The oral history approach will remain the core of our project because it provides a ‘thick description’ (Kuhn, 2002) of the role of cinema in the period under scrutiny, while also ‘allowing access to subjectivity’ (Labanyi, 2005). The empirical research will investigate cinema-going memories in post-war Italy. First we will ask over 1000 people to complete a questionnaire on cinema-going. This quantitative phase will be used to identify the recurrent themes and patterns, which we intend to explore further. Thereafter we will conduct structured video-interviews with 160 interviewees about their experiences. This oral history approach will be complemented by statistical surveys of audiences, box-office takings, and relevant period press material, adapting Barker and Mathijs’ (2008) audience project framework.
The study will involve four stages:
1. Audience questionnaire: The survey will involve a four-page questionnaire given to over 1000 individuals (aged 65 to 90), based on a probability sample. Twenty trial interviews have been already conducted (available at www.memoro.org/it/brookes/). Based on analysis of the interviews and a trial of 10 questionnaire respondents, we revised the questionnaire. The questions have been tested on a pilot cohort of 20 people in order to check for ambiguities and to assess the face validity of the questionnaires. The 1000 questionnaires will constitute the body of the statistical analysis, but we have also integrated more discursive open-ended questions in order to allow other memories of cinema-going to emerge. The questionnaires will be managed by a Blumedia researcher trained by the PI to ensure that the data gathering process is systematic and consistent.
2. In-depth video-interviews: We will revise our interview questions in the light of our findings from the questionnaires to address emerging patterns and groupings. Interviews will be half an hour each in length with a sample of 160 interviewees. Quota sampling will be used to target the respondents. For the oral interviews a range of participants will be chosen from eight areas within Italy: 8 rural and 8 urban locations. We have selected eight regions in order to explore key socio-economic characteristics: urban/rural, industrial/agricultural, centre/periphery, north/south, and the impact of political and religious geography. The cities of Bari, Rome, Turin, Milan, Palermo, Naples, Cagliari and Florence have been selected from the 12 ‘città capozone’ used to monitor box-office intake in the chosen period and will therefore allow for contextualization of the material with these figures. Urban locations will be complemented by rural locations in Tuscany, Lombardy, Piedmont, Lazio, Sicily, Campania, Puglia, and Sardinia. 5 members of each sex will be interviewed and the class distribution of interviewees will be monitored and adjusted as the interviews progress.
3. Data analysis: The ethnographic approach will involve the identification of the main topics in the questionnaires and then the in-depth interviews, followed by a systematic coding of the most important quotations (using NVivo software), which will then be used to interpret the findings. Working with the RAs, this software will allow us to divide the answers into thematic topics, organized around the project’s research questions. We will cross-tabulate the data in order to compare answers in different areas.
4. Triangulation of different data sources: The fragility and subjectivity of memory is something recognized by all researchers into historical audiences (Anderson, 2009).This was apparent in our pilot project, in which we found that memory interference was significant in itself, as many of our interviewees had overlaid official accounts of Italian post-war cinema on their private, autobiographical memories, producing a kind of ‘prosthetic memory’ of that period (see Hipkins, O’Rawe and Treveri Gennari, 2011). We are also attentive to issues of generational difference, and to the operations of ‘postmemory’ (Hirsch, 2008), by which later generations strive to reactivate through affective work the received accounts of the past. Our project aims to construct an account of Italian cinema spectatorship in which audiences’ ‘memory stories’ (Kuhn) can be interpreted in relation to ‘official’ discourses around cinema in that period. The memories collected through the questionnaires and the interviews will be read alongside reception material: exhibition and programming material, press accounts, and private records from that time. We will also use data available about box-office records from the SIAE and AGIS.
Newspaper and magazine reports will be used to identify trends in audience behavior over the period as well as to better understand press influence on audience choice. Information from trade journals, in conjunction with adverts in the popular press, articles in cinema magazines and personal diaries will enrich the recorded oral history. In this way, for the first time in Italian cinema history, oral history will be read against quantitative data about film distribution, box-office records, cinema attendance, and publicity, and alongside critical readings of the press and diaries.