Italian and Irish Filmmakers in America Ford, Capra, Coppola, and Scorsese
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In this unique film history, Lee Lourdeaux traces the impact of Irish and Italian cultures on four major American directors and their work. Defining the core values and tensions within each culture, and especially focusing on the influence of American Catholicism, he presents John Ford, Frank Capra, Francis Coppola, and Martin Scorsese as ethnic Americans and film artists. Lourdeaux shows each filmmaker on set with writers and actors, learning to bypass stereotypes in order to develop a shrewd reciprocal assimilation between his ethnic background and Anglo America. Beginning with D. W. Griffith's depiction of Irish and Italian immigrants, the author discusses Hollywood's stereotypical portrayals of ethnic priests, cops, politicians, and gangsters, as well as their surface acculturation in the movies of the 1920s. By the decade's end, John Ford was using all-American stories to embody the basic myths and tensions of Irish-American life. In his later westerns and foreign films, he tried to understand both Irish political strife and the key figures of Irish liturgy. Frank Capra pitted Italian family values against the Anglo success ethic, turning out social comedies about oppressed little people. Several decades later, Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola were highly critical of their religio-ethnic heritage, though they gradually discovered that to outline its weaknesses, like the blind pursuit of success, was to fashion a critical mirror of mainstream America. Lourdeaux discusses a number of recent films by Coppola and by Scorsese that have not yet been analyzed in any book. And, in the chapter on Scorsese, a personal interview with the director reveals how his ethnic childhood shaped his work in film. Examining the conflicts within American culture, Lourdeaux shows how the filmmakers themselves had to confront the self-destructive aspects of their ethnic background, not only to accommodate WASP audiences but to better understand their own heritage. He also observes that ethnicity is a strong draw at the box office, as in "The Godfather", because it creates a sense of the other who can both be admired and at the same time ridiculed. Illustrated with scenes of the movies discussed, this fascinating film history tells how four of America's most famous filmmakers assimilated their ethnic backgrounds on set and on screen. Lee Lourdeaux, a journalist who specializes in the arts, writes for numerous national publications and holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago.
Canadian. * Widowed in her mid-twenties with three very young children, Mrs. Smith was determined to keep her small family together, which meant excluding suitors interested in her daughters. As Pickford herself recalled, "No man would have seemed suitable in mother's eyes. Mother was not only mid-Victorian, she was antediluvian in this respect" (1955, 133). As for contracts and salaries, "to the very last day she lived [my mother's] word was law" (1955, 86). Pickford was the victim of this
mischievous Irishman to help it laugh at Victorian social conventions. And Mack Sennett fit the bill. Born Mikall Sinnott to Irish, working-class immigrants in Quebec, Sennett toiled at the American Iron Works before becoming an actor at the Biograph with Mary Pickford. By late 1910, he was directing short films of his own. Like Griffith, he saw the inadequacy of Protestant reformers and wickedly satirized reformist beliefs in family and society. Nothing was sacred to him. Whereas Griffith had
between his two mother figures. After the filmic types of the Irish widow and her son came the Irish colleen. Almost as independent as the widow, she had an ethnic vitality and Irish sense of community that heightened her image of self-confidence on screen. With her clever turns of phrase, she was irresistible to Anglo-American moviegoers. Her character offered not just Mary Pickford's spunky vitality to the bored, inevitably upperclass Anglo husband. Her own desire for success also rekindled
the plot, with the Anglo Protestant man. By contrast, the Italian Lorenzo remains a weak, if kindhearted figure. More important, he is clearly a vehicle for Anglo anger toward an independent woman. Thus, the immigrant figure expresses both WASP male anger at, yet desire for, the haughty WASP woman. Puppets of Fate, released a month later, also features an upstanding Italian immigrant, this time manipulated by American women. In Italy, Gabriel Palombra runs a punchinello or puppet show. Forced to
to his own Italian background. Adapted from the play by John Meehan and Robert Riskin, The Miracle Woman is the story of the increasingly successful and sensationalist evangelist Florence Fallon (Barbara Stanwyck), who as a girl was devoted to her father, a selfless minister. As the film opens, the quiet kindly minister dies without recognition from his congregation, which deeply disillusions his daughter. In revenge, she becomes a traveling evangelist who deceives the public with phony miracles