Branded Entertainment and Cinema
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Branded Entertainment and Cinema

The Marketisation of Italian Film

Gloria Dagnino

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Branded Entertainment and Cinema

The Marketisation of Italian Film

Gloria Dagnino

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About This Book

The history of Italian cinema is mostly regarded as a history of Italian auteurs. This book takes a different standpoint, looking at Italian cinema from the perspective of an unusual, but influential actor: advertisers.

From the iconic Vespa scooter and the many other Made in Italy products placed in domestic and international features, to Carosello 's early format of branded entertainment, up through the more recent brand integration cases in award-winning titles like The Great Beauty, the Italian film and advertising industries have frequently and significantly intersected, in ways that remain largely unexplored by academic research. This book contributes to fill this gap, by focusing on the economic and cultural influence that advertising and advertisers' interests have been exerting on Italian film production between the post-war period and the 2010s. Increasingly market-oriented film policies, ongoing pressure from Hollywood competition, and the abnormal economic as well as political power held by Italian ad-funded broadcasters are among the key points addressed by the book. In addition to a macro-level political economic analysis, the book draws on exclusive interviews with film producers and promotional intermediaries to provide a meso level analysis of the practices and professional cultures of those working at the intersection of Italian film and advertising industries.

Providing an in-depth yet clear and accessible overview of the political and economic dynamics driving the Italian media landscape towards unprecedented forms of marketisation, this is a valuable resource for academics and students in the fields of film and media studies, marketing, advertising, and Italian studies.

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1 Gold, plastic, and lead

Italy between the 1950s and the 1970s

1.1 Made in Italy: The manufacture of Italianness

The concept of Italy as a territorial and cultural unity can be traced back to as early as the Roman Empire, but it only became a tangible political objective in the 19th century, during the turbulent, and continually debated, period known as the Risorgimento (“Resurgence”). During the sixty years following the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), a series of military events, and notably the three wars against the occupying Austrian Empire (1848–1866), Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand (1860), and the Capture of Rome (1870), led Italy to unification as an independent nation-state, with territorial borders similar to those of today.1 The official date of the unification is March 17, 1861, when a Kingdom of Italy was declared and Vittorio Emanuele II of Piedmont became its first king. That historical moment is considered to be the date of birth of Italy as a nation-state, but merely a first step towards the formation of an Italian national identity. Following unification, statesman and writer Massimo D’Azeglio famously stated: “We have made Italy, now we must make Italians” (Fatta l’Italia, bisogna fare gli Italiani). Indeed, long after becoming a unified political entity, Italy remained a patchwork of linguistic and cultural differences, where the concept of a national identity, or, to draw from Benedict Anderson’s (1983) conceptualisation, of a nation-based “imagined community”, was simply ignored. Rather, people would identify with the local and, interestingly, the international level. This came as the result of the Italian diaspora at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, when virtually all Italian families, especially from the Southern regions, had at least one relative relocated overseas. Therefore, as Italian sociologist Francesco Alberoni wrote:
For decades, the United States, Brazil, Argentina were closer to many South Italian citizens than (Central and Northern cities such as) Viterbo, Siena, Bologna or Padua (…) Between these two poles, one particularistic and private, made of affective bonds and immediate interests, whereas the other universalistic, abstract, international, there was a cultural void.
(Alberoni 1968: 26, my translation)
The three decades to which this chapter is devoted (1950s, 1960s, 1970s) are largely considered to be the time span when D’Azeglio’s statement was finally fulfilled, and Italy reached cultural unification, long after the political one. What made it possible to fill the nation’s cultural void, nearly a century after the official unification, were mass media.
Scholars agree on the “uncontentious” role (Schlesinger 1991: 298) that media play in the formation of national identities. Such role is officially acknowledged by national governments that issue public funding, tax incentives, and other protectionist measures to support mass media—and especially the film industry—in their promotion of a nation’s cultural specificity. In the long aftermath of World War II, the starting period of this book, Italian people drew a sense of who they were, mostly from what they were seeing, rather than reading, on mass media. In other words, Italianness was “a system of representation” (Girelli 2009: 9) of selected notions and symbols about Italy and its people, which was primarily produced and received through visual media.2 The foremost reason for this is the fact that in the early 1950s some 13 to 14 per cent of adults were illiterate (ISTAT 1951), with the highest concentrations being in rural and Southern areas; in the UK, by comparison, it was 1 to 2 per cent (UNESCO 1957). According to the 1951 general population census, nearly two thirds of Italians were speaking, on a daily basis, only their regional dialects, as opposed to the official Italian language (De Mauro 1968: 252). Moreover, in the same period, only 18 per cent of Italian school-aged children were enrolled in a post-primary school (De Mauro 1968: 262). In fact, Italians’ limited familiarity with print culture has continued long after the implementation of mass education and the decrease of illiteracy rates to the point of becoming a defining feature of Italy in the 20th century: “Italy has been characterised this century in its forms of modern popular culture by a marked predominance of non-print culture (visual, spoken, musical) over print” (Forgacs 1990: 25–26). Visual media, in particular, have been investigated by cultural historians for their role as a vehicle for the construction and circulation of national identity in post-war Italy. Works on such topics include extensive ethnographic studies on the consumption of motion pictures (Forgacs and Gundle 2007) and television programmes (Fanchi 2002), as well as illustrated magazines (Gundle 1986). Such works inform the discourse carried on in this chapter, which looks at the intersection of advertising, cinema, and television in Italy between the 1950s and 1970s.
Over these decades, advertising and commercial contents were decisive in influencing what Italians got to see and appreciate on screen, including a sense of their shared identity. This was due to the political economy of film and television industries, over which advertisers exercised strong agency, as this chapter examines. At the same time, though, it was also the result of the broader cultural and ideological climate that dominated Italy since the end of World War II. After two decades of Fascist dictatorship, five years of world war, and civil conflicts between partisans and supporters of the regime, Italy was a country ravaged by poverty, inflation, and lack of public and industrial infrastructures, as well as socially and ideologically divided. In such context, and because of its strategic positioning at the crossroads between Western and Eastern Europe, post-war Italy became a crucial setting in the Cold War between American and Soviet forces for the imposition of political, ideological, and cultural hegemony over the country. The US, in particular, besides providing Italy with substantial economic aids through the European Recovery Programme (commonly known as Marshall Plan), laid out a comprehensive strategy to achieve a “cultural hegemony” (Ellwood and Kroes 1994). This way, the US aimed to detach Italy from the USSR’s sphere of cultural influence, thus creating fertile ground for the political defeat of the Italian Communist Party. The cultural warfare between the US and USSR has been said to be fought “between Hollywood and Moscow” (Gundle 2000), since American cinema had an essential part in it, and in shaping the collective identity of the then newly formed Italian Republic. The cornerstone of such propaganda was the promotion of an American-style consumerism in what had traditionally been a “low consumption society” (Segreto 2002). Consumer products such as household appliances, industrial food, and toiletries became the symbols of an unprecedentedly affluent lifestyle that Italians came to know and desire, firstly, via Hollywood, and then through the imagery created by national television.
In Italy, though, secular, American-style consumerism was filtered through the lens (and censorship policies) of the Christian Democracy Party (Democrazia Cristiana), which led the government since 1946. The Christian Democracy, whilst “prepared to accept the process of Americanisation on a consumerist level, on a cultural level it had to find an alternative, if it was to maintain the support of the Catholic Church hierarchy” (Treveri Gennari 2009: 6). During the period covered by this chapter, the conflict between these two cultural and ideological forces had repercussions, especially, though not exclusively, for the television medium, which was under direct governance of the ruling party. The unique format of Carosello, the first advertising programme of Italian television, with its overly detailed rules to ensure the predominance of entertainment over commercial contents, is a striking example of what the compromise between those conflicting views meant for Italian media. The contents of Carosello, and of screen-based media more generally, also reflected that twofold cultural influence. Being Italian came to be represented on screen as a unique blend of symbols and behaviours that referred, on the one hand, to consumption and consumerism, and on the other hand, to the frugal life; to an individualistic versus a more collectivist view of social life; to a modernist outlook on society, on one side, and to a vision rooted in traditions, on the other; and to secular America as well as to Catholic Italy.
Such trends influenced the notion of Italianness that national cinema and television promoted since the 1950s, by shaping it into a twofold concept: at once domestic and outward looking. With respect to domestic audiences, Italianness helped to popularise the official national language and provided a shared imagery of characters, situations, and symbols with which every Italian citizen was to identify. With respect to (primarily) international audiences, it encapsulated a set of desirable, exotic, and yet unthreatening features and values such as picturesque natural landscapes; curvaceous women and manly men; a love for genuine food and convivial eating; and, overall, a certain epicurean, care-free lifestyle. These connotations of Italianness were linked to the display of certain consumer products. In the case of the domestic audience, products like Vidal bath soap or Ava laundry powder, advertised in popular episodes of Carosello, were both the symbols of and the instruments enabling Italians to embrace the new capitalist way of life. In the case of the international audience, Italianness mainly functioned as a selling point for the new products of Made in Italy, such as the Vespa motorbike, manufactured by Piaggio and sold since 1946, and its integration in the American romantic comedy film Roman Holiday (dir. William Wyler, 1953).
The remainder of this chapter will explore in further detail the themes mentioned so far. It will do so by looking at the evolution of advertising and consumer culture, cinema, and television industries, and how these four interplayed against the changing backdrop of Italian politics, culture, and society between the 1950s and 1970s. The title of this chapter references the three materials that came to symbolically identify the time span in question. Firstly, there is the gold of the many “golden ages” that characterised Italian culture and society between the 1950s and 1970s: a “golden age of capitalism” (Marglin and Schor 1990), epitomised by the arrival of large-scale retail distribution, but also a “golden age of Italian cinema” (Bondanella and Pacchioni 2017: 271), which saw the maturity of great Italian directors such as Fellini, Visconti, and Antonioni, as well as the rise of a new wave of auteurs, like Bertolucci, Scola, and Moretti; plastic, as plastic objects began to be industrially mass produced at the end of the 1950s and soon became the symbol of Italy’s economic boom and 1960s’ consumerism; lead, as in the “Years of Lead” (Anni di piombo) (late 1960s–late 1970s), a time marked by killings, abductions, and dramatic social turmoil caused by far-right and far-left terrorist organisations, which coincided with the first international oil crisis, and consequent economic austerity, and later with the end of the public service broadcaster’s monopoly.

1.2 Italy and the American-style economic boom

In one of the funniest, and most iconic, scenes in Italian film history, twenty-something Nando Meliconi, played by the famous actor Alberto Sordi, scornfully rejects the plate of spaghetti and the straw-clad wine flask his mother left for him to eat late at night and instead makes himself a plate of “healthy, nutritious food” in (self-proclaimed) American style. One bite of the uninviting mixture of bread, milk, jam, yoghurt, and mustard is enough for him to give up that exotic “junk” (zozzeria) in favour of the more familiar pasta bowl. The film is An American in Rome (dir. Steno, 1954) and it tells the story of an Italian guy from a lower-middle-class family in Rome who dreams of moving to the US and is obsessed with American culture, which he tries to replicate in his everyday life: Nando always wears jeans, a cowboy belt, and a baseball cap; he rides a Harley Davidson; has the walls of his room covered with pictures of Hollywood celebrities; and speaks Italian with what he considers to be an American accent (to the comic despair of his loved ones). The film, which can be viewed as a precursor of the successful genre of commedia all’Italiana (Italian-style comedy), exposes with bitter irony the Americanisation trend that invested Italian culture and society in the early 1950s. The post-war Americanisation of Italy was the result of a multifaceted political strategy that comprised economic, industrial, and cultural operations. The economic aids provided under the umbrella of the Marshall Plan were essential in allowing Italy to overcome the famine and poverty afflicting the country in the aftermath of World War II. By supporting economic recovery, the US also created the ground for American companies to expand their operations into an attractive and yet unexplored market. At the same time, the Marshall Plan ran at the symbolic level, by exporting films and other cultural products that promoted American-friendly values to the Italian audience. Overall, as David Ellwood (1992: 89) wrote, the political goal of the US was to create “an economic ‘United States of Europe’ (…), in which the American dream could be dreamt without leaving home: ‘You too can be like us!’ that was the promise of the Marshall Plan”. In Europe, the effects of the Marshall Plan were especially powerful on the nations that came out defeated from the war: between 1950 and 1973 Italy and Germany saw an average annual economic growth of 5 per cent, much higher than the European average (Scarpellini 2011). In Italy, in particular, the investments made to kick-start the post-war industrial and infrastructure reconstruction, boosted economic production to a degree that was, and still is, unmatched in national history: it was the so-called “Italian economic miracle”.

Consuming the miracle

The decade between mid-1950s and 1960s, and especially the 1958–1963 “boom years”, came to be known as the period of the Italian economic miracle: domestic GDP was growing an impressive 6.3 per cent annually, and industrial growth rates reached more than 8 per cent per year. The miracle, however, affected Italian society unevenly: growth was predominantly concentrated in the North, and notably in the so-called industrial triangle formed by the cities of Genoa, Turin, and Milan. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people left the Southern and rural regions to relocate, often to precarious living conditions, to the outskirts of urban industrial areas.3 Economic growth did not necessarily translate into increased wages, but it did mean the transformation of many seasonal and occasional jobs into permanent ones. This allowed young couples especially to aspire to and to plan for a more affluent life, starting from the milestone of owning their own house. These were also the years of a demographic baby boom that found no equivalent in subsequent times. Family and social life changed profoundly, compared to the largely agricultural, pre-industrial, pre-urban conditions that dominated the country before the 1950s. There were more goods on sale, more money to buy them, and more free time to enjoy them. Consumer spending grew at a higher rate than incomes (Scarpellini 2004). As Emanuela Scarpellini (2011: 129) put it: “In the Italy of the economic miracle the time had come to ‘buy’ happiness”. Food purchases increased and diversified: consumption of meat, especially beef and veal, increased 165 per cent between 1951 and 1980, whereas consumption of sugar, an absolute luxury during wartime, tripled from post-war to 1970. At the same time, consumption of pasta remained stable, but now it could be conveniently purchased dried in industrially produced packages. Moreover, the economic miracle brought a democratisation of previously unaffordable luxury goods that, thanks to the regularisation of employment, Italians could now buy in instalments. Furnishings and transport and communications are the commodities that enjoyed the highest rates of consumption growth, respectively +89 per cent and +95 per cent from 1951 to 1970 (Scarpellini 2011: 144). Increased purchases of cars, furniture pieces, televisions, and electrical appliances speak to the reconf...

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