Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Italian Vernacular Cinema

Italian vernacular cinema was a movement of film in Italy that aimed to appeal to large numbers of the population. Werner Herzog believed that ' film is not the art of scholars, but illiterates,' meaning that film should not patronize the general public but communicate to them in a language they can understand. Despite this approach of eliminating snobbery, Italian directors like Fellini were still taken very seriously as auteurs. His films still displayed a certain flair, very much like Hitchcock's would, and also held an interior meaning regarding the superficiality of middle class existence. His feature 'La Dolce Vita' created in 1960, beared style and sophistication, depicting characters wearing sunglasses which became an recurring prop in many vernacular films. Also, like many other vernacular films, the feature was based on a foreigner (often working in the creative industry, in this case a journalist) and his visit to Italy. The protagonist in Italian vernacular cinema is often a creative individual in the effort to make the audience fantasize about the intellectual figure. The Italian films also generally focus on very attractive Italian architecture for their locations to shed a positive romantic light on Italy and its cities.

There were two main styles of Italian vernacular cinema: 'Prima Visione' and 'Terza Visione.' Prima Visione focused on a middle class audience. This wealthy audience were able to buy a ticket for a chozen film and view it from start to finish. This style of cinema was often seen in major cities. Terza Visione was targeted at a working class audience. This audience tended to go based on habit, happy to sit through any film, sometimes even walking in half way through. They were also know to talk through features and treat the trip to the cinema more as a social event. Wagstaff noted that Terza Visione audiences were more like a television audience.

Italian vernacular cinema also often related to filone. This is very similar to genre, but is based more on a geology-like structure. Imagine layers of veins within larger layers. when referring to filone, one could suggest a film is 'in the tradition of...' Some examples of filone are Giallo, which is based on detective novels. There are also the spaghetti westerns,the mondo or Cannibal film and finally the poliziotteschi or police film. 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' is a classic example of the spaghetti western filone. There is an emphasis on sound and a lack of dialogue to keep the audience engaged. There are also other conventions which can be found in many other Italian vernacular films such as eye-line cutting, contrasts in scale between shots and fragmentation of the body. Many films within this movement also made lots of reference to the catholic religion, as at the time many people were religious. Many of the conventions mentioned can be seen in the following clip. We can see lots of eye-line cutting and fragmentation of the body building up the anticipation and showing the nerves within each character (the shaking hands, the darting eyes):

There were also key conventions in other types of filone. Giallo is known for it's distinctive portrayal of the killer, wearing black clothing (particularly the gloves) and often not distinctive regarding gender which adds to the mystery. 'The Girl Who Knew Too Much' by Mario Bava made in 1963, was a classic Giallo feature. The film was about a private detective who whitenesses a murder. Again the protagonist is a tourist visiting Italy. It becomes his job to solve the crime, and there is this theme of escapism once again being used, as the audience are given an insight in to the jet set lifestyle, beautiful city architecture and picturesque shots almost like photograph stills. Along with the use expressionistic lighting and colour, this style of film was actually nicknamed Broque cinema.

On the subject of style, Dario Argento was one of the well know auteurs to emerge from Italian vernacular film. He was given the title of the 'Italian Hitchcock' by many. Like Hitchcock, he placed himself in his films, this time as the killers black gloves in his Giallo features. He also liked to use visually stunning set pieces, and shot his films without sound so that they could be overdubbed in many languages. Again this reflects the idea that vernacular cinema aims to reach out to a very wide audience.
He also worked with another well reconized auteur Sergio Leone, who was mentioned earlier on the movie 'Once Upon a Time in the West.' One of his well recognised Giallos 'The Bird With a Crystal Plumage', made in 1970, demonstrated Agento's signature style, as well as utilising many other key Giallo conventions. The film featured the classic Geallo killer, made reference to art and beauty and used fast cutting eye-line shots. The feature also stared Argento as the killer's hands, interupted long dialouge with dramatic set pieces and armed the killer with a cut-throat razor.

Even today, filmmakers continue to be inspired by Italian vernacular film. Tarantino is an auteur who drew inspiration form Sergio Leone for his move 'Inglorious Basterds.' He included picturesque establishing shots very much like you can see in the Spaghetti Western movies. We also see the Giallo style reflected in many modern 'slasher' movies. Take 'Scream' for example, where the killer is cloaked in black robes and gloves, masked to disguise gender and any features which could give away the murderer's identity. In the context of games and animation, Italian vernacular cinema focuses on target audience. It shows that we can follow conventions to make our work familiar to a wider audience, whilst at the same time keeping our integrity. It shows we can be tasteful with our work without patronising or restricting our audience. For our work to be understood, it must first be accessible. The Italian film makers had to do this particularly when reaching out to the Terza Visione audience, who saw a trip to the cinema a social event event, and sometimes missed the beginning of the feature.

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