character of Paparazzo.7 Today, the paparazzo is consistently, formally defined in unflattering terms.8 Their behaviour, which included the taunting of their famous subjects to elicit dramatic reactions, was one of the main reasons why film critic and long-time Fellini friend, Tullio Kezich, wrote that this period in Italy saw “[p]hotographers morph from witnesses of reality to participants and creators of it”.9

The ‘democratisation’ of
celebrity culture

Italy was already in love with glamour and a broadly based celebrity culture by the beginning of the 1950s. For example, Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan (Miracolo a Milano) premièred in Rome in February 1951; a short film made to mark the gala event and pay tribute to De Sica, a popular actor and acclaimed neorealist director, loses no time documenting the “flood” of eminent persons in attendance. The narrator introduces this exercise by announcing: “Among the celebrities in the audience [are]…”, before declaring “[t]here’s a new film right here in the lobby to be entitled ‘Celebrities in the Flood’”.10 The roll call of glitterati from the Italian film industry and politics occupies nearly half the film’s time, with the camera picking out a generous selection from “the flood” and lingering momentarily on each. They include film producer Dino De Laurentiis; stage and film actress Anna Magnani; film director Mario Camerini; musician and composer Franco De Gemini; actress and 1950s

Italian sex symbol Silvana Pampanini; model and actress Silvana Mangano; American film actress Virginia Belmont; Spanish film actress María Mercader; the British ambassador to Italy, Sir Victor Mallet; and the Italian minister of defence, Randolfo Pacciardi.11

The Italian state, still struggling with the legacy of fascism, encouraged the domestic film industry’s move away from the humanist social criticism of neorealism and toward popular forms of entertainment and escapism that reaffirmed the established order.

It is relevant to note at this point that Miracle in Milan cannot be described as genuinely neorealist in the same way as De Sica’s earlier collaborations with the prominent neorealist theorist and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini; rather, it attracts descriptors such as “[a] generic hybrid [containing] surrealist fantasy elements”, and a “fable that bends towards magic realism”.12 Significant social change accompanied the onset of Italy’s economic boom and rapid industrialisation 1950–70, known as “the economic miracle” (il miracolo economico). These two decades saw Italy become one of the west’s major industrial powers as an estimated 9.1 million Italians migrated internally, mostly from the poor, rural south to the

rapidly expanding cities of the north; in what was “the beginning of a social revolution… ways of life changed profoundly”.13 Among the cultural developments of this period were increasing consumption and a shift in film culture away from the gritty, sometimes stark social commentary of neorealism to a sentimental, happy-ending form of “pink neorealism… prettified comedies [that became] the populist melodrama, which later was assimilated by television and transformed into serialized soap operas”.14

The Italian state, still struggling with the legacy of fascism, encouraged the domestic film industry’s move away from the humanist social criticism of neorealism and toward forms of entertainment and escapism that reaffirmed the established order. In doing so, it stifled the neorealist movement, “crushing [it] as a threat to the restoration of the old society”.15 While the most conservative and reactionary elements in the Italian sociopolitical body, which included the Church, found advantage in promoting cultural product that engaged the population in frivolity and averted attention from the social, political and economic processes that were determining life in the postwar, postfascist country, the general public was by the early 1950s quite prepared to be distracted and “to withdraw from harsh neorealist truth into sentimental comedic reassurances”. At the expense of production standards and artistic

merit, Italian film producers churned out melodramas and comedies, mostly for domestic consumption.16

Perhaps the single event that took celebrity status out of the once-exclusive worlds of socialites, royalty, politicians, cultural figures and film stars was the scandal that developed around the (still-unresolved) death of Wilma Montesi.

In this climate of booming economy, social upheaval, nascent consumer­ism and the popular appetite for a state- and Church-sponsored resurg­ent film industry, perhaps the single event that took celebrity status out of the once-exclusive worlds of socialites, royalty, politicians, cultural figures and film stars was the scandal that developed around the (still-unresolved) death of Wilma Montesi. Montesi was an unremarkable, twenty-one-year-old unmarried woman, an una ragazza qualunque “Anygirl”; her body was found in April 1953 on a lonely beach around thirty kilometres south of her modest family apartment in Rome. The first act of tabloid journalism on the road to more than four years of press-driven “paparazzi” photography and sensationalised scandal was committed the day Montesi’s body was discovered, when Fabrizio Menghini, a writer of light news articles for the gossip-oriented daily Il Messagero di

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