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Women, Work, and Machines: Industrial and Governmental Films in 1950s Italy

Mon, October 18, 2010 | CPE 2.212

3:00 AM - 4:30 AM

Professor Paola Bonifazio (French and Italian)

This lecture will focus on the intertwining discourses of work and womanhood in the documentary films that publicized Italy’s modernization in the 1950s. Italian and American governmental agencies, as well as national industries such as Fiat (autos) and Olivetti (typewriters), commissioned film productions that, while showing aesthetic continuities, also propagated the same model of woman, combining traditional values of the Fascist massaia (housewife) with the sexual appeal and modern features (efficiency and economy) of her American counterpart. In these films, women participate in the country’s industrialization by means of their work; however, above all they contribute to the rebirth of the nation as mothers and spouses. This discourse contrasts with the one produced both by commercial cinema, particularly melodramas, and Neorealist films, which exposed the conflicts between traditional social arrangements and a modernizing world, as well as male anxieties towards the increased confidence and demands of women. Relying on the bond between documentary and reality, I argue that the films under study functioned as a tool to control and contain the subversive potential of modernization, by naturalizing women’s subaltern role in society and advertising a sexual division of labor.

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