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Studi della Pellicola, Stile Italiano

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Studi Della Pellicola, Stile Italiano

Outside the English speaking world, Italy may well be the country with the most sophisticated, intriguing, captivating, and influential film work ever done.

And so my pilgrimage in the search of Italian bookstores revealed a variety of books on intriguing topics not available at all in the American or British market. Among these: the music in the films directed by Stanley Kubrick (La Musica Secondo Kubrick by Sergio Bassetti), the art of the main title sequences at the beginning of a film (Popcorn Time: L’arte dei titoli di testa by Fabio Carlini), the representation of God and the Devil in American horror films (Demoni e Dei: Dio, el Diavolo, la Religione nel Cinema Horror Americano by Roberto Curti), eroticism in the fantastic cinema (Eros E Cinema Fantastico by Fabio Giovannini and Antonio Tentori), movies based on the Fantomas books (Fantomas: La vita plurale di un antieroe by Monica Dall’asta), and the analysis of the works of Guillermo del Toro (I Dannati e Gli Eroi by Alessio Gradogna) and Robert Rodriguez (Il Cinema di Robert Rodriguez by Fabio Migneco).

Nevertheless, these stores did not have in stock some books on the history of the giallo cinema that I was looking for (C’era una volta il giallo, vols. 1, 2 and 3, by G.F. Orsi and L. Volpatti). I constantly asked the clerks about these books until I finally got referred to Altroquando, a bookstore specialized in film and filmmaking books. Altroquando is conveniently located in Via del Governo Vecchio 80, just a couple of blocks from Piazza Navona, which is another essential sightseeing spot in Rome.

Altroquando is a little piece of heaven for the film fan. It has hundreds, if not thousands, of film books on stock. Although most of them are Italian, they also offer a few imported books in English from the US and the UK. And in spite of their huge selection, it is truly mind-blowing that many books that were available in other Roman bookstores were not in stock in Altroquando and vice versa.

The friendly and efficient service that I received already made Altroquando a required stop for all my future trips to Rome. Furthermore, even though Altroquando did not have all the books that I was looking for, they were happy to order all of them, and they will ship them to my US address whenever they arrive (for the interested reader, most of the books cited in this installment of Dread Reckoning would be available through Altroquando or the Profondo Rosso websites).

The huge selection of Italian books on horror cinema made me realize that having learned Italian while I was a post-doctoral researcher in Italy was not such a bad idea. While once I thought that it was a language that I would rarely use, now I am happy reading all the film books that I had the opportunity to acquire during this trip (about 80 different titles, which meant that I also had to buy another suitcase for the trip back home).

The reader of this column, most likely an English-speaking person, will wonder why I am raving about books that may be extremely difficult to get and written in a language that not everybody understands. It may also sound like a shameless advertisement for Profondo Rosso and Altroquando. Well, there is an important point that I want to make. Specifically, I want to briefly discuss how these books and bookstores talk about modern Italian culture and their contrast with American culture.

Indeed, it is truly astonishing the wide variety and quantity of Italian film books available. If you think about it, these books are written in Italian for Italian speaking readers, who most likely are Italians, of Italian descent, or have lived in Italy for extended periods of time. By any means this is a very small number of potential readers when compared to the number of English speaking persons in the world.

In contrast, all the Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores that I have visited across the US have petite cinema books sections. Also, the available selection of titles on stock is truly abysmal in most of these bookstores. It is important to realize that even though the US and the UK publish a substantial number of film books every year, these are almost exclusively available through online retailers. Most probably these books are considered as specialty items targeted to a very small and specific segment of the population. The beautiful film books published by McFarland, for instance, are rarely available on a brick and mortar store.

As a consequence, considering the ubiquity of the internet in Italy and the rest of the world, these observations appear to suggest that American film fans tend to read much less than their Italian counterparts. In general this is a true statement, that is, it has been reported that the number of books sold is significantly decreasing all over the US.

These observations also hint at a dramatic cultural shift taking place in Italy regarding the appreciation of their national cinema and the contextual analysis and interpretation of international films. Indeed, I remember that while I was living in Italy, back in 1996 and 1997, there were very few horror cinema books available. During the two years that I resided in Italy, I only found a handful of books on Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, David Cronenberg, and Sam Raimi.

While talking to Luigi Cozzi at Profondo Rosso, he confirmed what I suspected from my book shopping findings. That is, the new generations of film critics and filmgoers have begun to re-appreciate the aesthetic and cultural value of Italian exploitation films. For instance, while Fernando Di Leo and Lucio Fulci were considered as “trashy” directors during the ‘70s and ‘80s, today their work is rightfully being cherished as crucial building blocks in the history of cinema. Such re-appreciation and re-invigorated interest for national and international cinema is made evident in the large number of books readily available to the Italian film fan.

In this regard, the contrast between American and Italian cultures is dramatic. While young Italian film fans are discovering, enjoying, and reading about old classic films, their American counterparts appear to only show interest on watching the uninspired regurgitation of classic films in the form of remakes and sequels. Clearly, the box office success of the remakes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, The Fog, and Last House on the Left does not appear to have translated into a re-appreciation of the original classics by young American filmgoers. 

While I give a standing ovation to the Italians for their awesome film book publishing infrastructure, I feel disappointed that no serious effort for the preservation and education of Italian film history is being made. This is a sad situation when you consider that outside the English speaking world, Italy may well be the country with the most sophisticated, intriguing, captivating, and influential film work ever done.

Think not only about Fulci, Argento, and all the exploitation flicks that haunted the screens during the ‘70s and ‘80s, but also recall the huge international impact of the films directed by Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio de Sica, and Sergio Leone. As such, it is truly unfortunate that, at least as far as I was able to find out, Italy does not have a museum on the fascinating history of their national cinema.

As a consequence, Profondo Rosso emerges as a truly important place in Italian culture. While it’s true that it is fun to talk to Luigi Cozzi and buy stuff from the store, it’s very significant their effort to preserve priceless pieces of Italian film cinema. Just imagine how exciting it would be if somebody could put together a museum with props and anecdotes about Fulci, Fellini, Leone, and de Sica… 

So, next time you are in Rome, don’t forget to pay a visit to Luigi Cozzi at Profondo Rosso and check out the cool books in Altroquando. They are all important parts of Italian culture.

Marco Lanzagorta received a PhD in physics from Oxford University and has worked at prestigious research institutions in England, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and the US. During the past 25 years, he has conducted research in physics, computer science, and neuroscience. Currently, Marco is a research physicist at a major defense research laboratory in Washington DC, and an affiliate associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Dread Reckoning
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Profondo Rosso, the Dario Argento store in Rome, hints at a dramatic cultural shift taking place in Italy regarding the appreciation and analysis of classic Italian horror films.
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