Strolling the streets of modernity: Experiences of flânerie and cityscapes in Italian postwar film
The study focuses on urban narratives and characters within Italian cinema film in the period (1947-1971). Including neorealist classics and modernist masterpieces as well as more vernacular thrillers, from Ladri di biciclette (De Sica, 1947), Viaggio in Italia (Rossellini, 1953) and Le notti di Cabiria (Fellini, 1957), to La dolce vita (Fellini, 1960), L'avventura (Antonioni, 1960) and Morte a Venezia (Visconti, 1971) to La ragazza che sapeva troppo (Bava, 1963) and L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (Argento, 1970), it produces new insight into films which have been much studied but never as a corpus and rarely, if at all, with an analytical focus on the city-walker. My approach to the cinematic city as a potentially multifaceted formation contingent on the eyes that see, relies in particular on Walter Benjamin's theories on the flâneur —a narrative and discursive motif within which is embedded the representation and perception of modern life—and on Gilles Deleuze's concept of the modern cinema as constituted around a viewing, rather than an (re)-acting, subject. This critical framework allows to account for the films' nature as both products and reflections of Italy's transition into a modern and predominantly urban society, while also privileging the movements and perceptions of the protagonists, each of whom is addressed as a specific realisation of the flâneur or the female flâneuse . Despite the major socio-cultural differences that separate their experiences, common among them is their troubled relationship with the urban crowd and exclusion from or unwillingness to adhere to official manifestations of the city's life. Actual or perceived as it may be, their sense of displacement within increasingly disintegrated urban formations serve to shed critical light on social disjunctions in postwar Italy as well as on the cultural and moral losses involved in processes of modernisation and urbanisation. However, in contrast to the male wanderers who tend to remain inert or ultimately failing in their quests, the female urbanites who in these very years achieve access to previously forbidden male spheres prove considerable ability to fight an initial sense of alienation and make constructive use of non-official aspects of the cityscape. It is the flâneuses ultimately who demonstrate the rewarding quality of street-walking as a claim to subjectivity—to the right both to see and walk freely—and as a process of self-discovery with a potential for inner growth.
0708: Mass media
0900: Motion pictures