Rebecca West

William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Service Professor Emerita, Department of Romance Languages & Literatures, Cinema & Media Studies, and the College.
Wieboldt 205
(773) 702-8481

Ph.D., Yale University, 1974.


Research interests: Italian and Italian-American cinema; film and literature; Italian film theory; feminist film theory; issues of gender and stardom.

I was trained as a literary scholar with a specialization in Italian Studies; my major field is modern and contemporary Italian literature, and I have a secondary research and teaching interest in medieval studies, specifically Dante and early lyric poetry. As a scholar of contemporary Italian literature and culture, I also focus on cinema, which is one of the most prominent artistic forms of modern Italian culture. I maintain an interest as well in Italian American cinema, which has both deep ties and wide divergences from the Italian film canon. In the field of cinema studies, my research and teaching have concentrated on intersections of literature and film, the role of the screenwriter in the elaboration and production of cinema, feminist and queer film theory, Italian and French classical and contemporary film theory, comparative screen representations of masculinity, and stardom. I have published articles on the Italian American directors Martin Scorsese and Abel Ferrara, and their collaborations with actor Harvey Keitel, on the Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra, on contemporary Italian writer and filmmaker Gianni Celati's video production, on screen versions of Collodi's Pinocchio,  on semiotics of the clothing of Cary Grant, and I have edited a volume of articles by graduate students in our doctoral program in Italian literature, on the intersections of film and literature entitled Pagina, pellicola, pratica: Studi sul cinema italiano (2000).

My film courses have included a seminar on modern Italian history and culture since national unification, and on Italian American culture, as seen in films ranging from classics of Neorealism to the Spaghetti Western, and from Scorsese's earliest films to Ferrara's work such as Bad Lieutenant (*CMS 235, ITAL 287/387). I have also taught a course on comparative screen representations of masculinity, in which I concentrated on the work of Harvey Keitel and Marcello Mastroianni, and explored constructions of diverse masculine types from the perspective of gender theory, as well as the phenomenon of stardom and its impact on collective conceptions of the normative and non-normative male in contemporary American and Italian society. I have taught a course that builds on this earlier seminar, and focuses specifically on the types of the "Latin Lover" and the "Tough Guy"(*CMST 23600/33600, GNDR 33600, ITAL 26700/36700).  A course that dovetails with my current book in progress is on film adaptations of mystery novels by women, including Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, Vera Caspary, and others. Adapted mainly by male directors, these novels are transformed in their journey from page to screen in terms of plot elements, stylistic emphases, and diverse views of the problematics of gender contained in them. As a scholar who is deeply committed to gendered approaches to the study of literature, film, and culture, and as the former Director of the Center for Gender Studies, I have been involved in feminist and queer studies approaches, and look forward to applying them to my future teaching and study of film.

I have also taught a seminar on the figure of Pinocchio as appropriated by popular and cinematic culture both in Italy and elsewhere. An icon of modern Italy, the puppet was created in the early 1880s, at a time when Italy had only recently (1871) achieved national unification, and he represented the pedagogical fervor that had overtaken Italy as the desire to form the Italian subject and ideal citizen came to the fore. Yet, Pinocchio has escaped the historical limits of the time in which he was "born," and has become a figure that is known world-wide through translations of Collodi's tale, popular culture representations in the form of toys, posters, and many other material sites of reproduction of his image, and through filmic versions of the tale, including, most famously, Walt Disney's classic and Roberto Benigni's recent fiasco. My interest lies in exploring why and how Pinocchio has become both the deeply Italian and widely universal icon he now is, and to what extent he reflects social, political, and ideological aspects of the cultural and temporal contexts in which he has continued to live over the last century and more, much as vampires (see Nina Auerbach's Our Vampires, Ourselves) or dinosaurs (see Tom Mitchell's work) have done.

Field Specialities:

Italian and Italian-American cinema; feminist film theory; Italian and French classical and contemporary film theory; intersections of literature and cinema; stardom.

Selected Publications:

  • “Insidious Sprezzatura: Liliana Cavani’s Film Adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Novel, Ripley’s Game” in Shaping an Identity: Adapting, Rewriting, and Remaking Italian Literature, Legas Publshing, 2012.
  • Death and Disremembering in Antonioni's Blow-up and Malerba's Salto mortale in the journal Italica, Vol. 87, No. 3, Autumn 2010.
  • "Mature American Women, Illicit Love, and the Lure of Italy" 2007 in La Valle dell'Eden (issue on Gender and Cinema Studies), G. Alonge and R. West, eds.
  • "Vestire gli ignudi" Il 'Look' di Cary Grant tra illusione e realtà" 2006 in Cary Grant: L'attore, il mito, G. Alonge and G. Carluccio, eds. (Marsilio Editore)
  • "Le avventure di Disney." 2006 in La Valle dell'Eden.
  • "The Persistent Puppet: Pinocchio's Afterlife in Twentieth-Century Fiction and Film." 2006 in Forum Italicum.
  • "Pinocchio on Screen: Teaching Filmic Versions of the Puppet's Tale." 2006 in the MLA volume, Approaches to Teaching Pinocchio and Its Adaptations. Michael Sherberg, ed.
  • "Pinocchio's Screen Incarnations: An 'All-American Real Boy'?" 2006 in Spunti e ricerche.
  • "Benigni's Pinocchio, or the Tale of a Failed National Icon," in Beyond Life is Beautiful: Comedy and Tragedy in the Cinema of Roberto Benigni. Grace Russo Bullaro, ed. Troubador Publishing, 2005.
  • "The Land of Nod: Body and Soul in Abel Ferrara's Cinema of Transgression." Screening Ethnicity: Cinematic Representations of Italian Americans in the United States. Anna Camaiti Hostert and Anthony Julian Tamburri, eds. West Lafayette, IN.: Bordighera Press, 2001.
  • Editor. Pagina, pellicola, pratica: Studi sul cinema italiano. Ravenna: Longo Editore, 2000.
  • "From Lapsed to Lost: Scorsese's Boy and Ferrara's Man." in Beyond the Margin: The Italian Experience in America. A. Tamburri and P. Giordano, eds. Fairleigh-Dickinson Press, 1998.
  • "Gianni Celati's 'La strada provinciale delle anime': A 'Silent' Film About 'Nothing'." Romance Languages Annual (1993): 367-374 (double-columned).
  • "Scorsese's 'Who's That Knocking At My Door?': Night Thoughts on Italian Studies in the United States." Romance Languages Annual (1991): 331-338 (double-columned).
  • "Tonino Guerra and the Space of the Screenwriter." Annali d'Italianistica (1988): 162-178.