Days of wine and roses

Italian-American culture: Cinema Paradiso Revisited

By Gina Paone Kulch-Stritch



Often Italian-American culture is portrayed in a stereotypical light. Current examples of this are evident in reality television programs. While there can be truth in stereotypes the Italian-American takes a hard hit.

There is no need to go back to the Renaissance to illustrate the creative genius of Italians and Italian-Americans.

Carlo Levi's 1930s masterpiece Christ Stopped at Eboli (Cristo si è fermato a Eboli) is a literary gem that was made into an exquisite film. Since the largest percentage of Italian-Americans are from south of Rome, and the film is set in the Basilicata region of Italy, this should be of interest to many.

The Neorealist age of Italian filmmaking starts with the The Bicycle Thief (Ladri di biciclette) and the masterpieces of early Fellini, La StradaNights of Cabiria (Le notti de Cabiria), and it evolves into La Dolce Vita. Over the years Fellini's work has grown more abstract and it is well worth viewing for its dream-like visuals. For elegant images don't miss Fellini's later work.

Other classic films to include in the Italian-American selection: L'AvventuraRocco and his Brothers (Rocco e i suoi frattelli)Two Women (La Ciociara), Before the Revolution (Prima della rivoluzione), The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Il vangelo secondo Matteo), Death in VeniceSwept Away (Travoli da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare), and Medea. Italian-Americans should know the names of Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Luchino Visconti, and Michelangelo Antonioni as well as they know the name Martin Scorsese.

Visconti's movie The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), based on Giuseppe di Lampedusa's masterful book, showcase Burt Lancaster in a stellar performance. Another favorite is Anna Magnani at her best is Tennessee Williams's The Rose Tattoo, which also stars Lancaster.

Speaking of leading ladies who could forget Giulietta Masina, Monica Vitti,  Adriana Asti, Sophia, Sophia, Sophia, and the long line of Fellini's more than seven, more than 8 ½, more than nine beauties? And for good measure though not Italian but indispensible to outstanding Italian films Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, and Maria Callas.

On a personal note see Vincent Gallo's Buffalo 66. The film reveals a tender core and truly is an Italian-American story with heart, soul, and humor.

And then there is opera with Giacomo Puccini, modern and stunning versions of La BohèmeTosca, and Madama Butterfly grace the screen with beautiful leading ladies. You should see Mozart's Don Giovanni, especially the stunning 1995 Paris Opera version filmed in Vicenza, Le Nozze di Figaro and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, directed for screen by Franco Zeffirelli.

The heavenly voice of Luciano Pavarotti is perfect for soft summer nights and even if one doesn't speak Italian, English subtitles are available and the music will take the listener to highs regardless of language.


In G K Stritch's new memoir CBGB Was My High School: A Rose Comes of Age on the Razor's Edge an Italian-American girl with a broad literary streak highlights the best of Italian and Italian-American culture. The book juxtaposes art, film, music, literature, and people. From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, to Othello, to the friends of Sal Paradise, to Donatello's Maddalena, set against the backdrop of New York City in the 1970's and 1980's, the author's curious mind weaves a complex and colorful tapestry which entertains and educates.

CBGB Was My High School: A Rose Comes of Age on the Razor's Edge is available on and Barnes& (ISBN 978-0-9833711-1-3) and the St. Mark's Bookshop, 31 Third Avenue, New York, NY, 10003; the Marc Jacobs Bookmarc shops on Bleecker Street in New York City and Melrose Place in Los Angeles; and the Montclair Book Center, 221 Glenridge Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07042; and Sherman's Book Store, 56 Main Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609.



Tuesday, June 28TH, 2011 by Guest

This was a lovely education in film. I'll have to hunt these out and view them. It's good to have such a rich heritage in Italian cinema and the writer does a wonderful job of highlighting these films.

Tuesday, June 28TH, 2011 by Guest

Death in Venice, ah, the Mahler score and all that scrumptious cinematography—a gem, gems, gems, all gems. The author makes a valid point. With such beautiful films available, why settle for anything less?

Tuesday, June 28TH, 2011 by Guest

Very well written article, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 28TH, 2011 by Guest

Good to know there are other works of Italian culture out there instead of the usual mafia, crime, and casino based films.

Tuesday, June 28TH, 2011 by Guest

It's refreshing to know that there is some really good work out there. I was beginning to lose hope with what I was seeing on TV. 

Tuesday, June 28TH, 2011 by Guest

I've seen some of these films, mostly the Fellini ones, but am excited about exploring some new venus. I have never really been interested in opera, but the article makes it sound so worthwhile, that maybe I'll start expanding my horizons. In either event, this was a nice piece, well written and very informative.

Wednesday, June 29TH, 2011 by Guest

Perhaps space didn't permit but one should also consider Italian and non-Italian authors writing of things Italian. My preference happens to lie in the mystery genre.  Before you object, consider that Italian mysteries are often as insightful as other literature, dealing with Italians in everyday situations.  Giancarlo Cataldo, Carlo Lucarelli, Andrea Camilleri all provide accurate views of Italians and Italian life. Non-Italian (well, not born in Italy but certainly well assimilated) authors include Donna Leon and Michael Dibdin.

A film lasts a couple of hours but a book - a book lasts a lifetime.

Wednesday, June 29TH, 2011 by Guest

Christ Stopped at Eboli is
Carlo Levi’s painting with words,
not to be missed either as a book or film.

Thursday, February 09TH, 2012 by Guest

what about the movie bronx tale

Friday, May 25TH, 2012 by Guest

Really nice article. I would love to read more, keep them coming.