Cinephemera. Ephemeral materials for the study of Italian cinema between the 1930s and 1960s


This special issue of «Cinergie» - developed in the context of the research PRIN project Cinephemera. Ephemeral materials for the study of Italian cinema between the 1930s and 1960s - aims to investigate “cinephemera” in the history of Italian cinema during the period of its prime role in the media system and consumer habits (1936–1966), and use them to cast light on unexplored regions fields? of Italian film.

The study of the ephemera can aim to rebuild the everyday film experience in terms of memories, materials and mediation processes. They are all objects of transitory nature, which is linked to forms of use on a specific occasion (Makepeace 1985, 10). They mediate, build and extend a constant dialogue between public and industry (Moore 2016, 316) and contain precious evidence of past culture (Wickham 2010).

More in detail, we understand cinephemera as a category that includes manufactured objects and collectible items (trading cards, cigarette cards, postcards, envelopes, stamps, pocket calendars, gadgets and other movie-inspired, mass-produced objects); artefacts spontaneously produced by cinema fans (personal and appointment diaries, albums, “schedari” (spectator film files), scrapbooks and other movie-inspired private paper items); and correspondence from admirers and spectators (letters sent to Italian or international stars and columns devoted to reader-spectator correspondence in popular periodicals and in the sector press), all intended as elements mediating the spectator experience and as sources for the social history of “moviegoing” (Wickham 2010; Moore 2016).

Thanks to these collectible items and spontaneous artefacts, the moviegoing experience can be rebuilt using senses other than just sight (Casetti 2001), including touch and indeed the whole body. Personal and appointment diaries or objects from a cinema visit kept as a memory act as “portable” records and archives, private memorabilia, “mnestic protheses” (Caneppele 2018) and extensions of the memory of watching the film (Mariani and Comand 2019b). Finally, the activities of writing personal diaries and letters (Guerra and Martin 2019) and creating scrapbooks, and the spaces personal expression in the press (Martin 2019) can be interpreted more directly reserved to as concrete expressions of the mediation process “of retelling, interpreting and recreating social discourses that the spectator does during his or her film experience” (Fanchi and Mosconi 2002, 8).

Moving transversally through the traditions of study mentioned above, this issue aims to open a space for reflection on specific case studies, in order to investigate the cinephemera with tools derived especially from the following methodological frameworks:

- Material culture: in order to frame ephemera as “social objects”, everyday elements and expressions of a specific historical-cultural moment, whose value lies principally in the information provided by their material form (Kuipers 2004). With specific reference to collectible objects, we will follow the lines of material culture research concerned with mass-produced goods (Dei and Meloni 2015): when looked at as stock resulting from production and consumption infrastructures, ephemeral forms can help disclose new ways of understanding the dynamics and trends of the film industry’s entanglement with apparently distant sectors of industrial activity (cosmetics, food, confectionery, publishing, etc.);

- Microhistory: in order to frame ephemera as essential materials to uncover individual experiences and the relational universes that produced them. The eccentric and heterogeneous heritage of paper items and spontaneous artefacts  demands a microanalytic approach, safeguarding the singular nature of each material under examination. In addition, concrete imaginative efforts are needed to interpret the social practices that they derive from (Grendi 1977). Facing radically different documentary sources to those used by quantitative studies on the cinema-going public and the film consumption of past audiences, the close-up view and the eclecticism of the methods belonging to microanalytical historiography (Levi 1991) enable an alternative way to rebuild spectator presence, which is not deduced so much from data, but more empirically and inextricably linked to “hands-on work” on the media and the objects at our disposal.

- Fandom studies: in order to frame ephemera as evidence of an active and participatory experience in the film spectacle. To this end, we propose to finetune the tools that “fandom archaeology” has already applied to objects produced by and for fans, to the swap groups and networks revolving around informal collection-building practices, and to identifying the cultural intermediaries of cinema discourse (Fuller-Seeley 2018). By raising fan mail columns, diaries and scrapbooks to the status of historical source, we can trace the different fan culture discourses that have been present in Italy, either on cinema fandom, or actor fandom (McQuail 1997). More in general, we will try to make an original contribution to research on past audiences in the form of “bottom-up” film history. We will not deduce spectator presence so much from data, but more empirically from “hands-on work” on the media and the objects at our disposal.

- Gender studies: in order to frame ephemera as active places in the construction of a “gendered” subjectivity from Fascist Italy up to the post-war period of recovery. While making use of the knowledge and methods offered by the literature on the condition of women audiences (Cardone 2009), a close-up analysis of the ephemeral materials will nevertheless enable us to call into question the assumption that places some of these practices – writing fan mail, scrapbooking, etc. – exclusively in the female domain (Grubey Garvey 2013). This evidence of “active” reprocessing will instead be investigated as a field of social tension between the male and female models of discourse put forward by film and the different access to film consumption permitted to men and women spectators.


Submission Details and Journal Deadlines

Please send a 300/500-word abstract (either in English or Italian) and a short biographical note to by February 15, 2024.

If the proposal is accepted, the author(s) will be asked to submit the full article by May 31, 2024. Contributions will undergo a double blind peer review. The articles must not exceed 5,000/6,000 words and may include images, clips, and links for illustrative purposes. Please, provide correct credits, permissions, and copyright information in order to be sure that the images or archival documents are copyright free and can be published.

The Number 26 of Cinergie will be published in December 2024.



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