themes close to the culture). In other words, the cinepanettone can be argued to be Italy’s national cinema because of its consumption within Italy itself and its adoption as part of annual holiday ritual, something demonstrated by the longevity and scale of its success within Italy itself.
A shocking interruption to the comedy in Natale in crociera
The divisive character of the films’ success is, ironically, another reason we can speak of them as Italian national cinema: the fact that they are as deplored as they are enjoyed suggests the cinepanettoni are engaged in a contested subtending of national identities. This is done, I argue, through ‘pleasurable politcs’, and I return to material discussed in a previous blog post to make my point. The pleasurable politics of the cinepanettone are similar to those identified by Andy Medhurst (2007: 69) in his (sympathetic) analysis of the reactionary content of some English stand-up comedy: ‘a politics of defence not attack, of refusal not uprising, of embracing your own, of consolidation against condescension’. That is to say, in its carnivalesque celebration of socially inappropriate behaviour and values, the cinepanettone also offers, precisely, a sense of community, even of home. Laughing, writes Medhurst, you feel at home:
It’s all about belonging, and the comic text or practitioner can call on a variety of devices in proffering the invitation. Belonging is why most television comedies have laugh tracks, why narrative film comedies will fade or cut or leave visual pauses when they think a great line has just been delivered and thereby reassure the audience that this is the right time to laugh, why stand-up comedians are filmed in theatres or studios with audiences present and why there are frequent cuts away from the comic to the convulsed consumers, why there are few more rapturous communal experiences than being in an audience rocking and hooting at the same gag, and why there are fewer finer pleasures in life than a group of old friends remembering and cementing their bonds through helpless, heedless laughter. (p. 20)
The ritual consumption of the cinepanettone perhaps offers precisely this: a feeling of home, as the spectator enjoys the antics of his or her fellow Italians abroad.
I am arguing that the cinepanettone constitutes Italian national cinema because of its consumption within Italy itself and its adoption as part of annual holiday ritual, something demonstrated by the longevity and scale of its intra-national success. That success may be fading, but the cinepanettone remains a perfect illustration of the process, constructive and contested, of imagining the national community. For many the cinepanettoni are a shared celebration, an assertion of community; for others, of course, the very idea these films could speak of or for ‘us’ is appalling. But the cinepanettone has been, and may be still, the Italian national comic genre par excellence.
Casetti, F. and Salvemini, S. (2007) È tutto un altro film: più coraggio e più idee per il cinema italiano (Milan: Egea)
Medhurst, A. (2007) A National Joke: Popular Comedy and English Cultural Identities (London: Routledge)