The day I met Rudolf Arnheim, in summer 2005, changed my view of research and methodology. At that time, he was a 101-year-old retired professor and I was a 25-year-old undergraduate researching for my MA thesis. I was attempting to reconstruct the wide and deep (and partially still hidden) contribution of Arnheim’s film theory to the Italian cultural context of the Thirties. I was conducting research at Yale University and University of Michigan as a visiting student. Once in Ann Arbor, I realized that I could not miss the chance to meet him in person. I asked his stepdaughter for permission to visit him, and I wrote him a letter to announce my visit. A few days later, I spent an hour with him at the retirement community where he lived.
It was one of the most impressive and influential meeting of my life so far. Although I knew Arnheim was easily tired and had difficulties in communicating, my bag and my mind were full of ideas and topics to discuss. However, the person I met was not a ‘sacred monster’, the ‘classic theorist’ Rudolf Arnheim. I met just a man. I found him very receptive and affable, albeit too old and ill for a ‘scientific’ conversation. Nothing of direct use for my thesis came out of that meeting, in strictly scientific terms. But the human value of that contact was inestimable, and it is still an influence on my everyday work.
The results of that research culminated in the the book I baffi di Charlot. Scritti italiani sul cinema 1932-1938 (Kaplan: Turin 2009, 400 pp.).