One of the Young Turks of semiotic film theory in the 1970s, counting Umberto Eco and Christian Metz among his mentors, Francesco Casetti established himself as a major figure in the field of film studies in Italy, and his synoptic overview of the discipline’s theoretical lineage, Theories of Cinema, 1945-1990, is still a crucial reference work. Since 2010, he has been the Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of Humanities and Film & Media Studies at Yale University. In recent years, his research interests have taken him away from the semiotic tradition, and towards a critical evaluation of contemporary trends in media technologies, as seen in his latest monograph The Lumière Galaxy: Seven Key Words for the Cinema to Come. He is currently working on the iconophobic tradition in western culture and its relation to anxieties aroused by technological changes in contemporary media, and recently co-edited the anthology Early Film Theories in Italy 1896-1922.
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DF: I’d like to talk about the state of the field, but also the way that the state of the field reflects the state of the world. Do you think that a lot of the anxiety around our object of study in the last 10-20 years is a reflection of a deeper political uncertainty?
FC: There is a great deal of rhetoric around the idea that digital revolution implies the death of cinema and ultimately the death of film studies. When I look at what is happening in our field, my feeling is that the field is expanding. There is always a new object available. So, the risk is not that our object is getting lost. The risk, on the contrary, is that the different objects in the field are becoming more and more insular. It is increasingly difficult to conceive cinema in its entirety and film studies as an all-embracing approach: the dialogue between the different branches often appears impossible. I think this situation reflects a twofold aspect. On the one hand, it echoes the tendency of the contemporary world not towards globalisation, but towards fragmentation and isolation. On the other hand, it echoes the triumph of neoliberal ideology, in which you are said to be able to choose the commodities and lifestyles you want. Let’s be frank: our field, today, is a great marketplace in which everybody can find the department store that better fits his or her alleged needs; what is scarce, is the willingness to cope with a comprehensive approach – to challenge, through a transversal look, the intricate network that keeps together our landscape in its different aspects. It’s post-theory… I am not complaining. I am just underlining the distance from the years of my intellectual formation in Paris and Italy, in which the desire to find a rigorous approach to film language was paired with the dream (naïve, but not stupid as Bordwell and Carrol have depicted it) to keep language and social, economic, and psychological processes together.