Wednesday, March 03, 2010

My mother was born in Italy, and her family and the community of their friends who came over together were all a major part of my young life. Plus, when I was growing up in the 50s, there were prominent Italians in Hollywood, in music and sports: the era of Sinatra and DiMaggio. There were even songs on the hit parade in the Italian language.

But it's been downhill since then. For years now, Italian Americans have been defined by the pop culture version of the Mafia. A collection of Italian language songs was advertised on TV as "Mob Hits." I found it all so insulting and demeaning that I don't care how "well done" the Sopranos was, I was never going to watch it. And I'm sure not going to watch "Jersey Shore," yet another stereotype that has nothing to do with my experience.

What I did watch however was a wonderful film story, made in Italy, about a group of characters who were adolescents or young adults in the 60s, and following them into the 21st century. The English title is The Best of Youth. It was made for television, but was also released in theatres, usually shown in two parts, each 3 hours long. (Available from netflix, etc.) But it is worth the time. It's one of the best written, best acted, most beautifully photographed stories I've ever seen. It was very special to me because I understood the common expressions in Italian--I think the dialect was close to the one I heard mostly as a child, but for much of my life. Even the body language was familiar--I've never felt so attuned to the people in a film before, not even an American film. Everyone should see this, but especially Italian Americans who feel like they have to be fugitives from the prevailing insulting stereotypes.

No comments: