Early on a windy morning in April 1953, the body of a young woman washed up on a beach outside of Rome. Her name was Wilma Montesi, and, as the papers reported, she had left her home in the city centre a day earlier, alone. The police called her death an accidental drowning. But the public was not convinced. In the cafes around the Via Veneto, people began to speak - of the son of a powerful politician, lavish parties, movie stars, orgies, drugs. How this news item of everyday life exploded into one of the greatest scandals of a modern democracy is the story Karen Pinkus tells in "The Montesi Scandal". Wilma's death brought to the surface every simmering element of Italian culture: bitter aspiring actresses, corrupt politicians, nervous Jesuits in sunglasses, jaded princes. Italians of all types lined up to testify in the death of the middle-class carpenter's daughter. They sold their stories to the tabloids, only to retract them. They posed for pictures while pretending to shun the spotlight. Pinkus takes us through Rome in the 1950s, linking Wilma's death to the beginnings of the "dolce vita" and following the first paparazzi on their scooters as they shoot the protagonists.
More than a meditation of the intricate ties among cinema, paparazzo photography and Italian life, "The Montesi Scandal" narrates the story and its characters as the notes for an unrealized film, brilliant in form and conception. As the reader discovers, the story of Wilma Montesi cannot be understood except as a film -but, ironically, one that seems impossible to produce.
Karen Pinkus lives in Hollywood and is associate professor of Italian, French, and comparative literature at the University of Southern California, where she also chairs the Department of French and Italian. She is the author of "Picturing Silence: Emblem, Language, Counter-Reformation Materiality" and "Bodily Regimes: Italian Advertising under Fascism."