My project is to do an interactive film database of the Italian Economic Miracle, that constructs a global filmic imaginary of the dramatic cultural changes of Italy through the period 1950-1970.
The Italian Economic Miracle, or Economic Boom, refers to a period of modernization, industrialization and economic progress in postwar Italy between 1950 and 1970. Along those years, what had been a mainly poor and rural nation, transformed into the industrial and urban power that Italy is today. The phrase “economic miracle” has been recurrently used to describe striking economic developments in particular historical periods and/or geographical areas. The expression, enthusiastic in its nature, is generally fostered by the groups or classes that beneficiate the most from this process, and that are in charge of developing its official narrative.
The seed of economic development of the Italian «miracolo» was the Plan Marshall. In the broader context of a rising Cold War, and given the strength and popularity of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) after the war, the United States decided to invest 1.2 billion dollars in the Italian economy, ensuring the country in the Western side of the Iron Curtain, and promoting both a free market economy and liberal democracy as a political system. This economic liberalization was even more emphasized after Italy co-founded the European Economic Community in 1957, fostering a common market and customs union among its six founding members: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The Common Market was fundamental for the industrial development of Italy, whose industrial productivity and exportation rates sky-rocketed during the golden years of the Miracle (1957-1961).
Social unbalances and inequalities soon became the backdrop of the Economic Boom. The Miracle was an undeniable macroeconomic success, yet it could have not been possible without its dramatic side-effects in the social sphere, such as the exploitation of the extremely low wages of the workers, whose living conditions were anything but miraculous. In the late 1940s, after twenty years of Fascism and the bloodbath of World War II, Italian workers were poorly organized and unemployment was at its peak. As the economy grew, the jobs offer exceeded the workforce demand, so thousands of poor Italians accepted low-wage jobs barely protected by labor rights. Despite this situation would change in the mid 1960s, labor precariousness would be a typical feature of Italian economy.
The growth of the new Italian economy would be based on a non regulated market that beneficiated basically the private sector. The public sector would develop a difficult and backward Welfare State, compared to similar Western European economies. Just as it happened in the US, the postwar growth affected the economy of the families and fostered an individual welfare, in opposition to the progress of broader collectivities. The rise of a consumer culture and the production of consumer goods did not come with a growth of public services. This new culture of mass production and consumerism would be greatly depicted in Fellini’s La dolce vita (1959). Furthermore, such developments would be also limited to certain areas of the Italian peninsula. While the South would barely develop a productive economy, the boom concentrated all across the north, especially in the industrial triangle formed by Genova – Torino – Milano. Rome would also have its own development.
One of the main features (1) of the Miracle was, indeed, the extreme precariousness of the national infrastructures, as well as the lack of proper public services. These issues were widely depicted and reflected upon throughout the Italian films produced between 1950 and 1970, such as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Uccellacci e uccellini (1966) that presents an allegorical dialogue between two characters as they walk along the Grande Raccordo Annullare, the ring highway that surrounds Rome whose construction would never end. The hypertrophied urban growth of these decades was another feature (2) of the Italian Miracle, for construction an urban development became the only available field for the poorer sectors of the national economy. Urban developments often entailed endemic corruption and all kinds of political scandals, as Francesco Rosi depicted in his famous Le mani sulla città (1963).
Another dramatic feature of the Economic Boom (3) was the massive migration process that took place especially within Italy’s national borders. The arretratezza of the South forced thousands of peasants to migrate to the prosperous cities in the north, becoming cheap labor force for the growing economy. This process would have a massive impact both on local communities of the north and among the migrants, whose cultural differences were so big that they found hard to admit that all of them were Italians. Lucchino Visconti most celebrated film, Rocco e i suoi fratelli (1960), depicts a family of southerners migrants in Milan, who are victims of racism, poverty and the worst face of the economical boom. However, the last feature (4) of the new consumer culture would also a sexual liberation and a revolution in moral customs, that would pave the way for the later feminist and queer movements that would be prominent in the political scene of the 1970s. Deeply worried about these issues, Pasolini surveyed the new Italian generations in his famous documentary Comizi d’amore (1963), in which people of all ages and classes answered questions regarding love, sexuality and morality.