Questo fascicolo collettaneo nasce nel quadro della ricerca nazionale interuniversitaria "Le tecnologie del cinema. Le tecnologie nel cinema", attualmente in corso. La ricerca si pone l’obiettivo di contribuire a una storia tecnologica del cinema italiano e in queste pagine sono raccolte alcune riflessioni metodologiche emerse nei gruppi di lavoro o nello studio di singoli casi, o ancora proposte come contributi esterni.
All human projects have a pioneer. In the sphere of reportage from the parallel ‘world’ of Italian cinema, journalism
in Italy boasted Giustino Lorenzo Ferri, a theatre critic and chroniquer belonging to the old guard, who
in August 1906 was brave enough to publish an intriguing report Tra le quinte del cinematografo [In the
wings of the cinema stage] in the prestigious monthly «La Lettura». To counter the sense of unease awakened
in him when reflecting on the backstage aspects of cinema, Ferri offered a solution that made reference to
drama and the world of theatre. The article shows, however, that in the attempt to impose a pre-existing language,
the resemblance to the theatre also tended to conceal innovations and masked horror of the unknown
machine, of undefinable technology.
The article examines the politeama, a specifically Italian type of location devoted to theatre performances that
was characterised, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, by elements of continuity with traditional
‘Italian-style’ drama as well as by aspects suggestive of a movement towards innovation. It was the politeama,
which was at one and the same time both classical and democratic in its aspirations, that bore witness to
the non-violent transition from traditional performances to more modern forms, closer to popular sentiment,
such as cinema. The article thus reconstructs the ways in which cinema was present in the politeama, highlighting
the intermediality of cinema of the origins, the process of definition of the cinematographic experience,
and finally, the relation between production, appreciation and national culture in the phase of institutionalisation
of the cinematographic medium.
Between 1907 and 1923 the Milan publishing house Hoepli, specialised in practical handbooks since the second
half of the nineteenth century, published three manuals devoted to cinema. Through the analysis of these
texts the article seeks to assess the historical evolution that led to the fully-fledged institutionalisation of cinema,
in other words to its recognition as an independent medium capable of producing films considered as
works of art in their own right.
The first two handbooks, Il cinematografo e i suo accessori. Lanterna magica e apparecchi affini.
Vocabolario delle proiezioni (1907) [Cinema and its accessories. The magic lantern and related apparatuses.
Dictionary of projections] by Guglielmo Re and Le proiezioni fisse e cinematografiche (1911) [Fixed and cinematographic
projections] by Luigi Sassi, presented motion pictures as still closely dependent on photography
and regarded the cinematographic medium as having a primarily didactic function. In contrast, the text
by Vittorio Mariani, Guida pratica della cinematografia [Practical guide of cinematography] (1916 and second
revised and expanded edition 1923) was devoted exclusively to cinema, by now considered as a new
industry that was well organised into the different stages of production, with precise professional figures and
its own specific language. This series of characteristics, reiterated in the second edition of the manual together
with an acknowledgement of the relations between cinema and art, demonstrate that by the middle of the
first decade of the twentieth century the new medium had now become fully institutionalised in Italy.
This article proposes to chart the development of copyright legislation as applied to cinema between the mid
nineteenth and the early twentieth century. The analysis shows that members of the legal profession were
unable to reach univocal solutions on account of the dichotomy between artistic identity and the technological
profile intrinsic to the film product. Subsequently, once opinion had moved beyond the stage of its claimed
relationship with other mechanical reproduction tools, cinema became the object of specific legislation, until
the advent of sound once again underscored the ambiguity of its nature. By the close of the fascist era the prevailing
context was one of uncertainty accompanied by a multiplication of proposals concerning the creation
of purpose-designed cinema law distinct from copyright law.
Starting out from a historical outline of early twentieth century investments in research aimed at developing
the cinema sound track in Germany, the article sketches the economic and cultural context which, towards
the end of the 1920s, led to the formation of an industrial cartel for international exploitation of the Triergon
patent, which was a patent for optical reproduction of sound on film under the Tobis-Klangfilm brand.
Attention also focuses here on the different marketing strategies applied to this brand, the competition with
rival national and international brands, and the re-mediation processes involved in the introduction of sound
cinematography onto the market, i.e. in the launch of what was by then a mature form of communication
The essay proposes to study three key moments of the history of cinema from the technological perspective,
using as “reagent” the Pio Pion Workshop in Milan that was active from the early twentieth century onward
in the production of cinema projectors. The analysis focuses firstly on the manner in which technology served
or simply encountered the programmes of the Mussolini regime, or, more generally, how cinematographic
technology interacted with the socio-cultural and political milieu, both influencing and undergoing the influence
of the surrounding context.
Secondly, attention centres on the advent of the sound track and way Pion responded to this new element:
it is shown that in relation both to the ‘body’ of the technology as well as its functions, the approach
adopted by Pion reflected the overall evolutionary trend chacterising the history of cinema and consumption.
Finally, the case of teleprojection, developed by Pion in the mid-1959s to allow the projection of television
programmes at the cinema, embodies an attempt at technological integration which testifies to a special attitude
towards the new medium: rather than magnifying the differences compared to cinema, emphasis was
placed on heightening the similarities.
In this essay cinema is set at the centre of the soundscape of immediate postwar Italy, at the time when the big
screen was acquiring greatest importance in its role as a catalyzer – not purely in a technological perspective –
of national imagination, but at the same time was preparing to give way to a new audiovisual system.
The background evidence is that of a fairly well-known development of remediation that propelled cinema
to the peak of popular imagination in 1950s Italy, subsequently repositioning it within the fledgling audiovisual
system under the impulse of the uneven industrialisation of the country. To gain an understanding of this
evolution, it is fundamental to take into account the relation of consanguinity of cinema with the acusmatic
media of radio and the gramophone disc. The resulting trends were twofold. On the one hand, a process of
mediation led Italians to adopt a new position within the social system that was taking shape; that is to say,
the viewers began to familiarise themselves with new listening techniques (spatialisation of sound, position
and posture of the body in the sound space, redefinition of perception standards and of aesthetic taste, electrification
of sound on the level both of production and reproduction). Thus one of the functions 1950s cinema
was called upon to fulfil was bring about a smooth transition between the new mode and the pre-existing
models of production, distribution and enjoyment of motion pictures. On the other hand, numerous formulae
of discursive negotiation sprang up, accompanying, driving or impeding this process; among such formulae, a
fundamental role was played by technology, not least the technology involved in sound reproduction.
Before the introduction of Dolby in the 1970s, cinematic stereophony had experienced a brief season of success,
in the era of panoramic formats. In Italy, both the cinema houses themselves and the production companies
embraced this technological novelty, following the trend of United States cinema, where stereophony
was launched in 1952 with Cinerama. But the latter was unsuccessful commercially on account of its exceptional
nature, and its successor Cinemascope, launched the following year with four magnetic tracks, proved
to be too expensive and was soon accompanied by the cheaper Perspecta Stereophonic Sound, a stereophonic
effect simulator. This too was soon abandoned and by about 1958 Cinemascope, now standardised, had
cautiously returned to the monophonic optical track.
Dubbing of foreign and Italian films, of television screen plays and cinema and television advertising, creation
of radio features, the recording of classical and light music: all this formed part of the activities taking
place on the premises of Fono Roma in Cologno Monzese, a premier centre for sound elaboration renowned
both at national and international level. For the audiovisual industry of Milan, Fono Roma – set up by a
prominent dubbing company of Rome – represented not only one of the souls of Cinelandia, the motion picture
city that sought to emulate Cinecittà in the 1960s and 1970s, but above all a veritable research laboratory
for sound creation and elaboration, both from the artistic and technological point of view. Operating in
many spheres, from cinema to radio, from television to discography, Fono Roma was a hive of activity for
artists and technicians who proceeded along a shared path which, though explored in common, was at the
same time multimedial.
In the framework of the modernisation of forms that characterised Italian cinema in the 1960s, the article
reconstructs the role played by a particular type of technology, Techniscope, in definition of the characters of
the modern film spectacle.
Launched on the market in 1962 and used for the first time in Ieri oggi domani (Vittorio De Sica, 1963),
Techniscope is the Italian-made version of the wide screen formats that gained popularity during the 1950s.
Unlike all other panoramic formats, it does not require anamorphic lenses during the shooting, and obtains
2.351 only by halving the area of film impressed in each individual photogram. Its main application was in
‘spaghetti westerns’, whose characteristic style, still imitated today, would have been inconceivable without
the advantages of this technology. For Techniscope is in fact the only technique allowing not just the use of
close-ups, but also the use of the zoom as well as wide-angle shots through which great depth of field can be
obtained, a feature that was impossible for American Cinemascope motion pictures. By analysing some of the
sequences of the cinema of Sergio Leone, whose style has so far been inadequately explained in purely technological
terms, this study aims to define on the one hand the linguistic effects of this format, and on the other
the conception of framing that it implies. It is shown in the article that during the 1960s the frame became the
focal point in directing the film: it was experienced as a picture or a fresco, and its internal composition
henceforth became fundamental, not merely for the authors.
Starting out from a survey of the various crises that have left their mark on the history of cinema, the article
aims to explore the characteristics and results stemming from the appearance on the market of the technology
of home cinema or “home box office”. Through a reconstruction of the technical-industrial debate that
unfolded in journals during the period between 1969 and 1975, the study charts the main lines of an enquiry
into the impact of the new devices on the social fabric. In this perspective, while on the one hand the first
patents of videocassettes and videodiscs catalyzed anxiety concerning a new death of the cinema, on the other
hand they contained the core of a sort of antidote which in subsequent years took shape as the institutionalisation
of a new type of cinematographic experience.
The article seeks to analyse the relations holding between the application of psychoanalysis to the filmic text
as a hermeneutic discipline and the role played by technology (as technology of representation rather than as
represented technology) within the analysis and theory of film. The proposal is thus to consider technology
as a symbolic construct. Reflection starts out from pioneering cinema psychocriticism (carried out around the
mid-1970s in a geographically French and culturally Lacanian area), which always considered the dispositif
and the technological appareil as an a-historical function of film production and performance. Continuing
along the path suggested by Lacanian psychoanalysis, and endeavouring to shift attention from reality (as
impression de réalité) to the Real (as Lacanian register of the unrepresentable), the study will propose a ‘historic
wager’, that is to say, it will stake the analysis on a shift in perspective that can restore to technology its
dimension of diachronic evolution and its setting within the contemporary socio-cultural context. Through the
perspective of the embodied eye, the ‘historic wager’ leads to a ‘new illusion’: that of the spectators, cherishing
the illusion that they see themselves watching and that they inhabit the filmic space (in its scopic
dimension) of the representation of reality and the anaesthetization of the Real.
The first signs that film studies were beginning to take an interest in analysis of the frames of cinematic vision
came towards the end of the 70s. The revisionist trend emerging in the historical research tradition and the
intensification of contacts with the cultural studies approach prompted an expansion of research perspectives,
which now sought to include the context, i.e the situation, the set of conditions that mediate the encounter
between the film and its viewer, within the list of subjects to be addressed. The essay traces the main lines
along which this debate unfolded and the research activity conducted on the places of filmic vision, underlining
the crucial nature of this aspect of research for an understanding both of the social and cultural functions
of the medium and also of the forms and meanings assumed by the experience of viewing.
Space perception, in terms of the cinematographic experience, has undergone a radical change in recent years.
The development of advanced technology and extensive economic investment has kindled in the viewers a
heightened appreciation of spectacular scenes and special effects, perceived through the involvement of all
the senses. In Italy, the context in which the experience takes place has been redesigned over the last seven
years not only by the presence of innovative audiovisual equipment but also by the surrounding space, which
is redefined in the form of strikingly large structural complexes known as multiplexes. The cinema hall thus
becomes a reflection of the changes characterizing the modern metropolis; multiplexes are among the protagonists
of the dissolution of the metropolis into the diffuse-city. These new structures assume the role of a
channel of contact between individuals, redefining sociality within the framework of a new complex of relations
that take place in the same space, in which the commercial aspect becomes predominant.
This work explores how the new digital technology of video compression and manipulation influences the
way audiovisual material is experienced and brought into circulation.
DivX, a revolutionary broadband compression codec which, together with the increasing spread of
broadband connections, has given rise to an amazing synergy with the Net, renegotiates the relation between
the viewer or listener and the text experienced, and can now be seen as a veritable watershed. This redefinition
comes about through the exchange, acquisition and manipulation of audiovisual material, thereby influencing
the concluding act, the act of vision. For the first time, text and screen are merged, creating an experience that
arouses a powerful sensory impact. The Net, perceived as an infinite archive, and infinitely variegated, contributes
to this revolutionary potential which, however, amid the general confusion resulting from the proliferation
of material on offer, and in the absence of fixed reference points, remains on the level of a potential.
Interaction and immersion are vague terms, which have to do with images, performance, but above all the
audience. At certain times during its history, cinema has tried to follow the idea, or rather the utopia, of these
elements experimentally, but the cinematographic dispositif has instead generalised a single and univocal discipline
for the viewers: in a row, sitting, in darkness, in silence, all looking at a single screen. Experimental
zones, open to viewer participation, to the involvement of senses beyond sight and hearing, have continued
to exist on the periphery of cinema, in some avant-garde displays, in the forms of video and videoinstallation,
within the framework of exhibitions and fairs destined to the public at large (and it is this zone that forms the
special focus of the present paper). In particular, the case of Images du Futur, the international exhibition of
art, new technology and communication (held in Montreal from 1986 to 1996: a decade characterised by great
expectations with regard to advanced technology), will offer a vast and fascinating canvas which charts an
evolution that unfolds among prototypical, and at times archaic, attempts at new types of viewing medium,
dead media, dead ends that feed on fin-de-siècle imagination.