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The International Writers Magazine: Film Review

Italian Fascism In Color
• Dan Schneider
When I first came upon the option to stream the 2007 documentary film titled Italian Fascism In Color, I was thinking that it might have been made by the same people who made the fantastic wartime documentary Japan's War In Colour...

Mussolini in Color

That documentary detailed the rise of Japanese militarism through the use of legitimately filmed moments in Japanese history by both war filmmakers and Japanese who made home movies. What was interesting was that few people even thought that color film stock existed in pre-War Japan. Fortunately, that film was not merely an exercise in color filming, but provided genuine insights in to the minds of the Japanese military and civilian population.

Unfortunately, Italian Fascism In Color, directed by Chris Oxley, and clocking in at an even 100 minutes in length-in two parts, is nothing like that other film. First, its ‘color film’ is merely ‘colorized’ film, and why anyone would think that this obvious bastardization would make the things shown any more compelling is bewildering because, to a trained eye, the colorization is obvious. But, even if not a trained eye, it’s clear colorization has gone on since it has been liberally slathered on to footage from World War One. Yet, nothing has been done to restore the damaged footage, so why colorizing damaged film is a coup is certainly odd. One can only guess that this film’s maker’s wanted to ride on the gravy train, so to speak, that the other film generated.

Another downer about this film is its recreations, thus placing this in the docudrama category. The narrator often describes an event, such as the Blackshirts beating to death a peasant or a political opponent who stood in their way in their rise to power. Then, cut to a re-enactment of the beating, except the actors are so bad, and the violence so muted that it seems pointless, and actually lowballs the narrator’s words. This is not to say that everything in such films should be talking heads and still photographs, ala Ken Burns, but the recreations are simply incompetent filmmaking. And, since I mentioned talking heads, let me add that there is one Italian talking head whose Italian speaking voice actually drowns out the English translator’s voice. So, clearly, there was technical incompetence on the audio and video ends of this film.

Fortunately, what saves the film from being a disaster is Benito Mussolini and his thugs. Their real life history is so compelling it transcends the incompetent workmanship and makes the film worthy of your time despite its presentational lapses. While the German and Japanese roles as official bad guys in the story of World War Two is well known, the rise of Mussolini, who actually inspired Hitler and the Nazis, and whose ideas and regime led to the coining of such terms as Fascism and totalitarianism, is not nearly as well known in America. This film traces his career as a journalist-cum-socialist, who, after a humiliating Italian defeat in World War One, turned to pure nationalism, and rejected socialism, even as his fascism basically employed all the same methods of every dictatorship, socialist, communist, theocratic, or not. This film aptly demonstrates the folly of the New Right, which tries to paint Nazism and Fascism as a form of socialism. This is clearly wrong, as both of those systems were not in favor of state control of everything directly, only indirectly.

The film takes on Mussolini as leader, conniver, bully, as well as bullied leader by underlings who forced him to act on some things or be removed. Later on, when in full control, he found himself again bullied, this time by Hitler, as his own military failed against repeated enemies in wars of conquest. Mussolini was even captured, then rescued by Hitler’s forces, before finally being shot by communists and hung upside down by his feet, along with his mistress.

Yet, insights come, such as Mussolini’s Machiavellian tendencies. Despite being Hitler’s inspiration and mocking his racial theories, Mussolini eventually sold out Italian Jews to the Nazis to hold on to ever-decreasing power. This outraged many Italian Jews who had been ardent Fascist from the beginning, foolishly believing it was the Second Coming of the Risorgimento that freed Italian Jews, in the 19th Century, from a feudal system. Just as betrayed was Mussolini’s own son-in-law, who kept a journal that is read from, and whom the dictator allowed to be executed for ‘treason,’ i.e.- deposing Mussolini after he led the nation to ruin. When the Nazis set him up as puppet head of the government in Salo, he had his son-in-law shot to death, to prove his brutality to Hitler. Mussolini comes off, then, as a man with mostly bad, but some good, traits, as opposed to the psychotic Hitler. Mussolini’s undoing was the lack of industrial base that pre-war Italy had, which meant it could never compete with Germany, in terms of military might. Mussolini also felt Hitler was leading Germany and, by proxy, Italy to its ruin by starting wars before Italy was ready to wage them successfully.

The documenting of these facts, alone, make the film worth recommending and watching. It’s too bad that some slick PR hack likely came up with the colorization angle, since it adds nothing, and detracts much, from the film and the history shown. Nonetheless, Italian Fascism In Color is a solid enough way to pass a couple of hours. Education rarely lets one down. See link on YouTube
© Dan Schneider April 2015
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* See Bertolucci's The Conformist for an Italian take on the rise of Fascism

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