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James Hay, Popular Film Culture in Fascist Italy (1987)

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5.5 James Hay, Popular Film Culture in Fascist Italy (1987)

  1. A number of historical movies were produced in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s

  2. Some of the most interesting examples of that historical genre, so popular then, were movies based on Roman history

  3. It is not by chance that some of those movies were produced with the financial support of the Italian government

5.5 James Hay, Popular Film Culture in Fascist Italy (1987)

  1. Even when Fascist dictator Mussolini appeared in newsreels, he often presented himself like a cinematic character, the warrior/leader typical of those historical movies

  2. Fascist propaganda revived the idea, already introduced in Italian culture and society at the time of Italy's unification, that the newly formed Italian nation was called to a mission of civilization, to renew the glory, together with the victories and the conquests of the Roman State

5.5 Roman civilization became very popular in Fascist Italy

  1. References to Roman civilization became very common in Fascist Italy, in the arts, architecture and most prominently in the language

  2. The word fascismo derives from the fasces, "A bundle of rods bound together around an ax with the blade projecting, carried before ancient Roman magistrates as an emblem of authority. [Latin, pl. of fascis, bundle.]" (The American Heritage Dictionary)

  3. To learn more about the Roman fasces, visit this page


  5. The self-imposed title of Mussolini, "Duce," derives from the Latin Dux [=leader]

  6. Consider also the words used to designate various fascist paramilitary units and their rankings (milizia, manipolo, centurione, etc.)

5.5 Fasces and other Roman icons

5.5 The Roman fasces were the main icons of Fascist Italy (

5.6 Scipione l'africano (dir. Carmine Gallone, 1937)

  1. Relatively few historical films about the ancient world were produced during the 1930s, but one in particular -- Scipione l'Africano, which involves Scipione's (Scipio Africanus's) conquests in Africa during the Second Punic War -- received substantial public attention, having been the subject of one of the most extensive promotional campaigns in the Italian film industry during the 1930s

  2. The government helped procure astronomical investment capital for Scipione (about 12.6 million liras, the most ever spent on an Italian film before the war)

  3. Mussolini had taken great pride in the film before its release, once visiting the set, where he was hailed with chants of "Duce, Duce" by a costumed cast of thousands (many of whom were draftees for the Ethiopian campaign)

5.6 Fascism and the ancient Romans

  1. Despite much unfavorable aesthetic criticism about the film, critics and children alike seem to have recognized its cultural importance

  2. In a highly publicized special issue in August 1939, Bianco e nero published interviews with elementary-age school children about the film

  3. One young student explained that

  4. The film illustrates the valor with which the ancient Romans fought and the courage that they exhibited. Now our Duce has reeducated the Italian people about the love of country and about the spirit of sacrifice, about order and discipline, restoring to Italy a new international prestige and reviving the Roman Empire.

5.6 Scipione l'africano and Mussolini

  1. There are few overt connections between the hero of the film, Scipione, and Mussolini

  2. Nevertheless, it is difficult to ignore the similarity between this movie's version of Scipione and the image that Mussolini held in the minds of the Italian public

  3. As one of the children interviewed for Bianco e nero attests

  4. When you see the battlefield at Zama and a soldier says, "Troops, we have conquered Canne!" I thought about our Duce who said, "Let's conquer Adua!" And a few months later he said, "We've conquered Adua!" When Scipione talked to his soldiers before the battle, I remembered the Duce. In the movie house we always applauded Scipione and his men. I want to see the film again.

5.6 Scipio and the future glory of Italy

  1. In the film's epilogue, Scipione returns to his villa, where he is transformed again to a family man, surrounded by his wife and children

  2. His conquest and return invest the Empire with a new vitality, and in the final scene Scipione stands with a shaft of wheat (a symbol of fertility), exclaiming

  3. Good grain; and tomorrow, with the help of the gods, the seed will begin

5.6 Mussolini as a classical hero

  1. Mussolini's appearances in early Italian newsreels and documentaries (and his public personality in general) conjure a pedigree of acrobats and "strongmen" from 1920s Italian films

  2. Ajax, Samson, and above all, Maciste (often described in his films as "the good giant")

  3. And, like the heroes of popular literary romances, these strongmen appeared in different films as basically the same personality (Maciste in Hell, Maciste on Vacation, Maciste Against Death, Maciste in Love, etc.)

5.6 Maciste -- Bartolomeo Pagano, the first actor to play the part of Maciste in Cabiria (dir. Giovanni Pastrone, 1914)

5.6 Mussolini and the Greco-Roman movie heroes

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