Tuesday 12 April 2016

Retrieving popular Italian cinema - some research results from Deb Verhoeven and a memoir from Michael Campi

Toto, the most popular Italian comedian perhaps ever
Following the partial wallow in nostalgia about the screening of popular Italian films to emigrant audiences in Melbourne through the fifties and on into the eighties I was contacted by  scholar Deb Verhoeven with some more information about a Research project for which she and others received Federal Government funding. 

There have been several  Facebook notes from Deb about the research work she  has been undertaking into the phenomena of migrant cinema-going experience in Australia and I've edited them together.  

The first reference was to an essay titled ‘Italian Cinema in Myrtleford a Wider Context’ which is available online  if you click here.  From the 20s onwards Myrtleford, in Victoria’s northeast, was heavily settled by Italian and other migrant groups. The details are fascinating (though it doesn’t get to one of its most famous sons, the dearly loved Sam Kekovich, a key player in North Melbourne’s very first premiership way back in 1975 and nowadays the spokesman for the eating of lamb as a patriotic duty). 

Deb advises that the Myrtleford article is part of a larger publication which includes interviews with locals about the screenings. She also mentions she  actually did a lot more work on the Greek cinema circuit - there are more publications and data in CAARP (see below)  on the Greek venues and circuits.
Deb also mentions that the federally funded  Cinema and Audience Research Project also examined details of migrant cinema going. It was part of a wider project designed to investigate practices of film exhibition and reception in relation to changing patterns of Australian community, identity, consumption, and the fabric of everyday life. The projects did this by collecting, recording, mapping and analysing sources such as newspaper evidence, oral histories, archival documentation, and legal records. Details unearthed by CAARP about the Padua/Metropolitan Theatre are posted on the here on the Project website. It lists a number of Italian films screened at the venue, though I’m not convinced that the information about the distributors is accurate. My memory tells me that for many of the films listed there, the Australian rights were controlled by Sid Blake and his company Blake Films. There are no mentions of titles distributed by Carmelo (Charley) Palumbo and his World Films company. More to be done.

Further information sent in by  Deb draws attention to a reference in CAARP to World Film Distributors and a list (of what we know to be a small number of) their titles. Blake Films are listed here with one Italian title only:

"A possible reason for this apparent lack of Blake references is Sid Blake's reluctance to work with the non-art venues/distributors. It’s my understanding (based on interviews) that the art circuit and migrant circuits were fairly distinct and titles rarely crossed over.

"Other venues that screened Italian movies can also be found in CAARP by using the advanced search function and looking for "italian" in venue comments. So for example the Myrtleford Memorial Hall is here: Myrtleford Memorial Hall and includes a list of 336 Italian movies that screened there (sourced from the local newspaper). Or Liberty in Brunswick is here with 357 Italian screenings.

"If you are interested in the Greek circuit research there are plenty of references in my academia.edu page but the two principle articles are here and here

"The conclusion thus far is that this is still an unfinished research project and there is a lot to finesse."

I’ve also had a more personal note from long time cinephile and constant observer of exhibition and distribution patterns in Melbourne, Michael Campi who writes:

Alberto Sordi, a staple figure in popular Italian cinema
This is a fascinating read.

The World Films' illuminated sign (turned off) still hangs from the corner of a building near Errol St.

This all reminds me of the Italian baker who in the 60s imported Fellini's I VITELLONI (Italy, 1953) which you advised me about when I was one of the team running those FVFS film weekends.  He was such a charming and helpful man whose name I've forgotten. Was the company Centenary Films?  So long ago now. There's a Bakery Lane running parallel to Errol St. and I wonder if he was in there somewhere.  

The 35 print of i VITELLONI lives in my memory as being particularly exquisite in tones and textures as well as being my favourite of that director's work. Thanks half a century on for alerting us to that unique importation.

You may have been part of Leon's late night previewing party watching another World Films item called CAMPING, an indifferent genre comedy but directed in 1958 by one Franco Zeffirelli, his debut, something that Peter Hourigaan. and maybe you separately discovered somewhere along the line. 

My most annoying memory of the World Films organisation was going to the Union Theatre for a MUFS late show to see the fabled THE WANTON COUNTESS.  You may have been part of all this but I think it happened after our tertiary studies ended.  MUFS had been trying to prise the Visconti film out of World Films for a long time. It was supposed to have been sent with a one way ticket to the cane fields up North.  But in the end they said they would bring it back.  However instead of blazing Technicolor, a black and white image hit the screen. Alida Valli (indeed) in Franciolini's THE WORLD CONDEMNS THEM made the year before SENSO.  A quick committee decision saw the film yanked and a 16mm western (title forgotten) substituted.  THE WANTON COUNTESS remained out of sight for another ten years until after the NFTA left the Victoria in Richmond and Visconti's film appeared in repertory, billed as the 'uncut version'. 

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