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Italians in American Cinema: A Cinema We Couldn't Refuse

ENGL 492.601
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

In the 1880’s the development of motion pictures heralded the rise of a new
visual art that would not only shape but ultimately control the collective
imagination of our nation. At the same time Italians left their home country
in unprecedented numbers so that between 1880 and 1920 over four million
Italians entered into the United States. As the film industry developed the
sudden influx of Italians offered a backdrop on which to project the
changing views of the nation. Beginning with silent films, such as The Sheik
with Rudolph Valentino, we will consider the ways that Hollywood exploited
the Italian diaspora to develop a stock of familiar characters including
hot-blooded lotharios, ruthless gangsters, wily tricksters, and lovable
losers with which we have become familiar. We will review the history of the
Italian immigrant experience and simultaneously examine the development of
the American film industry, ultimately to consider the ways that Italian
images on screen projected the fears, desires, anxieties, and struggles of a
growing American psyche. Films discussed will include: Scarface (1932), From
Here to Eternity, Marty, Young Savages, The Godfather trilogy, Mean Streets,
Moonstruck, and My Cousin Vinny.