Cinema Italiano makes a bold claim: that it is the complete guide to Italian cinema from classics to cult. This statement initially seems somewhat ambitious considering the enormous output of that country’s cinema. How does it manage such a broad remit? Its approach is to make it clear that the book is predominantly centred on a strong and specific period of Italian cinema history, beginning in the late 1950’s and looking up to the 1980’s. Importantly, films before and after this period are referenced to place the extremely varied selection of films in a wider context. The output of these three key decades ranges from intellectual arts cinema to drive-in sleaze and even video nasties. Truly, then, there’s something for everyone.
There are a massive number of films discussed in some detail and this is one of the book’s strong points. Hughes does not make any judgement about the importance of art house over popularist films and examines both the highly regarded and (one could argue) the more obscure. The book is neatly categorised by genre, these ranging from Sword and Sandal Spectacles to Spaghetti Westerns to Gialli and pretty much everything else in between. Of course the obvious respected directors (Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini) are covered as well as those who made films from less reputable genres (Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci) and a whole bunch of others who are real discoveries (Sergio Corbucci, Gillo Pontecorvo). Not only are the films themselves discussed but Hughes also covers their production in some detail – not just in the creative process but also location shooting (many of the films were made outside of Italy) and also including those made at the legendary Cinecitta studios
And it’s not just directors who get a look in but also those involved with other elements of the creative process including those names whose early careers in Italian cinema helped generate their international acclaim – such as composer Ennio Morricone, the effects work of Carlo Rambaldi and the cinematography of Vittorio Storaro. Also fascinating are the number of films covered that you may not associate with Italy, or actors and directors that you may not have realised had a connection with this country’s cinema – from Jean Luc Godard to Ursula Andress, Tom Baker and William Shatner, to name just a few.
Cinema Italiano offers much to inform and plenty to enjoy – learn about Herculean ‘peplum’ to classics such as La Dolce Vita as well as giallo, comedy duets and science fiction oddities. This is another strong aspect of the book – while you may be familiar (depending on your taste or exposure) with many of the films and/or filmmakers there are almost inevitably going to be a number amongst the hundreds covered that are unfamiliar – from the ‘must see’ to the ‘really don’t want to see ever’ – but it’s always informative and, at times, humorous too. Additionally, the impressive selection of illustrations really emphasise the eclectic nature of the films covered.
Cinema Italiano is most definitely a worthwhile addition to your bookshelves. Highly recommended, whether revisiting old favourites or discovering films that are new and wonderful or new and shockingly … shocking.