Twentieth-century Italian Literature and Cinema Aesthetically Brought to Life Ideas Friederich Nietzsche defines history as being an organization of man’s memory in relation to the past, as seen in terms of a series of events. Nietzche’s approach toward history can be articulated in what he dubs his three modern forms of historical consciousness: monumental, antiquarian, and critical. A similar phenomenon of putting history under analysis can be seen in twentieth-century Italian literature and cinema, which experienced a rise in works specifically directed at bringing previously accepted twentieth-century forms of historical consciousness under critical analysis, if not at times, scrutiny. Furthermore, twentieth-century Italian literature and cinema aesthetically brought to life ideas in which Nietzsche only touched upon, as he failed to recognize and convey the means in which one could go about artistically expressing such forms of consciousness. Many Italian novels which portrayed similar inclinations of attacking nineteenth-century forms of historical consciousness, were later adapted to film. However, many of the cinematic recreations intervened on the original novel’s vision of history, taking editorial license, which were, in and of themselves, distinct forms of historical consciousness. Many directors took the liberty of espousing their own personal agendas through the process of adaptation by using various cinematic aesthetics to emphasize and/or elaborate certain aspects of the novel. Both Luchino Visconti and Vittorio de Sica’s cinematic representations of the novels The Leopard and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis respectively, epitomize this pronounced trend.
Luchino Visconti adapted to the screen Giuseppe Di Lampedusa’s modernist historical novel The Leopard , which is based in Sicily during the 19th C during a time in which Italy was experiencing tension, due to an ongoing struggle for freedom, dubbed the “Risorgiomento.” While maintaining the critical historical spirit of the novel, he was also able to achieve a critique of the neorealist conception of filmmaking as well as develop his own personal spin of an antifascist vision of history making. Visconti’s portrayal of The Leopard touches on, one way or another, Nietzche’s three modern forms of historical consciousness. However, most drastically is Visconti’s mixture of the antiquarian and critical in order to create an ironic-modernist form of historical consciousness. Monumentalism is expressed through the film with the character of Italian prince Fabrizio. This is evident in the first scene in which the viewer is brought in from the outside and is introduced to a man who is kneeling with his back facing the audience. In this scene, everyone around him is facing him praying, making him the origin of power, which is further exemplified when voices begin outside signaling that something important has just happened, he manages to retain a sense of nobility and assurance of calm and control. Only when he decides it is time to ferret out the reasoning behind the commotion are people removed from his game of seduction. It is through the course of the novel that Fabrizio’s character ultimately changes into an idealized monumental form of history based on Tancredi’s vision, that in order for things to stay the same, things must change, and finally resulting in his shift to antiquarianism marked during in his time in Donnafugata. The antiquarian and critical forms of historical consciousness are intertwined throughout the novel as many of the antiquarian sentiments help to create some of the overall critical themes, largely because the characters themselves represent certain historical visions. The film represents critical realism through its inquiry into the social ramifications of historical change. The film doesn’t consist of a single protagonist, but is instead based on the dynamics of the individual relationships and their effects...
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