All of a sudden (in 1938 I think), in order to extend its autarchy to the domain of cinema, Italy decreed an embargo on American films. It wasn’t a question of censorship: as usual the censors granted or denied permission to individual films, and nobody saw the ones that didn’t get it and that was it. In spite of the awkward anti-Hollywood propaganda campaign that accompanied the measure (right around that time the regime began to conform to Hitler’s racism), the true reason for the embargo was supposed to be commercial protectionism, in order to make room in the market for Italian (and German) productions. For this reason the four largest American production and distribution companies—Metro, Fox, Paramount, Warner—(I’m still relying on memory, trusting the accuracy of the registration of my trauma), whereas films by other American companies like RKO, Columbia, Universal, United Artists (which had also been distributed before then by Italian companies) continued to arrive until 1941, that is until Italy found itself at war with the United States. I was still granted some sporadic satisfaction (in fact, one of the greatest: Stagecoach [John Ford, 1939]) but my collector’s voracity suffered a fatal blow.
Compared to all of the prohibitions and obligations that fascism had imposed on us, and to the even more severe ones that it continued to enforce in those years before and then during the war, the veto on American films was certainly a minor or small loss, and I wasn’t foolish enough not to know it. Yet it was the first to affect me directly, and I hadn’t known any years other than those of fascism nor had I felt any needs other than those that the environment in which I lived could suggest and satisfy. It was the first time a right I enjoyed had been taken from me: more than a right, a dimension, a world, a space in my mind; and I felt this loss as cruel oppression which embodied all the forms of oppression that I’d heard about or seen other people suffer. If I can still talk about it today like a lost privilege it’s because something disappeared like that from my life, never to return again. So many things had changed after the war was over: I’d changed, cinema had become something else, something different in itself and in relation to me. My biography as a spectator resumed, but it was that of another spectator who wasn’t just a spectator anymore.