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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

Ethics in the Essay Film

Larke-Walsh, George S. (2015) Ethics in the Essay Film. In: University Film and Video Association Annual Conference, Aug 4-8, 2015, American University, Washington DC, USA.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Marco Turco’s Excellent Cadavers is marketed as a film of investigative journalism designed to praise the heroism of Italian prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in their fight against the Sicilian Mafia. However, the graphic still images, emotive soundtrack, and essayist narrative that structure the film suggest a more nuanced articulation of events. Turco’s film is both a lamentation and an intellectual reflection on the existence of organized crime in modern Italy. As such, it lends itself to Timothy Corrigan’s description of the essay film, “where the essayistic indicates a kind of encounter between the self and the public domain” (6).

This paper will discuss the fusion of photojournalism and essayistic practices in Excellent Cadavers. It will focus on how the essayistic qualities of the film draws audiences into the emotional tragedy of the events, while simultaneously maintaining an intellectual distance from them, their causes and consequences. Excellent Cadavers offers, not only an editorial opinion on the historical events in Sicily, but also a narrative of classically tragic proportions. It is a film about honorable men and a dishonorable state; where the distinctions between political legislation, justice and mafia operations are not always clear. The San Francisco Chronicle declares the documentary as “worthy of Greek tragedy”, while Maddelena Spazzini proclaims the connections between politics and Mafia a product of “ineluctable fate” (376). Turco’s film is meant to be a brutal exposé of Mafia violence, however its essayist structure has instead created a meditation on the mythology of the Sicilian Mafia and Italian politics to such an extent that ‘brutality’ is elevated to the level of classical tragedy. As an editorial essay film, its emotional qualities can be found in the multi-layered and contradictory impact of the narration and images. The film avoids any first-person identification with mafiosi, but it cannot diminish the epic nature of mafia brutality, its influence on the political state and the mythologies that abound in consequence of that.

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Depositing User: George Larke-Walsh


Item ID: 13059
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Catalogue record

Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2021 10:02
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2021 10:02


Author: George S. Larke-Walsh

University Divisions

Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries > School of Media and Communications


Media > Cinema and Film
Media > Film
Media > Media and Cultural Studies

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