Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Death of Dinocitta

From DINO The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis
by Tullio Kezich and Alessandra Levantesi, translated from the Italian by James Marcus

What happened? What shattered Dino's dream of creating the biggest and most modern studio complex in the world? As it turns out, Italy's political situation was the biggest factor undermining Dinocitta.
When the country's first center-left government came into power on December 5, 1963, its ranks included Achille Corona, one of the founders of the clandestine Socialist Party during the Fascist era. Corona headed the newly created Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, which he would continue to run during two subsequent administrations. Of all the ministers appointed to oversee the entertainment industry, he served the longest and made the biggest impact - mostly thanks to a new, cinema-related law, Number 1213. Enacted on Novermber 4, 1965, this novel regulation might as well have been conceived and drafted in direct opposition to a producer like De Laurentiis.
Dino, of course, steered clear of any political affiliation. Yet his ascent took place during the heyday of the Christian Democrats, with whom he generally maintained good relations. It's no wonder, then, that the Socialists - who now exercised some real muscle in the coalition government - viewed him with little sympathy. They considered him the beneficiary of a defunct political structure and saw his empire as a stronghold to be dismantled.
And dismantle it they did. The new law was aimed at international productions, which were denounced as alien to the traditions of the Italian cinema. The state now intended to protect the national character of the film industry, on both the cultural and occupational fronts. Until that moment, if a filmmaker wanted to obtain "national" status for his creation - which would make the film eligible for subsides, loan guarantees, and so forth - he had only to respect the provisions of the so-called Andreotti law, enacted in 1949. The law specified that a feature film must be "in Italian, or include an Italian-language version," and that it must be made from a story written by or adapted by an Italian author. In addition, the majority of the crew and cast had to be Italian. That meant that a film shot in English (or in any other foreign language) could quality for "national" status, as long as slightly more than half of the crew and cast were Italians. What's more, according to the Andreotti formula, the director counted as just one more member of the crew and cast. The question of his nationality carried no extra weight, which gave the producer a great deal of room to adjust the proportions.
The Corona law, however, specified that the film must be made in Italian. The director too had to be Italian, along with a majority of the screenwriters, 66 percent of the principal actors, 75 percent of the secondary actors, and 75 percent of the crew and technical personnel. It was a law designed to safeguard nationalist values in a way that Dino considered shortsighted and controlling. According to this standard, many De Laurentiis films - including WAR AND PEACE (King Vidor), THE SEA WALL (Rene Clement), FIVE BRANDED WOMEN (Martin Ritt), BARABBAS (Richard Fleischer), and THE BEST OF ENEMIES (Guy Hamilton) - because they were directed by foreigners, could never be considered Italian. John Huston's THE BIBLE won "national" status by a hair, having been completed right before the new law went into effect. But Sergei Bondarchuk's WATERLOO, a spectacular conceived and created by Italians, would not be eligible.
When the Corona law was passed, the export of Italian films to foreign markets collapsed overnight: go ahead, check the statistics. This was a serious blow to the image of our nation, whose best ambassador had been the postwar cinema. Film production was relagated to a provincial level, and with a few exceptions, it's never recovered. Our filmmakers are paying the price for this misquided law to this very day.

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