“Censoring Documentary in 1950s Italy”

The choice of the featured image of this post speaks for what we discussed in the last step of our walk through the long 1950s. A blank piece of film tells of something missing, perhaps deleted, disregarded, forgotten. Professor Marco Bertozzi‘s contribution to this series revealed how the filmic genre of documentary was one of the most hit victims of Italian postwar censorship.

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What is a documentary? Many of us may think about images of natural environments or animals, where a strong narrative voice take us to discover hidden aspects of the world. However, documentary is something else, more complex and interesting than its tv version. Documentary can be considered a creative critique of reality, an essay written in images that can show us what would be hidden otherwise embodying a more or less objective perspective. In this regard, Italian 1950s documentaries represent a fundamental archive of pictures and experiences for studying XX century Italy.

The relationship between documentaries and censorship is a sad one. During the fascist period, the Luce institute produced documentaries according to Mussolini’s guidelines. In the postwar period, censorship had to deal with a democratic state where different forces were fighting for the consensus of the new citizens. In this context, the Marshall plan and the new image that the political establishment wanted Italy to have deeply influenced the representation of the new country where people used to live in caves and, ten years after, a solid industrial apparatus had been built throughout the economic boom. Moreover, the strong control on censorship commissions operated by the DC transformed documentary in an educative and, at the same time, supporting tool for the new governments.

Unfortunately, the idea of saving these documents from oblivion came only later and professor Bertozzi is the first who started studying the history of this filmic genre and stressed its importance for understanding our country. A study of Italian popular culture has to take into account these visual stories that, together with other visual genres, like fiction films, fotoromanzi, photography and advertising can tell much about how Italy entered modernity.

Listen to professor Marco Bertozzi’s talks on our podcast page.


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