³Mussolini and the Cult of Personality: Reconstructing Fascism Through
Photographic Portraiture and Film
A lecture by Prof. Patrick Anthony Cavaliere
Department of History and Politics at the University of New Brunswick²
Friday April 30th, 2004, Pavillon Lionel-Groulx, 3150 rue jean-Brillant, University of Montreal, room C-9141, 13:30.
The ubiquity of Benito Mussolini’s image, along with the heroicization of his person and the myth of his power contributed to the deification of the Duce in Fascist Italy in the years between 1922 and 1945. According to some scholars, these elements not only constituted the main narrative device of the Fascist regime’s discourse about its leader, but they were central to the creation of a new civic culture or secular religion which formed the basis of Fascism’s totalitarian conception of politics and the nation-state. The myth and cult of Mussolini occupied all visible realms of political life, it monopolized public space, and it presented Fascism with a model of centralized power and authority that rotated exclusively around the mythical and spectacular authority of one person. The proposed paper and multimedia presentation re-examines these assumptions in the light of propaganda photographs and film held at the LUCE Archive in Rome, Italy, which have only recently been declassified by Italian authorities. The paper advances the view that, while the symbolic universe of Fascist religion centered upon the myth and cult of the Duce, the sacralization of politics in Fascist Italy did not begin with the myth of Mussolini, nor was it created out of the collective experiences of a radical and reactionary nationalism that considered itself invested with its own missionary vision and charisma. To understand and fully appreciate the cult of personality in Fascist Italy, it is important to identify and distinguish the “myths” of Mussolini. Throughout the course of the regime, the cult of personality appeared in a number of different guises. In fact, there were a number of different myths that corresponded to different periods of Mussolini’s leadership, and to different periods in the history of the Fascist regime. These myths originated in different environments and in response to different political and cultural contexts, and they were in perpetual change throughout the course of the Fascist dictatorship. To reconstruct, identify and explain these changes and historical epochs through the use of photographic portraiture and film is really the principal aim of this presentation.
N.B.: Prof. Cavaliere will publish «Contemporary Italian Cinema and Fascism: Memory, History, and Politics in the Films of Bernardo Bertolucci» in the 4th issue of Post-Scriptum.ORG, «L'Europe au cinéma. Questions de production et de réception du cinéma européen» (eds. Delphine Bénézet and Vincent Bouchard).
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