Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Music and Images in the Cinema of Elvira Notari
Kim Tomadjoglou

Last modified: 2010-05-11


In this paper, I explore in what ways Elvira Notari’s films represent distinct forms of cultural expression of a marginalized regional cinema, and ask the question: “what specific filmic and non-filmic formal, stylistic, and narrative elements may have attracted Italian-Americans immigrants to Notari’s productions?”

Culturally specific to the Neapolitan region, the traditional sceneggiata, or scene sulle canzoni (scenes with songs), were theatrical and music based performances comprised of an eclectic mix of artistic forms deriving from traditional modes of expression, specifically dramatic songs and components of the variety stage.  The theatrical genre was conventionalized around 1919, just about the same time Notari’s company (Dora Film) began producing filmed sceneggiate. While other Neapolitan production companies also adapted popular songs into films, it seems highly likely that Notari’s astute business sense and timing may have led her to be one, if not the first producer, to recognize its potential marketability and immediate popular appeal -- especially for emigrant audiences.

Created for, and about the southern urban dweller, the multi-media interactive live sceneggiata performance, through a host of familiar inter-medial expressive means, directly engaged the audience, stimulating their emotions, arousing their feelings, and encouraging their active participation.  In this paper, I examine the narrative, thematic, didactic and expressive components of the traditional live sceneggiata, and through a close reading of the film, ‘A Santanotte, describe and compare how Notari worked to integrate cinematic stylistic devices (such as close-ups, high and low angle shots, dissolves, wipes, and irregular mattes framing characters) with the conventions, motifs and expressive elements of this traditional art form, in order to transpose and adapt it to film.


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