A deep dive into Italian cinema under Mussolini’s regime and the filmmakers who used it as a means of antifascist resistance
Looking at Italy’s national film industry under the rule of Benito Mussolini and in the era that followed, Cinema Is the Strongest Weapon examines how cinema was harnessed as a political tool by both the reigning fascist regime and those who sought to resist it. Covering a range of canonical works alongside many of their neglected contemporaries, this book explores film’s mutable relationship to the apparatuses of state power and racial capitalism.
Exploiting realism’s aesthetic, experiential, and affective affordances, Mussolini’s biopolitical project employed cinema to advance an idealized vision of life under fascism and cultivate the basis for a homogenous racial identity. In this book, Lorenzo Fabbri crucially underscores realism’s susceptibility to manipulation from diametrically opposed political perspectives, highlighting the queer, Communist, Jewish, and feminist filmmakers who subverted Mussolini’s notion that “cinema is the regime’s strongest weapon” by developing film narratives and film forms that challenged the prevailing ethno-nationalist ideology.
Focusing on an understudied era of film history and Italian cultural production, Fabbri issues an important recontextualization of Italy’s celebrated neorealist movement and the structural ties it shares with its predecessor. Drawing incisive parallels to contemporary debates around race, whiteness, authoritarianism, and politics, he presents an urgent examination into the broader impact of visual media on culture and society.
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Preface and Acknowledgments. Fascism and Us
Introduction. Race War through Other Media
1. The Government of the Ungovernable: Race and Cinema in Early Italian Film Novels
2. Workers Entering the Military-Industrial Complex: Pirandello’s and Ruttman’s Acciaio
4. The Shame of Escapism: Camerini’s Anthropological Machines
5. The White Italian Mediterranean: De Robertis, Rossellini, and Fascism’s Melodramatic Imperialism
6. De Sica’s Genre Trouble: Laughing Fascism Away?
7. Queer Antifascism: Visconti’s Ossessione and the Cinema Conspiracy against Ethno-Nationalism
Conclusion. On Neorealism: The Ends of the Resistance and the Birth of an Area
Lorenzo Fabbri is an Imagine Fund Arts, Humanities, and Design Chair at the University of Minnesota.
"Lorenzo Fabbri’s book demonstrates how Italian Fascism wielded the cinematic apparatus to mobilize Italians as a racialized assemblage who would identify with the regime's myriad colonizing projects at home and abroad. That same apparatus was amenable to being hijacked by the resistance (embodied by Visconti and De Sica) to formulate plural, antifascist ways of living. A refreshing and beautifully written work, Cinema Is the Strongest Weapon adds considerable nuance to our understandings of how Fascism works, and is actively contested, through film."—Rhiannon Noel Welch, author of Vital Subjects: Race and Biopolitics in Italy
"A richly researched and politically urgent exploration of how cinema under Mussolini worked to assemble Italians into a fascist collectivity mobilized less by ideological consent than racial affect. By attending to filmmaking as race-making, from Luigi Pirandello to Roberto Rossellini, Lorenzo Fabbri illuminates how—building on liberal policies of internal colonization and external colonialism—Italian Fascism embarked on a biopolitical project to forge a unified, ‘whitened’ body politic committed to a melodramatic brand of imperialism. Cinema Is the Strongest Weapon unsettles film histories and theories that pivot on the ‘Year Zero’ of Italian neorealism, challenging us to rethink the entanglements of race, media, and authoritarianism while also attending to how cinema could be made useless for Fascism."—Alberto Toscano, author of Late Fascism: Race, Capitalism, and the Politics of Crisis