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

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Sirens: Female Images and Roles in Neapolitan Cinema
Lucia Di Girolamo

Last modified: 2010-05-12


In 1891 Matilde Serao, a journalist and writer, wrote these words about the deeper soul of Naples: “Parthenope is not dead. She's lived wonderful, young and beautiful for five thousand years. […] She is the one who makes our city full of light and mad with colors […] Parthenope, the virgin, the woman, does not die, she has no tomb, she is undying, she is love and Napoli is the land of love”.

Parthenope, one of Oceano’s daughters, died on the coasts of Southern Italy.  On her tomb rose the city of Naples.  The myth of the siren influenced Neapolitan art, theatre and literature from  antiquity to the early years of the twentieth century. Serao, the most important female writer of Southern Italy, described this main archetype of Neapolitan culture, upon which the local cinematographic production elaborated in the 1910s and 1920s. Rosé Angione, Mariù Gleck, Iole Bertini, Lucia Zanussi, Leda Gys were some of the actresses  that lent their faces to a modern version of Parthenope. The female spirit permeates the whole imaginings of this land, surviving through time and assuming several forms; the ancient siren becomes a young woman oppressed by despotic men, a wild woman intolerant of bourgeois rules, a rich and elegant woman of the high society or a woman of the people that charms with her voice.

This proposal intends to explore the way Neapolitan silent cinema turned the myth of Parthenope into a symbol of a whole culture, re-shaping a millenary heritage of female images coming from painting, sculpture, plates, illustrations, literature, theater, thus building round the "Siren" innumerable narrative architectures. The "Siren" represented both the bright side and the dark side of the moon and cinema investigated, consciously and unconsciously, the contradictory aspects of her fascinating power. Through the analysis of intertextual relations between cinema and other art forms, we will try to prove that Neapolitan silent cinema gave a different version of the Diva’s image. The protagonists of this genre of cinema were "fatal" women but also common women, at the same time inaccessible and welcoming, archaic and modern, linked to local identity and projected onto national traditions. The siren’s archetype was the paradigm through which the woman image became a kaleidoscope susceptible of innumerable metamorphoses. 

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