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Netflix and international TV programming

I’m a bit late to the Lupin party and have only this week stated to watch the Netflix series that premiered in the UK at the start of January 2021. But I’m thoroughly enjoying it, not least because of the Sherlock Holmes treatment it received from producers. I enjoyed the recent BBC adaptations with Benedict Cumberbath and Martin Freeman, even if the series did have its problems (not going into that now), but I think I’m enjoying Lupin even more. I like being able to see how the crime was planned and committed, and I’m enjoying travelling to Paris from the comfort of my sofa in the midst of a pandemic that makes getting to France practically impossible for me at the moment.

I’m also late to the Netflix party, having only finally subscribed to the service at the end of 2020, but I’ve been really struck by how much international television is actually available through the platform. In some background research for the article on the ‘Watching the Detectives’ project that I’m currently writing, I discovered just quite how much TV in general is available through Netflix, and how much of that is not in English. According to New On Netflix UK (an unofficial online Netflix catalogue), for January 2021, there are 6392 available films and television series across all genres available to viewers based in the UK . Analysis of the content of Netflix USA from August 2020 then suggested that 55% of the total Netflix library was made up of English-language titles, indicating the quantity of international material available through the platform in English-speaking countries.

Thinking about the availability of non-English-language television in the UK now, I was reminded of an article I had read in The Observer, on how Netflix could transform the way we learn languages (see https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/mar/02/netflix-languages-education). The journalist, James Tapper, was reporting on Language Learning With Netflix (LLN), ‘a tool that allows viewers to watch foreign language shows with subtitles both in the original language and English, and pauses automatically to allow the learner to absorb what they have just heard’. According to the article, the tool had been downloaded by tens of thousands of people in the first three months following its launch. There is then some reflection on whether the tool might change language-learning habits, given its potential to enhance learning a language and make it fun and accessible.

Whether this is happening in the UK is something I’d like to research further, and is something I will certainly be touching on as I write my article of ‘The Detectives’ and the UK audience’s thoughts on the six crime series we screened as part of that project. But what I’d also like to know (triggered by my personal experience of watching Lupin and having to exit the dubbed version in English that was automatically loaded, and load the original French version with subtitles), is how many viewers watch the original language version of these international shows on Netflix, and how many just stick with the dubbed version? Something to look into for the future…

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Thinking about Walter Presents

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been making some progress with my article on the ‘Watching the Detectives’ project and our findings from the viewing groups we held in Hull as part of this project. It’s been a difficult article to write and I’ve struggled to get going so I’m pleased to have been able to get things properly moving now! The aim of the project was to explore how international television crime drama can promote multiculturalism and multilingualism in the UK today, thanks to the explosion of these types of series in recent years.

Indeed, a recent article in the Evening Standard posed the question ‘Is it a coincidence that just as governments are seeking to close their borders, television is opening them?’ (“Eight foreign language TV drama boxsets to binge online, from Black Widow to Suburra.” Evening Standard, 15 March 2017). Indeed, in post-Brexit Britain, television viewers have access to an ever increasing number of foreign language programmes. And ‘with the boom in streaming services, a single TV drama can cross borders like never before. Yet still, telling local stories appears to be the secret to international appeal’ (ibid.).  But what is the relationship between the local, national, and transnational that is presented on screen? And how do these dramas influence viewers’ perceptions of the countries, nationalities and languages which are depicted on screen? The article addresses these questions by focusing on popular crime dramas from France, Italy, and Germany as case studies, and analysing their reception amongst UK audiences. The programmes taken into consideration here are: Spiral; Mafiosa; Inspector Montalbano; Maltese: The Mafia Detective; Inspector Falke; Dark. All are readily available in the UK through the BBC, Walter Presents, and Netflix. In order to explore how these programmes are received by the UK audience, we held viewing groups at the University of Hull September-November 2018. Members of the public with little to no knowledge of the three languages involved were invited to watch examples of the series and discuss the presentation of themes such as national identity and nationhood, and to reflect on the ways in which these programmes challenge or re-affirm preconceived ideas about languages and European cultures. The article I’m writing presents the findings of these viewing groups, exploring how these programmes promote and challenge national cultural and linguistic stereotypes. I’m hoping that the article will ultimately shed light on the extent to which international crime drama may function to encourage language learning and intercultural awareness in the twenty-first century UK context!

In writing this piece, I’ve been able to revisit some of my ideas about Walter Presents, whose philosophy draws on the idea of international television drama as constituting quality television. The video-on-demand service was launched in 2016 and specialises in subtitled foreign language drama and comedy. It is curated by Walter Iuzzolino, co-founder of the service with Jo McGrath and Jason Thorp. The platform clearly benefits from the industry shifts in distributing non-UK programming, sourcing international series and distributing them to UK viewers via a partnership with Channel 4 and Global Series Network. The programmes are selected for inclusion on the service according to three criteria: they must be huge hits in their country of origin; they must be critically acclaimed or award-winning nationally and internationally; and they must be examples of ‘premium stuff, just as beautiful as the very best English and American drama you’re used to but a lot more varied’, says Iuzzolino.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtT9efZEC3M

The branding of Walter Presents in this video is revealing of just how important the ideas of quality, critical acclaim, premium and curatorship are for the platform – and, by extension, the programmes. Part of the attraction of these shows is their potential exoticism, which is often underlined by Iuzzolino in the introductions he gives to each series on the platform in the guise of curator. This role gives Iuzzolino the authority to label the shows he chooses as being of high quality. Moreover, as Longden points out, Iuzzolino’s professional background as a television producer renders him a professional gatekeeper of television culture and a trusted and experienced voice who can designate a programme of sufficient quality that is worth watching (Longden, Kenneth. “The Curated TV Experience with ‘Value Added’: Walter Presents, Canned TV, Curation, and Post-production Culture.” View: Journal of European Television History and Culture, vol. 9, no. 17, 2020, pp. 12-13).

As I’ve been researching Walter Presents for this article, I’ve been thinking again about ideas of brands and brand identities (which I looked at in the context of my work on Mina). In particular, I think it’s useful to remember that ‘a brand emerges as various ‘authors’ tell stories that involve the brand. Four primary types of authors are involved: companies, the culture industries, intermediaries (such as critics and retail salespeople), and customers (particularly when they form communities)’. Moreover, ‘as [brand] stories collide in everyday social life, conventions eventually form. Sometimes a single common story emerges as a consensus view. Most often, though, several different stories circulate widely in society. A brand emerges when these collective understandings become firmly established. […W]hat makes a brand powerful is the collective nature of these perceptions; the stories have become conventional and so are continually reinforced because they are treated as truths in everyday interactions’ (Holt, Douglas. How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2004, p. 3). The story that Walter Presents tells about itself reinforces the ideas of quality, local and national, and exoticism that have come to be associated with the brand (and Walter himself as the curator) – and arguably also with the programmes that the platform offers. However, it will be interesting to see if the participants in the viewing group pick up on these connotations when watching the shows that Walter Presents offer.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

New year, new ideas

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, for various reasons. Since March 2019, lots of things have happened – not least a global pandemic! But prior to COVID, my life as a researcher and academic was already changing due to the restructuring decisions at my institution, which resulted in the closure of my subject area of Italian and ultimately my redundancy in July 2020. I don’t want to go into details about what happened; suffice to say, I was in a position where choosing to accept the closure and leave the job I loved seemed like the only real option. Dealing with the fallout of that decision has been a lot harder than I expected. Losing your job in the midst of a pandemic does make looking for another post even more challenging than it would have been ‘normally’! But I am keeping on trying, at least for the moment. I have been lucky enough to secure a post in a Digital Education Service, which, in the current climate, is opening my eyes to other ways I can use my skills as a lecturer. And it’s also reminding me that I miss being a lecturer and having contact with students and colleagues (although in the current climate, who knows what type of contact that might have been had I secured another academic post in 2020!).

I have also been lucky enough to be able to carry on with my research, even despite everything that has been going on. My ‘Many Meanings of Mina’ project has provided a place to hide and sense of normalcy for the last two years and I feel very grateful and extremely fortunate to have been able to keep writing in the face of all the personal, professional, and pandemic changes that hit in 2020. I started the Mina project back in 2010 and the work has informed so much of what I have published, taught, and thought about over the past decade. And whilst I do think about and research other things as well, I am happy to acknowledge and embrace the fact that Mina is my ‘gift that keeps on giving and the well that never runs dry’, to borrow Martin Schingler’s description of his own work on Bette Davis.

A period of research leave at the start of 2019, and then a flexible working arrangement in the academic year 2019-2020 (in preparation for redundancy) that allowed me to prioritize and protect my research time for two days a week meant that I was able to make good progress with writing the manuscript for ‘The Many Meanings of Mina. Popular Music Stardom in Post-War Italy’. I also secured a publishing contract for the book with Intellect – who confirmed that they also liked the title (the MMM project 🙂 ). Following redundancy in the summer, and now working a professional services job, I have had the head space to be able to keep on writing and complete the manuscript. This month sees the final proof reading and editing before submission to the publisher by January 31st! I’m not sure sure whether I’m ready to let go, given this project has been my support and refuge in recent months, but it is time. I want to publish it for me. Because I’m stubborn. Because it’s been ten years in the thinking. Because it’s been so much fun!

The cover image I would like to use for the book, hopefully, if I can secure the rights from the Mina Fan Club, who own the image.

The problem is, my brain won’t accept that I’m not in an academic post at the moment and I keep coming up with new research projects and thinking about new ideas and ways of analysing stars/Italian culture/the media industry/ TV of the 1960s… As a result, I’ve also written an article on Italian pop in the UK in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – it’s in for peer review and hopefully it’ll be accepted with just a some revisions and re-writes. I still have to finish writing my article on the UK reception of international TV crime dramas, which is going in a special collection for the journal MLO that I’m also editing. I feel bad that my fellow contributors have already finished their articles and submitted and I’m so woefully behind! 2020 has a lot to answer for. But I’m saying here that this work needs to be done, in the hopes that articulating that requirement out load will give me the motivation/kick I need to get this piece finished.

And the fact that my brain won’t switch off means I also have other pieces I really want to write. In completing the manuscript, I finally got to grips with my research framework for reading stars as intermediums. This is the approach that has informed my analysis of Mina but, because the book is about the many meanings of Mina, I haven’t gone into too much detail about my framework and its potential for how we might read stars and how they come to signify. I want to write this framework up into some kind of ‘think piece’ so that’s another job for 2021. As is writing an article on Mina’s presence in contemporary Italian culture. I had to cut this from the last chapter of the book but it should make a nice article – which I really want to call ‘The Return of the Diva’ but we’ll see. I would also love to get my next big (ie book) project going (when I said to my husband that I didn’t know what I’d do without the Mina book, he blithely responded ‘just write another one’… he has a lot to answer for too!) – Italian variety television of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, looking in particular at its stars and what they signify, and how audiences responded to them. Big project to get my teeth into and hopefully I’ll be able to.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Mina as Intermedium

I’ve been working on my paper for the Interdisciplinary Italy conference that takes place in April at Royal Holloway University. My paper is entitled ‘Reading the Popular Music Star as Intermedium: The Case of Mina, ‘un’icona al pari di altri grandi “marchi”’ and ‘un patrimonio del quale andare orgogliosi’.’ On her official website, the popular music star Mina is described as ‘la più grande voce italiana di sempre’, ‘un’icona al pari di altri grandi “marchi”che parlano di qualità eccelsa nel mondo, quali Ferrari o Fellini’, and ‘un patrimonio del quale andare orgogliosi’ (https://www.minamazzini.it/it/bio/). Despite the arguably biased point of view, the website nevertheless highlights the status that Mina has reached within contemporary Italian culture. This status, the website suggests, is thanks to, amongst other things: her ongoing presence in the charts and on television; the themes of her songs; how she plays with her ‘look’; and, most recently, her physical absence from the public sphere. Such a description acknowledges the transmedial nature of Mina’s star status, which spans different media forms. Yet transmediality alone does not explain the precise ways in which Mina has come to signify ‘icona’ and ‘patrimonio’ in the Italian context, and does not enable us to trace the intricate web of meanings that Mina then embodies. In this paper,  I am proposing to read Mina as ‘intermedium’, applying the lens of intermediality to examine the ways in which the various ‘mediums’ through which she has been represented then intersect and interact to produce the notion of Mina as icon. Reading Mina as intermedium sheds light on the ways in which meaning is constructed, consolidated and shared in the case of this Italian popular music star, and reveals the mechanisms of consensus required to produce such a star.

I’m using two examples of Mina’s appearances in the Barilla caroselli of 1965-1970. These showcase how the intermediality of Mina’s star image is fundamental to understanding her significance, and what light she sheds on Italian culture and society.

Here is one of the examples I’m using:

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Cremona and Mina: City branding and the popular music star

I’m currently on research leave and working on various projects to do with Mina. This post is drawn from research that will make up an article on Mina and Cremona, using a recent exhibition held in the city as a case study as a means of shedding light on processes of city branding and the use therein of the popular music star:

Mina (born Anna Maria Mazzini, 1940) is arguably the best-loved and most successful female Italian popular music star. More than this, she has become part of Italian everyday life and cultural heritage, and an icon of Italy of which the country can and should be proud. Yet despite being known as ‘la tigre di Cremona’, Mina is not automatically seen as a symbol of the Lombard city where she grew up, but rather of an Italy that is broadly imagined and rarely defined in concrete terms. Indeed, the city itself has not sought to make prominent use of Mina’s iconicity in the generation of its own brand narrative. Rather, this narrative has been based on concepts of classical music heritage, diversity, accessibility, and community. But in 2018, the city organised a programme of events entitled ‘Cremona canta Mina’, setting in motion a broader narrative around the city’s relationship with the star, and vice versa, which contributed to rework the city’s image, and our understanding of Mina as popular music star. By examining this programme of events, and in particular the ‘Ti racconto Mina’ exhibition, this research contributes to our understanding of how a popular music star can be used to contribute to and enhance the brand narrative of a city.

The programme of events was entitled ‘Cremona canta Mina’ and took place from June to December 2018. It was part of the city’s Cultural Programme for 2018, whose theme was Il Novecento, with a specific focus on the important people and events which contributed to the history of the city in this period. Indeed, the city council website claimed that

Cremona non può affrontare una programmazione sul Novecento senza recuperare e valorizzare una delle più grandi voci italiane di sempre, Mina. La città, tutta la città, ha il desiderio e il bisogno di far risuonare nelle sue vie e nelle sue piazze quel patrimonio insuperabile e, proprio partendo da lì, di produrre nuova creatività, creatività inedita e giovane. L’obiettivo del progetto ‘Cremona canta Mina’, pensato come progetto ampio e diffuso, è quello di valorizzare e diffondere in città, con più linguaggi espressivi e coinvolgendo realtà diverse, la più grande voce italiana del Novecento per raccontare cosa ha detto e dice a Cremona, in Italia e nel mondo nel passato, nel presente e nel futuro.[1]

Although Mina remains an Italian star, there is here a shift in the presentation of the relationship between the city and its star, at least according to the city’s narrative. Now, the city is coming together to pay homage to Mina, by not only playing physical host to her music that will be interpreted by others, but also by recuperating her to become a clear part of the city’s cultural patrimony, and using her to promote creativity and new music. Mina, as part of city’s heritage, then becomes a source of inspiration that the city can use to further its own reputation and to produce new forms of culture which will again enhance the city’s brand.

This is seen in particular in the ‘Ti racconto Mina’ exhibition, held in  Sala ex Violini in the Palazzo Comunale in Cremona from 2 August to 31 December 2018. A collaboration between the Cremona city council, La Provincia newspaper, and PubliA, a marketing and advertising agency based in Cremona, this exhibition sought to retell Mina’s story from childhood to now absent star. It featured selected newspaper articles from the archives of La Provincia, memorabilia that included outfits and album covers, and an interactive, multimedia presentation that allowed visitors to select and view key photographs from important moments in Mina’s life and career. There was also the possibility to follow a guided tour around Cremona, entitled Via Aporti 37 – Cremona racconta Mina, in order to discover the places in the city that were of particular importance to Mina’s career.

IMG_9424IMG_9435IMG_9436IMG_9442IMG_9419IMG_9450

These boards provide the narrative about Mina and the relationship with Cremona. I’m currently working on the story that the exhibition offers, and what that then means for our understanding of Mina and her home city.

More to come… watch this space!

[1] n.a., ‘Il Programma di Cultura a Cremona 2018’, Cremona Comune di Cremona (2017), <https://www.comune.cremona.it/node/472596&gt; [accessed 27 December 2018].

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Remembering De Andre

Today, January 11th 2019, marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Fabrizio De Andre, arguably Italy’s best-loved and most famous singer-songwriter. There have been many commemorations of him in the press, and I’m bookmarking them here so as to be able to return to work on them in the next few weeks:

‘Fabrizio De André 20 anni dopo: Homo Faber (ma soprattutto poeta)’

https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/cultura/2019-01-10/fabrizio-de-andre-20-anni-dopo-homo-faber-ma-soprattutto-poeta-141119.shtml?uuid=AE9cxC8G

‘Vent’anni senza Fabrizio De André. Dori Ghezzi: “Manzoni ha scritto un romanzo popolare, Faber ha cantato il popolo”‘

https://www.repubblica.it/spettacoli/musica/2018/11/06/news/dori_ghezzi-210925130/

‘Fabrizio De André, la poesia delle sue canzoni a 20 anni dalla morte: ecco alcuni versi attuali e indimenticabili – 14/14’

https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2019/01/11/fabrizio-de-andre-la-poesia-delle-sue-canzoni-a-20-anni-dalla-morte-ecco-alcuni-versi-attuali-e-indimenticabili/4888281/14/

‘Fabrizio De André, vent’anni senza, venti canzoni per ricordarlo’

https://www.corriere.it/spettacoli/cards/fabrizio-de-andre-vent-anni-senza-venti-canzoni-ricordarlo/valzer-un-amore_principale.shtml

‘Fabrizio De Andrè, 20 anni senza il poeta della musica’

https://www.quotidiano.net/magazine/fabrizio-de-andre-morte-20-anni-1.4385843

‘Genova ricorda Fabrizio De André a 20 anni dalla morte: tutti gli eventi’

https://www.genovatoday.it/guida/eventi-20-anni-morte-fabrizio-de-andre.html

 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

New Year, new projects, but mostly more Mina…

Happy New Year! And even though it’s traditional at the start of the new year, I’m not making resolutions for 2019 – just plans, which I’m sharing here as a commitment to getting things done this year.

2018 has been a year of ups and downs for all sorts of reasons but it ended with the publication of two of my recent pieces on Mina:

 

For the first half of 2019, I’m due to be on research leave, meaning time to get back to Mina and writing the book on Popular Music Stardom in Post-War Italy: The Many Meanings of Mina (it’s a working title, because I still need to find a publisher who knows Mina is as big of a deal as she indeed is). I’m really looking forward to making some progress here, even if the idea of writing also fills me with some trepidation.

I’m also going to be working on pieces on reading the Italian icon, and on the Italian Community in Hull, as well as on the Detectives research project (meaning I get to revisit Montalbano and Young Montalbano – hurray!). And then there’s the Adrian TV series coming this week – it should be on January 5th. And some work on Raffaella Carra’ and Mina to get sorted out!

I’m also wanting to prepare a piece inspired by a recent trip to Italy. Following my visit to Cremona in December, I’ve been thinking about Mina and her link to her city, and the city’s connection to her. I visited the ‘Ti racconto Mina’ exhibition that has been held as part of the city’s ‘Cremona canta Mina’ programme of events. These have taken the form of concerts, performances, dances, the exhibition, and a guided tour around Cremona, with the aim of celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the start of Mina’s career.

The ‘Ti racconto Mina’ exhibition was held in the town hall and consisted of displays of her outfits and album covers, excerpts from articles about Mina from the local La Provincia newspaper, and an interactive multimedia presentation, featuring images from Mina’s life in Cremona and her career. Here are some of my photographs of the displays:

 

So I’m also hoping to put a piece together on city branding and the popular music star, using Mina and Cremona as a case study. That’s means lots more Mina for 2019…

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Getting ready for 2019 (and 100th post!)

So it’s the end of term and now is a good opportunity to reflect on what’s next. I’m due to head on research leave next semester so I’m thinking about what is on the to-do list.

First of all, the ‘Many Meanings of Mina’ work continues! I’ve just had an article published by Modern Languages Open on Mina in West Germany and Japan (http://doi.org/10.3828/mlo.v0i0.237) and then in 2019, hopefully two more pieces will be coming out, on the idea of Mina as mother, and on the Mina-Celentano collaboration on the album Le Migliori. My plan is still to write a book about Popular Music Stardom in Postwar Italy, using Mina as a case study: I’ll be working on chapters on Mina as urlatrice, at the Sanremo Festival, on television, in Musicarelli films, and in advertising. Hopefully, I’ll be able to present something more on Mina at conferences in Italian Studies during 2019.

I’m also very much looking to Adriano – the animated series will be on Canale 5 in January. I can’t wait! https://it.blastingnews.com/tv-gossip/2018/07/video/arriva-adrian-la-serie-evento-di-adriano-celentano-005001059.html

Then there’s work on Icons of Italy to complete: the Italian Connections project in Hull has included lots of great interviews with wonderful members of the Italian community. Now we are looking forward to collecting them together and publishing them, to celebrate that community. Laura (Rorato) and I are also working on an article about reading Italian icons, and another on working with migrant communities.

Finally, I’m hoping to go back to Fabrizio De Andre! I want to spend some time on the creation of the singer-songwriter’s posthumous persona as seen in the documentary film Il Principe libero, that came out last year. I’m hoping to present this research at a conference over the summer.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Watching the Detectives in Hull

Here’s the post I wrote for the Watching the Transnational Detectives project, which was a report on our Watching the Detectives screenings that were held at the University of Hull. I presented a version of this report at our Detectives conference that was held at the IMLR earlier this month:

Watching the Transnational Detectives: Conference Roundtable

The project that has inspired this conference is entitled ‘Watching the Transnational Detectives’, and is being run by the four of us here from Modern Languages at Hull, together with Tamsin Boynton, who is a PhD student on the project. As you know, we have received funding from the AHRC Open World Research Initiative, as part of the strand of research that is taking place on Multilingualism (headed up by the University of Cambridge). Our research focuses on the international crime dramas that recently have begun to routinely draw large numbers of British television viewers and are part of a boom in foreign language programmes that are now available to audiences through a variety of platforms and services. The questions we really want to address are around audience reception: whilst audiences are viewing our favourite 9pm crime show, what else are they discovering about the country they are seeing and the people they are hearing on screen? Does their viewing influence their attitudes about languages and encourage them to embark on learning a new language? We are examining in particular, then, the ways in which viewers respond to languages and multiculturalism as showcased in a range of six well-loved crime dramas from France, Italy and Germany. We are interested in the impact these series have on audience’s perceptions of nationhood, foreign languages and cultures, and language learning. Our ultimate aim, then, is to establish the extent to which such programmes can encourage and promote multilingualism in twenty-first century Britain.

To that end, we have held a series of public screenings of these crime dramas, which have involved us coming together to watch just one episode from a series with our audience, and then conducting a Q&A session – with a difference! This time, we have been asking the audience the questions about what struck them about these programmes. The six programmes we have featured have been:

Spiral, the French television police procedural and legal drama series set in Paris.

Inspector Montalbano, the Italian series that tells the story of the inspector’s detective work in and around the fictional Sicilian town of Vigata.

Falke, the gritty German crime drama that follows Inspector Thorsten Falke, a stubborn Hamburg detective, and takes us into the heart of contemporary German society.

Mafiosa, the French series set on Corsica, which charts the trials of a female mafia boss.

Maltese: The Mafia Detective, the Italian miniseries set in 1970s’ Sicily, which tells the story of Maltese’s return to the island to conduct a murder investigation that reveals a complex web of widespread corruption and the omnipresence of the Mafia in the area.

Dark, the German family saga with a supernatural twist, which sees children disappearing from a town in a way that follows a historical pattern.

The questions we have then asked our participants are as follows:

1) Have you seen an episode of this show before?

2) What were your first or second impressions? What struck you most?

3) What do you think the programme revealed about France/Italy/Germany and French/Italian/German culture? Did that match your expectations?

4) Could this episode have been set anywhere? What is culturally specific to what you have just watched?

5) Can you pick out three French/Italian/German words that are new to you (perhaps repeated throughout the programme)? Did you understand their meaning? How? Did you have any previous knowledge of the language to help you?

6) How important do you think it is to have the sound on to appreciate what is being said? Would you prefer to watch a dubbed version of the show? Why or why not?

7) Does watching the programme make you want to visit the country/location? And learn the language? Why/why not?

8) Would you watch the next episode?

So today, I want to share some of our initial findings with you, drawn from the post-screening conversations we had from our six sessions (I’ll then say a little more about the demographic of our audiences in a moment, and also about some of the challenges we have faced!).

In terms of what whether these series could be set anywhere, and what then was culturally specific about the programmes we were watching, the responses varied according to the shows. For Spiral and Falke, for example, our audiences suggested that apart from a few establishing shots in the former, these programmes could have been set anywhere (for Spiral, the location could have been any big city, perhaps New York or London; for Falke, our East Yorkshire audience was struck by how similar the landscape in the countryside outside of Hamburg is to areas of East Yorkshire and particularly to places around the city of Hull). What was culturally specific, then, were things to do with content. For Spiral, the audience focused on the presence of corruption in French society (and said this confirmed a perception they had of France) and also the specificity of the French judicial and police systems. But the plot was then international in nature, and the concepts that the plot then dealt were described as neutral (ie, not culturally specific to France). The only culturally specific element in Falke, our audience said, was tied to the language. The plot again was deemed to be international, containing tropes that are common to the genre of international crime dramas.

In contrast, Inspector Montalbano, Mafiosa, and Maltese were all seen to be intrinsically linked to their locations but where that location was, was perhaps more debatable. There was an obvious aspect of Mediterranean-ness to all these series, with our audiences suggesting that the programmes didn’t feel particularly French or Italian but rather part of a Mediterranean culture that meant that the shows could have been situated in Greece or Turkey, for example. The focus on the family, the depiction of the Mafia, and the presence of corruption were again identified as culturally-specific to these areas, and particularly an aspect of Italian culture (stereotypically, according to some of our viewers).

In terms of language, we have had some really interesting discussions with our audiences regarding subtitling and the importance of the sound of the language. For nearly all members of our audience, it would have been impossible to watch any of these shows with the sound off. Not only is the background music important to understanding what is happening and building up the tension and suspense, the sound of the language itself is crucial to understanding some of the cultural specificity of these shows and grasping the elements that are specific to locations and nations. One participant explained that you don’t need to understand the words to get the meaning of a conversation: tone of voice can be enough to understand the emotion of the characters, all of which then contribute to the atmosphere of the programme. Many of our viewers also said they would not watch a dubbed version of these programmes, because dubbing, they said, added distance and another cultural interpretation that wouldn’t be there in the original. Where members of the audience would have been happy to watch a dubbed version of these shows, we discovered that they were already used to watching dubbed programming due to their background (these viewers tended to come from countries other than the UK, where dubbing, they explained, was much more the norm). One viewer who grew up outside the UK insisted that use of dubbing broadened the audience since ‘[the viewers] don’t care where it is set, they just want to know whodunnit!’ It was then the UK viewers, often new to foreign-language drama / who did not grow up with foreign-language drama, who would prefer to not watch a dubbed version and to also keep the sound on to hear the language, if only for its aesthetic quality to help set the scene and tone of the show.

From our perspective, what was then interesting was the nature of the conversations we had regarding whether the programmes made you want to learn the language. For Spiral, for example, one audience member explained that he regretted that his French was so poor that he had needed the subtitles to understand what was being said. Whilst he could grasp the gist of a conversation from the tone of voice and context, he needed the subtitles to understand the precise meaning of the words, which he felt was important for his enjoyment of the show. He was interested in watching more episodes of Spiral, but also in developing his knowledge of French (which was GCSE level), to be able to understand what was going on without needing the subtitles all the time. For the Italian series, our viewers did not feel encouraged to learn the language due to the speed of the conversations! However, they were very interested in visiting places where the series were set (Sicily) – suggesting that the promotional, touristic aspect of Montalbano in particular also works in the UK context.

Of course, we are still going through the discussions and need more time to analyse the significance of the responses we received from our audience members. One challenge we have had, though, has been in the recruiting of viewers (and we’d love to hear your experiences of this and whether this has been your experience). We have had audiences of around 10 for each screening, but the members of the general public who have attended have then tended to have some links with the University and/or with languages anyway. We have had real difficulty reaching out to the general public, and attracting those viewers with little to no knowledge of the three languages involved. We are therefore having difficulty assessing the extent to which the comments about the ‘foreign’ aspects of these programmes would actually reflect the perceptions of the wider general public. We would therefore very much appreciate any feedback or guidance you might be able to offer on how we might engage with different audiences, as well as any comments you might have about the responses our viewers have given and whether there are similarities or differences to what you might have found, working in other contexts. And we of course welcome questions! Thank you.

 

You can follow the project at: https://watchdetectives.wordpress.com/

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

On Mina, Celentano and Le Migliori

I’ve just finished a chapter on Mina, Celentano, and Le Migliori that will hopefully be included in an edited volume on Italian Popular Culture. It’s been great fun talking about the iconic status of Mina and Celentano and thinking critically about the marketing of their 2016 duet album, Le Migliori, and, in particular, how the marketing strategy uses and reaffirms the stars’ iconic status, and celebrate what they have come to mean within Italian culture.

I’ve focused in particular on the music videos produced for the first two singles: ‘Amami amami’ and ‘A un passo da te’. Here they are:

 

 

I’m not going to say much more on what I thought about these videos – to find out, you’ll have to read the chapter when it’s out!

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2018 in Uncategorized