Beyond “Brutality”: understanding the Italian Filone’s violent excesses

Edmonstone, Robert J. (2008) Beyond “Brutality”: understanding the Italian Filone’s violent excesses. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
Download (3MB) | Preview
Printed Thesis Information:


“Brutality” has long been held up by critics to be one of the defining features of the Italian filoni; a body of popular genre film cycles (peplum mythological epics, horror films, giallo thrillers, poliziotteschi crime dramas, westerns and others) released during a frenzied period of film production between the late 1950s and mid 1980s.
A disproportionate emphasis on scenes of often extreme violence and spectacle can be traced across all of the cycles, resulting in a habitual “weakening” of narrative and disruption of the filmic continuities fundamental to mainstream cinema. This emphasis and the uneasy pleasures that it provides have led to a distinct ghettoisation of the filoni within English-language film criticism, with historical accounts of Italian cinema ignoring the films completely, dismissing them as “trash” or portraying them as parasitic counterfeits of “authentic” Hollywood genre films. Furthermore, such accounts typically fail to address the question of what it is that makes these films so violent, limiting their descriptions to blanket terms such as “brutal”, “exploitative” and “sadistic”, in the process reaffirming the idea that the filoni are simply not worthy of further study. As a result, the suggestion that the films could provide pleasures which are distinctly different from those established by mainstream cinema remains largely unaddressed.

This thesis seeks to reconcile the gap between my own personal engagement with the films and the lack of attention that has been devoted to them within critical Anglo-American discourses. Drawing on the “paracinematic” approach highlighted by Sconce (1995), I seek to demonstrate that it is precisely in the filoni’s often violent deviations from mainstream cinema’s established continuities where their most remarkable features lie, using Thompson’s (1986) concept of “cinematic excess” to illustrate the films’ overwhelming prioritisation of formal elements that exceed the limits of narrative motivation. Using narrative and close textual analysis of a representative body of filoni to identify patterns of violence, spectacle and excess across the films’ structures, I shall also illustrate the benefits of using film theories outwith their original context to shed light on non-mainstream films like the filoni, drawing in particular on the work of musical theorists Altman (1978) and Mellencamp (1977) to identify a “dual focus” in the films between scenes of narrative and more excessive violent “numbers”. Combining my analysis of specific filoni with an examination of representative mainstream films and Anglo-American genre theory, I shall demonstrate that while the regulation of cinematic excess is vital to the narrative pleasures engendered by the latter (suspense, characterisation, drama), in the filoni such pleasures are typically debunked in favour of the more immediate pleasures and curiosities provoked by viewing (and listening to) spectacular and violent acts that threaten the continuities surrounding them. As my analysis chapters will indicate, the filoni are far more productively analysed using theories derived from early cinema: by drawing on Gunning’s (1986) concept of cinematic “attractions” – non-narrative spectacles which exhibit a similar emphasis on the primacy of the image and the pleasures that it provides – I shall illustrate how a central viewing pleasure prioritised by the filoni arises from the frequent revelation of the filmic apparatus during scenes of spectacle and violence, where spatio-temporal continuities are frequently abandoned.

By going beyond the blanket generalisations of “brutality” that have resulted in the filoni’s habitual marginalisation within film studies, this thesis shall exemplify a long-overdue “closer” approach to the films that seeks to highlight their distinctive features, study their structures and investigate the specific (dis)continuities and (dis)pleasures that they provide, at the same time exploring the possibilities of exactly what is meant by “violence” in cinema.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Italian cinema, popular cinema, genre cinema, spaghetti western, italian western, film violence, cult film, violence, popular, filone, filoni, spaghetti, western, horror film, poliziotteschi, giallo, peplum, cult cinema, film analysis, textual analysis, Gunning, excess, attractions, musical, Altman, Thompson, Italian horror, film sound, cult, cinema
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Supervisor's Name: Boyle, Dr. Karen
Date of Award: 3 December 2008
Depositing User: Dr Robert J. Edmonstone
Unique ID: glathesis:2008-608
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 02 Mar 2009
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2018 08:22

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year