The Montesi Scandal

The Death of Wilma Montesi and the Birth of the Paparazzi in Fellini's Rome

Karen Pinkus

The Montesi Scandal
Read an excerpt.

Karen Pinkus

184 pages | 46 halftones | 7 x 8-1/2 | © 2003
Cloth $38.00 ISBN: 9780226668482 Published May 2003
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 center a day earlier, alone. The police called her death an accidental drowning. But the public was not convinced. In the cafés 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 court or to journalists of varying legitimacy-about the death of the middle-class carpenter's daughter, in the process creating a media frenzy and the modern culture of celebrity. Witnesses sold their stories to the tabloids, only to retract them. They posed for pictures, pretending to shun the spotlight. And they in turn became celebrities in their own right.

Pinkus takes us through the alleys and entryways of Rome in the 1950s, linking Wilma's death to the beginnings of the dolce vita, now synonymous with modern Roman life. Pinkus follows the first paparazzi on their scooters as they shoot the protagonists and gives us an insider's view of the stories and trials that came to surround this lonely figure that washed up on the shores of Ostia. Full of the magnificent paparazzi photos of the protagonists in the drama and film stills from the era's landmark movies, The Montesi Scandal joins true crime with "high" culture in an original form, one true to both the period and the cinematic conception of life it created. More than a meditation of the intricate ties among movies, paparazzo photography, and Italian culture, The Montesi Scandal narrates Wilma's story and its characters as the notes for an unrealized film, but one that, as the reader discovers, seems impossible to produce.
Cast of Characters
Part One - Wilma Goes Out
Cinematic Moments
Part Two - The Muto Trial
Part Three - The Pause
Part Four - The Venice Trial
Part Five - The Afterlife of Scandal
Photo Credits
Review Quotes
Andy Gurndberg | New York Times Book Review, Photography “Books of the Year” feature, 2003
“Literary [and not] easy to pigeonhole is <I>The Montesi Scandal<I>, Karen Pinkus’s captivating account<\#209>in quasi-screenplay form<\#209> of the moment in postwar Italy when politics, cinema and paparazzi photography coalesced into a single culture.”<\#209>Andy Gurndberg, <I>New York Times Book Review<I>, Photography “Books of the Year” feature, 2003
Caroline Moorehead | Spectator
“[Pinkus] casts her fresh look at Wilma’s death in the form of an imaginary film treatment. . . . The format is excellent at conveying the hectic and hopeful mood of the time. . . . These grainy, static images are extraordinarily evocative of the particular mixture of glamour and seediness that drew so many writers and film-makers to Rome after the war. For the pictures alone, <I>The Montesi Scandal<I> is well worth buying.”
The New Republic Online
“When the body of Wilma Montesi<\#209>an ‘Anygirl,’ Karen Pinkus calls her<\#209>washed up on a beach outside Rome in 1953, the police ruled her death accidental, but the case soon took on a life of its own, exploding in the newspapers in a storm of rumors. Pinkus’s ingenious book (she is a professor at the University of California) tracks the case in screenplay format, including cast of characters, dialogue, and detailed notes on shots and settings. Gorgeously designed and illustrated, it seems to invent a new genre: the movie never meant to be made.”<\#209><I>The New Republic Online
Rachel Donadio | New York Sun
“Savvy . . . <I>The Montesi Scandal<I> [is] a slim, illustrated volume which reconstructs the scandal in a format that’s part screenplay, part tabloid, and part film theory. Ms. Pinkus brings a Hollywood sensibility to the Montesi story. She hews to the scandal’s basic chronology, yet adds flourishes that make the press coverage and trial transcripts come alive. . . . It is actually hard to imagine a better format to situate the Montesi scandal in the context of the Italy of Fellini’s paparazzi and Pasolini’s soulless postwar apartment complexes, of back-room-dealing Christian Democrats, Fiat 600s, dance halls, and tabloid magazines. Ms. Pinkus hasn’t uncovered any new evidence, but she has masterfully made her medium her message: a collage that mirrors the scandal itself, where fragmented truths don’t cohere into a whole and tabloid images take on a life of their own, beyond the foggy reality of whatever happened. In doing so, Ms. Pinkus helps us understand that darkest of sunny countries, one that seems to reveal itself best in scandal.”<\#209>Rachel Donadio, <I>New York Sun
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