Music for Industrial Cinema

Audiovisual Experimentation and Music Avant-garde in Italian Industrial Cinema in the Sixties

by Alessandro Cecchi

Italy industrial cinema was early introduced. The first productions took place in Turin, where Ambrosio Film, working since 1905, and FIAT, which soon resorted to cinema communication, were based, as the oldest testimony attests: Luca Comerio’s film Le officine della Fiat (1911). The invention of synchronised sound did not take FIAT by surprise, and it commissioned advertising sound films already since Sotto i tuoi occhi (1931). In the same years Cines, headed by Emilio Cecchi, concentrated on producing documentaries; among them, the industrial feature film directed by Walter Ruttmann, Acciaio (1933), entirely shot in Terni steel plants, from a script by Luigi Pirandello and with music by Gian Francesco Malipiero. The film, whose editing and synchronisation are exemplary, initiated the experimental vocation of this genre and the tendency toward an expressive use of music the director was skilfully able to outline, in order to achieve an effective cinematic communication.

Not many years after the end of WWII, which obviously marked a clear break, industrial cinema became once more popular, up to becoming a key element in corporate communication. Significantly, during the first half of the Fifties some of the major industrial realities were provided with internal cinema departments: that is how Gruppo Cinema of Montecatini (1952), Cinefiat (1953) and the Sezione Cinema Edisonvolta (1955), only to mention the more lasting experiences, were created. In these years the foundations for the systematic corporate use of cinema were laid down, which was boosted with the following season of considerable economic spur, supported by a rapid industrialisation, known as the “economical miracle” (1958-1963). Circumstances were favourable for filmmaking: to better investment possibilities induced by the economic growth state benefits and endorsements were added; moreover, several awards and festivals specially devoted to industrial documentary flourished. The main Italian private corporations (namely FIAT, Olivetti, Italsider), but also some state-run strategic enterprises (ENI) and some scientific research centres (CNRN, then CNEN, finally ENEA) funded cinema productions conceived to promote corporate image. Their goals were not really to advertise finished products, but rather to offer a scientific-technological information and education service and together to document the stages of design, research, production and manufacture, with a high premium on the social and cultural impact of technical progress and industrialisation. The artistic whims of the patrons involved in the most innovative industrial realities from the technological point of view encourage the involvement of well-known directors, writers, composers, graphic designers and illustrators both on the national and international level, creating a modern form of patronage. Therefore, they made films which were, on one hand, instrumental to corporate communication, and, on the other, which featured a high degree of audiovisual experimentation, where music and sound play a decisive role.

Research within Cabiria Project focused on this particularly thriving season in industrial cinema, examining mainly two aspects: the presence of electronic music (made of synthetic and/or concrete sound) and the cooperation of composers ascribable to music avant-gardes, who all together produced one of the most significant changes in industrial cinema soundscape. Among the names of the composers involved in filmmaking of one or more industries, there are authors like Luciano Berio, Vittorio Gelmetti, Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, Egisto Macchi, Gino Marinuzzi jr, Franco Potenza. At this stage the years 1959-1960 were crucial: products like the CNEN film Ispra 1 (Gian Luigi Lomazzi, 1959; music by Luciano Berio) or Olivetti film Elea classe 9000 (Nelo Risi, 1960; music by Luciano Berio) are destined to profoundly influence the following development of this genre, marked by experimental industrial films of remarkable audiovisual and musical impact. Among them, Italsider film Il pianeta acciaio (Emilio Marsili, 1962; music by Franco Potenza), FIAT film F4CB. Acciaio su misura (Victor de Sanctis, 1965; music by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino), the many ENI films with music by Egisto Macchi – such as the famous feature film La via del petrolio (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1967) – and Virgilio Tosi’s CNEN productions with music by Franco Potenza, not to mention FIAT and Olivetti productions of the end of the Sixties with music by Vittorio Gelmetti.

In conducting this research the input of the Archivio Nazionale Cinema d’Impresa in Ivrea - Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, holding almost all the films of Italian industries, was very important, since it provided scholars with digital copies. At the same time, research was countered with actual difficulties, since the documents witnessing the history of the making of these films, except for very few exceptions, are missing: they were often destroyed, and, in some cases, even the celluloid film negatives shared the same fate. Sporadic findings of music manuscripts or magnetic tapes ― a source type particularly relevant for film production ― have taken place mostly in composers’ private collections. Research has also dealt with theoretical and methodological problems, which have led to proposing a semiotic-structural approach to audiovisual communication, with a special emphasis on the part played by the sound component and especially by music.

Bibliography: Alessandro Cecchi, A Music Semiotic Perspective on the Italian Industrial Cinema of the Economic Miracle: The Technology Paradigm and the Modes of Audiovisual Representation, in Film Music: Practices, Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives. Studies around Cabiria Research Project, edited by Annarita Colturato, Torino, Kaplan, 2014, pp. 241-263; Alessandro Cecchi, Creative Titles: Audiovisual Experimentation and Self-Reflexivity in Italian Corporate Industrial Films of the Economic Miracle and After, in «Music, Sound, and the Moving Image», 8/2, 2014 (Titles, Trailers and End Credits, edited by Guido Heldt and Phil Powrie), pp. 179-194.