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The Politics of Dubbing

Film Censorship and State Intervention in the Translation of Foreign Cinema in Fascist Italy


Carla Mereu Keating

During the late 1920s and the 1930s, the Italian government sought various commercial and politically oriented solutions to cope with the advent of new sound technologies in cinema. The translation of foreign-language films became a recurrent topic of ongoing debates surrounding the use of the Italian language, the rebirth of the national film industry and cinema’s mass popularity.
Through the analysis of state records and the film trade press, The Politics of Dubbing explores the industrial, ideological and cultural factors that played a role in the government’s support for dubbing. The book outlines the evolution of film censorship regulation in Italy and its interplay with film translation practices, discusses the reactions of Mussolini’s administration to early Italian-language talkies produced abroad and documents the state’s role in initiating and encouraging Italians’ habit of watching dubbed films.
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Chapter 2: A Damaging Foreign Competition: The State and the Production of Italian Talkies Abroad


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A Damaging Foreign Competition: The State and the Production of Italian Talkies Abroad

Italian film production faced a crisis throughout the 1920s: only a few domestic films were produced successfully and even fewer works were exported. Along with the production crisis, the exhibition sector increasingly relied on the importation of foreign films: North American film companies, in particular, had progressively taken a dominant position in domestic film distribution and programming (Quaglietti, 1991; Martinelli, 2002; Muscio, 2004). Although large imports from the United States satisfied the demands of the domestic exhibition sector, this increased foreign presence on national screens was considered by some in the government and by many Italian film producers to be one of the causes of the slump in Italian production. In an attempt to reverse the production crisis, from the mid-1920s onwards Mussolini’s government passed various quota laws restricting imports of foreign films which were explicitly or implicitly aimed at reducing Hollywood’s expansion into the Italian market. Notable examples of this intervention are the screen quota laws of 1925, according to which domestic cinema theatres were required to show an all-Italian program every two months, and the screen quota of 1927, which decreed that 10 per cent of screen time be dedicated to Italian films. Yet these protectionist policies on foreign distribution taken by the fascist administration – and similarly adopted by other Western European governments such as Germany and France, as highlighted by Thompson (1985: 211) and Higson...

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