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Italian Neorealism Between Hollywood and Nation

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  1. Italian Neorealism Between Hollywood and Nation

  2. Thinking Italian Film project • Italian Studies, 2008 • Neorealism • Hollywood and Nation • Stazione Termini/Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953)

  3. What We Talk About When We Talk About Neorealism • 1943-53 • Documentary-style • Politically committed • Opposed to star-driven practices of Hollywood • De Sica’s Sciuscia (1946), Bicycle Thieves (1948), Rossellini’s Rome Open City (1945) and Paisa’ (1946)

  4. (Hayward 203): ‘one film meets with all these tenets [of neorealism]: Bicycle Thieves’ • Neorealism supposedly based on real-life subject matter

  5. Legacies • Moral and ideological stance • ‘Cinema of the Liberation’ (Bazin, 1948) • Constant reference point • Gomorrah (Garrone, 2008): ‘neo-neo-realism’ Gomorrah

  6. Critical topoi: • Rhetoric of crisis: fall, belatedness, loss • New beginning – Edenic • Stasis of discourse: 2007 debate on ‘The Crisis of a Cinema Without Language’ • LA CRISI DI UN CINEMA SENZA LINGUAGGIO

  7. Critical topos 2: • Great auteurs as masters • Fellini’s description of Rossellini: • ‘Adam, a kind of progenitor from whom we are all descended’

  8. Critical topos 3: • Neorealism as national cinema and collective sounding board • Importance of ‘national reference’ – Millicent Marcus • ‘mirror of national life’ – Gian Piero Brunetta

  9. Transnational turn in film studies ignored • Vitali and Willemen (2006): ‘Films can be seen not to “reflect”, but to “stage” the historical conditions that constitute ‘the national’ (8) • Cinema itself as ‘instrument for social regeneration’ (Gundle: 2000, 27)

  10. Series of Exclusions • ‘rejection of the star concept’ (Bazin, 1948) • Generic influences: melodrama especially • Bazin ‘demon of melodrama’ (1948) • Female address • Address to nation • Caldwell (2000): neorealism created little discursive space for the specific experience of women

  11. Wood (2005) on neorealism rosa = pink neorealism • Female-addressed form of popular realism • O’Leary (2007) – masculinist terms of discourse of ‘impegno’ (political commitment)

  12. L’Unita’ • 1955 ‘enquiry’ on Cinema e popolo • Distinction reiterated between ‘the public’ (pubblico) and ‘the people’ (popolo) • Gramscian conception of popolo and the popular still dominates • Inductive fallacy

  13. Hollywood • Cesare Zavattini: neorealism opposed to Hollywood practice • American realism, eg Vidor’s The Crowd, or Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, were acceptable models

  14. Neorealism constructed critically through its reception in the US • Two Oscar nominations for De Sica (Sciuscia’, Bicycle Thieves) • ‘New Italian realism’ successful import Anna Magnani in Un uomo ritorna (1946) – released as Revenge in USA 1947

  15. Transnational address? • Use of American actors/GIs (Paisa’,Tombolo paradiso nero (Tombolo, Ferroni, 1947), Senza pieta’ (Without Pity, Lattuada, 1948) • Americanized star figures • Riso amaro (Bitter Rice, De Santis, 1948), Il bandito (The Outlaw, Lattuada, 1946), Desiderio (Desire, Pagliero 1946)

  16. Co-productions and Collaborations • Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman, Stromboli (1949) and Viaggio in Italia (Journey to Italy, 1953) • Anna Magnani directed by William Dieterle in Vulcano (1949) • Stazione Termini – De Sica and David O. Selznick

  17. Stazione Termini (1953) • Financed/co-produced by David O. Selznick • Starring Jennifer Jones, Montgomery Clift • Released in the US as Indiscretion of an American Wife • Excluded from De Sica filmographies and dismissed by critics

  18. US trailer: • Clash of cinematographic practices • Long shots of material environment vs soft-focus star close-ups • Neorealism vs codes of ‘woman’s film’

  19. Creative Struggle • G.R. Aldo (La terra trema, Umberto D) replaced as close-up photographer by Oswald Morris • DOS flew in Richard Van Hessen (It’s a Wonderful Life, The Paradine Case) to oversee sound post-production

  20. Selznick vs De Sica • Framed as struggle over notions of quality and craftsmanship • ‘the subsequent revelation of the lenses used by Aldo so shocked the entire film community that it became a matter of public debate’ (23/2/52).

  21. Value of the Star • DOS: ‘the distortion of Jennifer’s face and figure into a monstrosity because of the almost irrational insistence upon giving superior consideration to the photography of buildings literally two city blocks away’ • Different visual schemes – lighting, framing, lenses

  22. Conclusion: Questions of Definition • Hallam and Marshment (2000): neorealism as ‘vacant signifier’ • Bracket it with film noir as a ‘flexible container’ • Noir: ‘conceptual black hole’ • Neale (2000): ‘noir never existed’ • Bazin (1955): ‘le néoréalisme n’existe pas en soi’

  23. Film, History, Nation • Duncan (2008): ‘Histories of Italian cinema tell a national story […] The point and project of such histories, it must be remembered, is not to furnish a descriptive account of what happened. Rather, their purpose is to stake a claim that would align time and space in a gesture that is recuperative and utopian. It is a claim that, in the most positive sense, makes the nation up.’