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20th-Century American Film: Italians in American Cinema

ENGL 492.601
instructor(s):
Tuesdays 4:30-7:30 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
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 Italian, The Musketeers of Pig Alley and The Sheik, and concluding with more recent fare, such as Silver Linings Playbook, 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.   We will review the history of the Italian immigrant experience, simultaneously examining the development of the American film industry and the contributions of individuals such as:  Rudolph Valentino, Abbott and Costello, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Frank Capra, and Martin Scorsese, to ultimately to consider the ways that Italian images on American screens projected the fears, desires, anxieties, and struggles of a growing American psyche.
 
Other films for consideration will be:  Scarface, Little Caesar, From Here to Eternity, Marty, The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, Do the Right Thing, Raging Bull, Saturday Night Fever, Down by Law, Moonstruck, and Rocky.

Readings will include works by Richard Gambino (Blood of My Blood: The Dilemma of the Italian-Americans); Stefano Luconi (From Paesani to White Ethnics); Fred Gardaphe (Leaving Little Italy); Gerre Mangione (La Storia); and George De Stefano (An Offer We Can’t Refuse)
 
When possible films will be available for streaming through the Penn Video Network