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Migrant Memories

Cultural History, Cinema and the Italian Post-War Diaspora in Britain


Margherita Sprio

Migrant Memories provides an innovative perspective on the power of cultural memory and the influence of cinema on the Italian diaspora in Britain. Based on extensive interviews with Southern Italian migrants and their children, this study offers a fresh understanding of the migrants’ journey from Italy to Britain since the early 1950s. The volume examines how the experience of contemporary Italian identity has been mediated through film, photography and popular culture through the generations. Beginning with an analysis of the films of Frank Capra and Anthony Minghella, the book goes on to address the popular melodramas of Raffaello Matarazzo and ultimately argues that cinema, and the memory of it, had a significant influence on the identity formation of first-generation Italians in Britain. Coupled with this analysis of cinema's relationship to migration, the cultural memory of the Italian diaspora is explored through traditions of education, religion, marriage and cuisine. The volume highlights the complexities of cultural history and migration at a time when debates about immigration in Britain have become politically and culturally urgent.


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Chapter 6 Cultural Memory


L’Angelo Bianco (Matarazzo, 1953) is a significant example of a film whose narrative sequences were mentioned repeatedly during some of these sto- rytelling events. Yvonne Sanson plays two roles in this film: the nun and the girl who Nazzari falls in love with.1 Sanson’s role as the nun echoes the same role that she played in her previous film, I Figli Di Nessuno (Matarazzo, 1951), where the Nazzari character cannot have the woman that he has fallen in love with because she is a nun.2 The subversion of the predictable plots that Sorlin discusses has to be understood as part of the success of these films within financial terms, but it is also their suc- cess as remaining models that carry memories into contemporary Britain that is being marked out here.3 Although the mode of telling the stories would often happen spontaneously and was never pre-planned, various aspects of this film would either be recounted in parts or in considerable detail. Interruptions to the story, such as the espresso cof fee being served or another guest arriving, would ensure a pause before the drama would unfold once more. Sometimes the wife of the storyteller would use this pause as an excuse to allow guests to move on to another topic if they wanted to, and she would joke that the audience had heard the tale many times before (and in various versions). But more often than not, the story was told as an illustrative moral tale that relates to a...

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