Roma, impersonated a lawyer to gain access to a local coroner’s office to oversee the initial examination of the body.17

Karen Pinkus, in her innovatively presented book The Montesi Scandal: The Death of Wilma Montesi and the Birth of the Paparazzi in Fellini’s Rome, explains how Menghini’s coverage of a young woman’s mysterious death began in the Italian late-war anti-fascist and postwar centrist press tradition of the cronaca. These stories, traditionally published on page four of newspapers, focused on human interest, tended to be gossipy, and were not averse to “exposures of scandal and corruption, with moral outrage, and with the naturalism of everyday life”; the Wilma Montesi case spent ten months as cronaca, during which “[a]ll of Rome talk[ed] of the exquisite corpse on the beach”. Then, in February 1954, another Menghini story, the first on what had become the rapidly developing scandal to carry a by-line, propelled it to persistent front-page national news.18

Unlike the celebrities who typically occupied the limelight, as in those featured in the short film of Miracle in Milan’s première, Wilma Montesi was an “Anygirl”, middleclass and effectively anonymous, until her death; in death, she was transformed into an icon that captivated the nation. The media spectacle of the decade was a concoction of tabloid writers’ inventions, “paparazzi” photography,

and the infusion of cinematic values into the interpretation of everyday life that commanded popular participation.19 As the scandal came to implicate the political and social élite, “[i]t seemed as if the entire population of Italy was lining up to testify in the case, which began to exhibit an ever-diminishing sense of reality”.20

Wilma Montesi was an ‘Anygirl’, middleclass and effectively anonymous, until her death; in death, she was transformed into an icon that captivated the nation.

Italians from all walks of life stepped into the press and legal spotlights to offer evidence to journalists and police – often in that order – ranging from the conceivably vital to the scandalously conspiratorial to the utterly fantastical.21 One of these witnesses was a young, alluring and very photogenic Anna Maria Caglio, whom the press endowed with a range of flamboyant and glamorous epithets; yet Caglio, a minor socialite, was, like Wilma Montesi, an otherwise previously invisible member of the public. And when she presented herself as a witness, the press and proto-paparazzi transformed her into a celebrity, purpose-made for the public consumption of the mounting scandal; the fact that subsequent trials would reveal Caglio as a witness of very dubious calibre made little difference

to tabloid journalists and photographers. Of particular significance in the history of the birth of paparazzi photography and the evolution of celebrity culture is the 1954 image of Caglio shot by Tazio Secchiaroli after a session of an early trial in Rome during the long-running case. Besides a dramatic example of the tactics employed by proto-paparazzi to obtain coveted and lucrative scoops, this image of Caglio “represents the actual moment when cinema and real life become indistinguishable… The effect should be devastating”.22

The scandal was also commodified as the new values of consumerism were thrown into the mix, for example, in the form of competitions offering prizes of Vespa scooters, television sets, washing machines and refrigerators for members of the public who entered with their theories on the case.23 The case and its related scandals were “caus[ing] nationwide reverberations”24; they had reached such a crescendo by 1957 that the trial of two high-society suspects for manslaughter and coconspiring in Montesi’s death, together with the chief of Rome police for conspiracy in attempting to cover up the involvement of the other two main suspects, was relocated to Venice from Rome “to maintain public order”.25

The Montesi scandal had opened up the general public to the camera, not just as consumers of imagery, but also as participants in and as the subjects

of imagery; it was a development the public embraced. The new species of photographer – named after the Fellini character in La Dolce Vita – and the tabloid press had learned to engage with and exploit everyday life, employing whatever means necessary to obtain sensational stories. This did not mean the people of everyday life took over from the “stars” as the staple of celebrity coverage; rather, with the considerably increased accessibility of traditional celebrities and the inclusion, at least potentially, of anyone, the previously rigid divide that existed between larger-than-life celebrities and the general population became more fluid. It was an era that saw “the production of vernacular imagery in which stars and ordinary people… increasingly… resemble one another”.26

The Montesi scandal had opened up the general public
to the camera, not just as consumers of imagery, but
also as participants in and as the subjects of imagery; it
was a development the
public embraced.

Juxtaposing historical images from the period is a fascinating and educational exercise, one Pinkus has done with reportage concerning the Montesi scandal and with film stills, especially from La Dolce Vita. The two sets of images are hardly differentiated, "The culture of oppression" continues in a popup window.

60
61