Birthplace of Totò, Peppino and Eduardo Fillippo, Massimo Troisi, and Tony Servillo from La Grande Belleza, Naples has long produced some of Italy’s most celebrated actors, writers and directors. While it is hard to choose the best films set in Naples, I caught up with Massimiliano Gaudiosi to know more about Neapolitan films.

Gaudiosi graduated in Film Studies from the University Suor Orsola Benincasa in Naples and holds a PhD with a dissertation on the image of Naples on film. He has published a book on film analyses and many essays on film studies. He is also one of the founders of Campania Movie Tour, which organizes original and alternative tours through the most famous locations depicted in films and TV series set in Naples.

In the interview he reveals Naples’ influence on cinema, talks about important actors and directors from Naples along with other thoughtful insights on Naples’ relation to cinema.

Suzan: When talking about Neapolitan movies with friends from Naples, Totò and Troisi were always mentioned and I noticed that these actors are a very important part of the Neapolitan culture. Do you agree and why so? 

Massimiliano: It is important to note that some quotes or dialogs from movies with Totò or Troisi are very well known among Neapolitans. It is difficult to establish a list of specific movies, even though there are some very symbolical names – Vittorio De Sica, Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren and Totò for example, even though Totò mainly worked outside of Naples. Totò was working in Rome and had only made 3-4 films set in Naples. He was a huge name during the 40s and 50s, so naturally he was working in Rome. He worked a lot with Peppino, who frequently costarred with Totò – they were a very famous duo.

Suzan: When I asked a Neapolitan friend why Naples had given birth to so many great actors and directors, he told me to “observe the streets and you will see the Neapolitan people’s theatrical behaviour”. In your opinion, why has Naples produced so many important/well-knonw actors and directors and some of the greatest classical movies in Italy.

Massimiliano: Along with Rome and Turin, Naples was one of the largest production centres of silent movies. Once soundtracks were introduced in the 30s, Naples was once again an epicentre for its rich musical heritage and Canzone Napoletana, which were used in many films. Naples has always been a city that was very rich of stories, songs and a theatrical culture thanks to its rich and ancient past.

Suzan: Can you talk about Italian Neo-Realism in Neapolitan cinema?

Massimiliano: Naples was one of the most destroyed cities during the Second World War, so directors such as Roberto Rossellini and Luigi Comencini decided to give attention to Naples. During the Italian Neo-realist period, the attention of the directors was naturally realism, so they set to film the landscapes of Italy during the fascist regimes of the 30s. Because there were almost only comedies and musicals set in Naples in the 30s, these directors wanted to show another reality in Italy. The focus was on filming outside of studios in real locations, without professional actors and also without attention to heroes but choosing common people. So this was a quite big revolution in the idea of cinema.

Suzan: Has there been a shift in the way Naples is presented in films in the last several decades? 

Massimiliano: This is very interesting. During the 90s, we had a movement called new Neapolitan Cinema, which is another strange aspect of Neapolitan Cinema. A group of actors, writers and directors worked together to give a different image of Naples. An image that was quite dark and far from the stereotypes. In fact, Paolo Sorrentino was also working with this group in the 90s. There is a recent book published by an english scholar on the New Neapolitan Cinema movement – The New Neapolitan Cinema (Traditions in World Cinema)

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. This book, is in my opinion one of the bests books published on Napolitan Cinema, and a very well-documented study of the new tendency of Neapolitan Cinema.

This New Neapolitan Cinema is also in someway related to the 20th G7 summit that was held in Naples in 1994. This period was very important for the transformation of the city. For instance, until the G7, Piazza del Plebiscito was not closed to traffic and was mainly used as a parking lot,  whereas today it stands more out like a museum. So for some reason this school and movement is associated to a kind of renaissance of the 90s.

In the movies of the 90s there is a kind of tendency to escape from Naples. It is very different from the tendency to escape in the 80s which was for example depicted in Troisi’s film when he leaves Naples for Florence. It is a different kind of emigration, like a sensation of a space you cannot tolerate.

It is also difficult to recognize the city in the movies from the 90s, because typical icons and cliches were no longer present. For instance, the presence of Vesuvius is consciously removed in the New Neapolitan Cinema.

Check back next week when we find out what Massimo’s 5 favourite films are!