My scholarship engages with questions of medium, aesthetics, and cultures of the moving image through specific historical intersections. I have special interest in actual locations, the sense of place, and the vicissitudes of the studio in postwar cinema (especially Italian). Quite distinct is my engagement with the human visage as privileged site of representation: my recent book, The Face on Film (Oxford University Press, 2017) reflects on the equivocal visuality and illegibility of the face, and the sense of belatedness and loss that distinguishes its post-classical cinematic incarnations.
My work in all its aspects is informed by a continued engagement with issues of realism and modernism, with the “crisis of representation” in the postwar era, and with the cinema’s relationship to traditional (even archaic) arts and media. While I explore the historical, material, and social experience of cinema, and how it partakes in cultures of the everyday, I am also unapologetically committed to the study of film as an art, in reciprocity with other pictorial and poetic forms. I always like to see theoretical considerations breathe through close analysis of films, and through archival research.
Currently, as part of my fellowship with the American Council of Learned Societies, I am expanding my research on Cinecittà in the 1940s. While my earlier work on the topic (published in several articles and adopted for a documentary film) focused on the use of the studios as displaced-persons’ camp, I have now found some astonishing clues about its earlier use as a prisoners-of-war camp, which both Italian and German productions exploited in propaganda films during the war.
Through the years I have advanced my studies and research with the support of fellowships and awards including the Fulbright, the Getty Post-Doctoral Grant, the National Endowment for the Humanities Rome Prize, and currently the ACLS senior-level fellowship.
Before joining my husband Paolo Barlera in San Francisco, where he is now director of the Italian Cultural Institute, I spent many commuting years: first as faculty member at Yale University’s Department of Art History and, subsequently, at the University of Chicago, where I earned my tenure at the Department of Cinema and Media Studies. This itinerant life became increasingly difficult as my children were growing up. My decision to leave what is arguably the top department in the field, where I enjoyed a sense of intellectual and temperamental coherence with a strong community of scholars and students, was very difficult. I continue to pursue research, writing, and teaching by visiting appointments, and hope to return to a full-time academic post when the location of Paolo’s next diplomatic appointment is determined.