In the 1930’s, a white telephone was a luxury item and a symbol of opulence. This visual status symbol indicated great wealth and represents an era of Italian filmmaking focused on the glamorous lives of those who could afford such an ostentatious technology1. The aesthetic of these films revolved around lush settings and grand, splendid worlds in which the rich struggle with marital conflicts and other cultural attitudes. While occasionally perceived as satire of the upper class, most often these films are remembered as being “escapist” and distractions from the plight of the lower classes2. In some cases these films are viewed as the precursor to the late 1940’s era of fascist propaganda3. While upholding the idealistic notions of family and religion, these films failed to portray any wider social or class conflicts, and did not represent realistic Italian daily life. In fact, these films were so off-base from what the average Italian experienced that they inspired the reactionary movement of neorealism, which became known for its authentic war-time themes, non-actors, and local settings, the antithesis of the grandeur and romanticism of the white telephone features.
“T’amero Sempre” (I Will Love You Forever) is a 1933 romantic comedy/drama which depicts this Hollywood-inspired set and costume design. At 29:15, notice the other signifiers of wealth such as the electric curlers and the stylish women’s fashion.
At 30:13, the maid even goes to answer a white telephone.
At 31:15, notice the elaborate set detail, including the flowers, bust, easel, and light design, as well as the rich-looking satin robe and tailored suit costumes.
“La Signora Di Tutti” (Everybody’s Woman) from 1934 is another example of a film which aesthetically imitated Hollywood and visually distracted audiences with notions of a plush and romanticized life.
It tells the melodramatic story of a fictionalized famous film-star played by the actual famous film-star Isa Miranda. There is beautifully designed choreography as well as similarly displayed symbols of wealth and status, especially concerning Miranda’s character Gaby Doriot.
The luxe costumes and fashionable make-up and hair were definitely more representative of Hollywood than they were of the general Italian public (see below a 1930’s Modern Screen magazine cover and the film poster for “La Signora Di Tutti”).
The advertisement for “T’amero Sempre” also mimicked the similar style and characterizations as exemplified on Hollywood posters from the same time.
As for one last point of comparison, look at the distinct differences between the portrayals of the characters on a neorealism-era film’s posters such as “Roma Citta Aperta” (Rome Open City). Notice the tonal shift in just the way the film is advertised, as evidence of the separate, darker coloring scheme and more raw, emotional characterizations.
- Landy, Marcia. (1986). Fascism in Film: The Italian Commercial Cinema, 1931-1943. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 230.
- Landy, Marcia. Fascism in Film, p. 273.
- Reich, Jacqueline and Piero Garofalo.(2002). Reviewing Fascism: Italian Cinema, 1922-1943. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 142.