Diva: Defiance and Passion in Early Italian Cinema [With DVD]

Diva: Defiance and Passion in Early Italian Cinema [With DVD]


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As scientific discoveries and technological advances radically modernized Europe around the turn of the twentieth century, artists of all types began questioning what it means to be human in an increasingly mechanistic world. Animated by a luminous goddess at its center, the diva film provided a forum for denouncing social evils and exploring new models of behavior among the sexes. These melodramas of courtship, seduction, marriage, betrayal, abandonment, child custody, and public reputation, to mention only a few themes, offered women a vision of—if not always a realistic hope for—emancipation and self-discovery.

In Diva, Angela Dalle Vacche offers the first authoritative study of this important "film" genre of the cinema that preceded the Great War of 1914-1918. She analyzes some seventy films, as well as the work of actresses such as Francesca Bertini, Lyda Borelli, and Pina Menichelli, to establish what the diva film contributed to the modernist development of the "new woman." Contrasting the Italian diva with the Hollywood vamp Theda Bara and the famous Danish star Asta Nielsen, Dalle Vacche shows how the diva oscillates between articulating Henri Bergson's vibrant life-force (élan vital) and representing the suffering figure of the Catholic mater dolorosa.

Taking readers on a fascinating tour that includes the Ballets Russes, orientalism, art nouveau, Futurism, fashion, prostitution, stunt women in the circus, aviation, anti-Semitism, colonialism, and censorship, Diva sheds important new light on the eccentric implantation of modernity in Italy, as well as on how, before World War I, the filmic image was associated with the powers of the occult and not with the Freudian unconscious, as has been argued until now.

Accompanying the book: Diva Dolorosa

Dutch filmmaker Peter Delpeut (Lyrical Nitrate) captures the spirit of the diva in this DVD of clips from early Italian films. Diva Dolorosa presents excerpts of fourteen films from the period 1914–1920, including Malombra, Rapsodia Satanica, and Il Fuoco. It features the work of actresses Lyda Borelli, Pina Menichelli, Francesca Bertini, Soava Gallone, and Elena Makowska.

Diva Dolorosa is a Nederlands Filmmuseum production made in coproduction with VPRO television and in collaboration with Cineteca del Comune di Bologna. The DVD was produced by Zeitgeist Films, Ltd.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780292717114
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Publication date: 04/28/2008
Pages: 310
Product dimensions: 7.04(w) x 9.92(h) x 0.74(d)

About the Author

ANGELA DALLE VACCHE is Associate Professor of Film Studies at Georgia Institute of Technology. Her previous books include Cinema and Painting: How Art Is Used in Film.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments: The Geography of a Book
  • Foreword by Guy Maddin
  • Time Line: Cultural Events and the Diva Film
  • Introduction: Mater Dolorosa
  • Theory and Technology
    • Chapter 1. The Shape of Time: Élan Vital and Memento Mori
    • Chapter 2. Laocoön's Filmstrip: Classicism, Marxism, Vitalism
    • Chapter 3. Orientalism: Ballets Russes, Occultism, Canudo
    • Chapter 4. Wings of Desire: Aviation, Fashion, Circus Stunts
  • History and Analysis
    • Chapter 5. Acting: Prostitution, Vertigo, Close-up
    • Chapter 6. Modern Woman: Minor Stars and the Short Film
    • Chapter 7. Tropes: Obsessions and Traumas of a Genre
    • Chapter 8. Nino Oxilia: Blue Blood and Satanic Rhapsody
  • Conclusion: Beyond the Femme Fatale
  • Portraits: Biographical Profiles of Actresses
  • Archival Locations and Filmography
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

What People are Saying About This

Jennifer M. Bean

Diva is a phenomenally rich archival, cultural, and theoretical source regarding early Italian cinema most specifically and European modernity in the early twentieth century more generally. Few film histories offer this kind of intellectual range, and I eagerly anticipate this book's impact on the field and its reverberation among other related disciplines.

Charles Musser

Diva is an impressive study on an important and fascinating topic. Those interested in European cultural studies, feminism, World War I, theater history, and early twentieth-century nationalism—to name a few areas—will find this book of value.

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