Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema. Indiana University Press, 2015. Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema is the first in-depth study of the feature and documentary films made during Mussolini’s dictatorship about Italy’s African and Balkan occupations. The fruit of research in military and film archives, it focuses on the dramatic years between the invasion of Ethiopia (1935-1936) and the loss of the colonies (1941-43) during World War Two. Promoted and created at the highest levels of the regime, empire films were Italy’s entry into an international marketplace of colonial and exotic offerings, and engaged many of Italy’s emerging filmmaking talents (Roberto Rossellini) as well as its most experienced and cosmopolitan directors (Augusto Genina, Mario Camerini). Shot partly or wholly in Libya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, these movies reinforced Fascist racial and labor policies: their sets were sites of violence and of interracial intimacies. Like the imperial histories they recount, they were largely forgotten for most of the postwar period. Fascism’s Empire Cinema restores these films to Italian and international film history, and offers a case study of the intertwining of war and cinema and of the unfolding of imperial policy in the context of dictatorship.
Photo: Still from Lo squadrone bianco/The White Squadron (Augusto Genina, 1936).
Reviews of Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema:
“An elegant and theoretically sophisticated study….effortless but painstaking parallel analysis of both the filmic texts and their production… In bringing this cinematic history back to life, Ruth Ben-Ghiat treads a path of uncompromising empiricism and subtle textual analysis, which connects the multiple spaces of history and film and significantly advances our understanding of Fascist Italy.”
–Giacomo Litchner, Victoria University, H-Nationalism, June 2017
“Ben-Ghiat provides another invaluable resource for anyone interested in the forgotten histories of Italian film and in the relation between aesthetics and politics during the Ventennio…Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema has a particular, very effective, cinematographic feel…Ben-Ghiat establishes her field of enquiry with a panoramic shot over paratextual discourses concerning film culture and politics, closes up on a particular film to show how it resonates with a specific historical juncture, and then pans back, documenting press and political reactions to the film discussed…not only a crucial resource for the reassessment of cinema under Mussolini’s regime but also an incredibly pleasant read.
–Lorenzo Fabbri, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies, vol.5, 3 (2017)
“The first comprehensive scholarly study of films made in or about the African and Balkan colonies of Mussolini’s fascist empire, this book is genuinelygroundbreaking and exceptionally insightful…A balanced, judicious historian, she displays her wealth of archival knowledge and interpretive skills in a clear,straightforward narrative that proves utterly enthralling…..Essential”.
— R. West, emerita, University of Chicago, in Choice, September 2015, Vol. 53 No. 1
“Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema is the most subtle and detailed examination we have of a crucial element of the cultural practice of ‘totalitarian’ dictatorship, Italian-style.”
―Times Higher Education Supplement
“This new book splendidly confirms Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s standing as the preeminent cultural historian of Italian Fascism in the English-speaking world today. She illuminatesnot onlythe drive for empire, along with the place of violence and history in the associated Fascist imaginary, but also key facets of cinematic modernity, the merging of documentary and fiction in the “empire film” aesthetic, and the antecedents of neo-realism. No one brings greater theoretical acumen, interpretive care, and contextual erudition to writing about film historically.”
―Geoff Eley, University of Michigan
“If film is a portal to empire as Ruth Ben-Ghiat claims and so beautifully demonstrates, then her book is that and much more: from a carefully chosen set of vantage points on documentary and feature film genres, screen masculinity, and cinema’s mobile technologies, she burrows through the thicket that joins fascist film culture and empire cinemato show their entangled production of theweapons of empire, fascism, and war. Shifting between a close-up and wide-angle lens, Ben-Ghiat unsettles what we think we know about Italian cinema and its racial inscriptions, and not least about the fantasies of mobility and force of restriction that shaped fascist violence and visions of empire.”
―Ann Laura Stoler, author of Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule
Italy: site of the largest voluntary emigration from any country in recorded world history; favored destination of leisure travellers from the Grand Tour onward; and a bridge between Europe and Africa, where migrants come after perilous sea journeys. Yet Italy is equally a place of fixity, of deep attachments to place and patrimony. Our volume looks at all of these histories and the tensions between mobility and rootedness, bringing migration studies, mobility studies, and Italian studies together. Essays by Pamela Ballinger, Nicholas Harney, Rhiannon Noel Welch, Stephanie Malia Hom, Guido Tintori, Francesca Locatelli, Aine O’Healy, David Forgacs.
This cultural history of Mussolini’s dictatorship explores the meanings of modernity in interwar Italy. Combining archival research with the analysis of novels and films, this work argues that fascism appealed to many Italian intellectuals as a new model of modernity that would allow economic development without harm to social boundaries and national traditions. It explores the ways that realism engaged many writers and filmmakers as an aesthetic that would reflect this distinctive model of Italian modernity.
Although Fascism did not make good on its claim to refashion Italians, the book contends that twenty years of dictatorship left a legacy of practices and attitudes that continued under different political rubrics after 1945.
Reviews of Fascist Modernities:
“More than a history of Fascist culture, a richly documented and thorough chronicle of the relationship between the regime and culture.”- William Weaver, New York Review of Books
“[Ben-Ghiat]…brings attention to the Italian intellectuals’ amnesia about their political responsibilities and their collaboration and compromises with Mussolini’s regime…Thought-provoking and challenging, this book courageously tackles intractable issues in the history of Italian fascism.” Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, American Historical Review
“A superb and original work of scholarship, Fascist Modernities give us a startling new picture of the Italian fascist period and its cultural politics, as well as remarkable new analyses of Italian fascist anti-Semitism and of the relation between Italy’s colonial aspirations and conquests and its modernizing schemes.” Barbara Spackman, University of California, Berkeley.
“Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s book is an important contribution to the history of fascist culture, showing the complex ways in which fascism used intellectuals and intellectuals used fascism.” Alexander Stille, Columbia Journalism School, author of Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian-Jewish Families Under Fascism
La cultura fascista (Mulino: 2000, 2004)
Italian Colonialism (edited with Mia Fuller, Palgrave, 2005, 2008)
Italian Colonialism is a pioneering anthology of texts by scholars from seven countries who represent the best of classical and newer approaches to the study of Italian imperial endeavors in Africa. Essays on the political, economic, and military aspects of Italian colonialism are featured alongside works that reflect the insights of anthropology, race and gender studies, film, architecture, and oral and cultural history. The volume includes many essays by Italian and African scholars that have never been translated into English. It is a unique resource that offers students and scholars a comprehensive view of the field.
Gli imperi: dall’antichità all’età contemporanea (edited, Mulino, 2009)
This volume brings together scholarship on empires from a wide variety of temporal and geographical contexts, from ancient Rome and China, through the French and Russian empires, to contemporary America. Essays by Anthony Pagden, Frederick Cooper, Jane Burbank, Elio Lo Cascio, Anne Laura Stoler, Franco Cardini, Gigliola Pagano, Antonio Feros, Guido Abbattista, Nicola Di Cosmo, and David Armitage explore imperial citizenship, sovereignty, and frontiers, the challenges of managing space and multi-ethnicity, the tensions between incorporation and differentiation, and the gaps between the transformative ambitions of empires and the real limitations of imperial power.