Several members of the Italian Cinema Audiences team were at the excellent two-day conference organised by the Department of Film and Television Studies on Roberto Rossellini’s classic of neorealism, Rome Open City (1945). Sarah Culhane and Danielle Hipkins presented a jointly authored paper based on the project’s video interviews, entitled, ‘Once I believed in the nation, not any more’: Using audience memories to approach Rome Open City’. The paper began with a video essay, created by Sarah, which brought together examples from our video interviews of respondents discussing their memories of the film. The video also included extracts from some more specific interviews Sarah conducted about the film itself.
The paper discussed the ways in which individuals remembered the film as something that closely mirrored their own wartime experiences, and thus had a felt proximity to their lives. It also highlighted the fact that the one scene spontaneously recalled by interviewees when asked to name a specific film scene that had made an impression on them was Pina’s death scene in Rossellini’s film. Further findings that some individuals were not actually sure if they had seen the film at the cinema or later on television indicates the status of a ‘prosthetic memory’ around the film, as not only has it has been screened many times on Italian television, but, as our colleagues Luca Barra and Paolo Noto pointed out in their paper, Pina’s death scene has often been included in documentaries and other historical retrospectives as a stand-alone item.
The importance given to memories of Pina in the film also speaks to our research findings that Anna Magnani is the second most popular female star named by our questionnaire respondents. Repeated mentions of Magnani occur particularly in relation to her performance, suggesting intense levels of engagement with her character. One strand of our current research aims to look at how this engagement with Magnani, who is so strongly identified with Rome, might vary from region to region.
In addition to the paper by Barra and Noto mentioned above, there was also a strong thread in the conference looking at reception of Rome Open City: papers by Vanessa Roghi on the relation between the film and Italian TV, by Valerio Coladonato on the film’s reception in Paris, by Gianluca Fantoni on communist intellectuals’ responses to the film, and by Jacqueline Reich on the film’s digital afterlife, all drew on different types of archival sources and showed the current trend within Italian screen studies for going beyond textual analysis. However, those papers that did engage in textual analysis did so at a high level: it was interesting that there was an entire panel devoted to Anna Magnani, demonstrating her enduring star appeal, and there was a fascinating panel on the film’s sexual politics.
Finally, Pasquale Iannone’s video essay on Aldo Fabrizi gave an example of how innovative critical methods are being adopted within the field of Italian screen studies, as demonstrated by the ongoing work of our own Sarah Culhane. Sarah’s work in presenting our research in an audio-visual format is a key tool for us in transmitting our findings to both academic and non-academic audiences.
We would like to thank the conference organisers for accepting our proposals and for organising such a stimulating event, and all who attended for their interest in the project and their lively feedback.