- Published: September 4, 2022
- Updated: September 4, 2022
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This Essay will discuss how neo realism only lasted ten years and how it was committed to representing life as it was lived, in complete contrast to the fascist propaganda films it superseded. It will discuss and debate this by analyzing some of the most prominent films and their directors that represented the movement.
The main exponents of the neorealist movement were Visconti, Rossellini and De Sica (Hayward, 2000), “ The Movement lasted from 1942 to 1952, even though critics credit Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 (Rome Open City) as being the first truly neo-realist film, Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) was really the herald of the movement, and in fact the scriptwriter of Visconti’s film, Antonio Pietrangeli, coined the term neo-realism in 1943 when talking about Ossessione” (Hayward, 2000 p. 02) The majority of films being made in Italy before the movement started came to be known as white telephone films, these were lighthearted melodramas usually laced with fascist propaganda and highly censored by the authorities (Bordwell and Thompson, 1980 p. 316), they showed life in Italy in a completely different light to the reality of the time. They showed an Italian society that was happy contented and well structured.
There was no real meaning to these melodramas, they just ambled along showing the supposedly easygoing contented life of the Italian people living at the time, often depicting melodramatic conversations of affluent characters talking on the telephone. Which ultimately gave them the label white telephone films. There was never any mention of Mussolini’s travesty, the real society, with the oppression, poverty, desperation and lack of solidarity that was playing out on the city streets. The Neorealist filmmakers saw their gritty films as a reaction to the idealized Telefono Bianco style. They compared and contrasted the high-almighty gimmicks of set and studio production, with the devastated beauty of everyday, rigorous human life and suffering, and chose to work on location and with non-professional actors instead”. (Woody Lindsey, 2010). The neo-realist’s were credited by with being the ultimate downfall of these government propaganda films claiming they didn’t show how the vast majority f people in Italy’s fractured society lived. Films like the Bicycle Thieves (De Sica 1948) were controversial at the time for showing the reality of life for the impoverished Italian people. In the Bicycle Thieves (De Sica 1948) we see how Italian society had been broken down, the economic depression and dehumanization of the people becomes apparent. De Sica does this by using on location shooting showing the rundown cities where the people live. To complement the films he also uses unknown actors for many of the parts.
Bruno In the Bicycle thieves (De Sica 1948) was a factory worker; his powerful hands, his almost awkward stature combined with his deep expressionless face, almost force us to empathize with him, dragging us deeper into the characters psyche. This coupled with the documentary style narrative of the film that can be seen as encapsulating the Cinema verite technique show us the utter desperation and oppression of the people living in Italy under the Mussolini fascist regime. in complete contrast to the white telephone films it superseded.
So it can be argued that the neorealist movement represented the real people in Italian society, the unemployed, the desperate and the desolate. Like in the majority of the neorealist movements films, most of the characters were emotionally driven. Referring to Bruno in the Bicycle thieves (De Sica 1948). His world was collapsing, his family needed supporting so he went out to find work, having found that work. On condition he had a bicycle he and his wife set out to pawn their belongings to facilitate a bicycle thus allowing him to get the job.
As the scene unfolds the cinematography and mise –en – scene catapult us into the bleak reality of their predicaments, perfectly depicting the oppressed of Italian society. As the pawnbroker climbs the ladder to place the couples wedding dowry on the pile, the camera tilts up and reveals the scale of the hardship as no words could ever encapsulate, the never ending stack of sheets show the brutal extent of the poverty and economic depression Mussolini’s fascist regime has allowed this desperate society to slump to.
Bicycle thieves (De Sica 1948) show the viewer the lack of humanity and morality in Italian society of the time. We see how one poor desperate human being steals the bicycle of a poor worker to facilitate his own livelihood. Here De Sica again shows us the desperation of the Italian people we see how poverty has driven one poor soul to knowingly steal the livelihood of another. The hopelessness of the situation is so apparent and shows how this dog eat dog world is leading to the ultimate breakdown of Italian society.
Because the studios were being used as refuge camps the neo-realists were forced to use on location shooting (Ruberto and Wilson, 2007) On location shooting brought its benefits, like the lower costs as they didn’t have to construct elaborate sets it also gave a distinct illusion of reality. Shooting the movies in the run down streets of Italy did give a certain cinematographic look and feel of shots. For example, the run down bombed out urban buildings in Rome Open City (Rossellini, 1945) show the true nature and reality of the suffering and oppression of the Italian people.
Another example is the rows and rows of bicycle part peddler’s in the Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948) the sheer scale of the event was enormous and would have been near on impossible to have been realized if the bicycle peddlers were not already in situ. Therefore it could be argued that these scenes in the Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948) are unsurpassed and truly a masterpiece in on location mise-en-scene. Yet the reality of the situation was a lot more difficult. The disadvantages of on location shooting were just as significant as the advantages.
For example, It was impossible to ascertain what would happen on the Italian streets, the non-digetic sound of aircraft or cars could ruin a take, the lighting was forever changing and obviously the European weather was always unpredictable. Because of all this, many of the neorealist movement’s films had to be, and were dubbed. (Berg, 2010). “ This tendency is demonstrated in the neorealist practice of dubbing the soundtrack in post-production and in the deprioritization of elements such as script, dialogue and literary sources which are central to other cinemas, especially Hollywood.
Because the dubbing of films had been compulsory under the fascist regime, most neorealist films were shot without sound and all dialogue was added to the image track after the fact. (Mark Shiel, 2006 p. 11). It could be argued that this amount of dubbing would reflect on the authenticity of the film and would be detrimental to the finished production, yet ” As in the case of Rome Open City (Rossellini, 1945), Italian filmmakers had become quite expert in the technique by the 1940s and, in most cases, any loss of realism due to dubbing was compensated for y the distinctive mobility and expanded field of view which relatively lightweight silent film cameras afforded the cinematographer” . (Mark Shiel, 2006 p. 12). Therefore it could be argued that due to the skills and vision of the cinematographers, combined with the new lightweight cameras and equipment they were using that the dubbing of the films had no real detrimental effect on the finished production. Also it could be argued the assumption that the neo-realists were forced to use on location shooting because the studios were being used as refugee camps was nothing but an elaborate smoke screen.
It is more likely that the neo-realists shunned shooting in the studios because they so wanted to show what was really going on in the streets of the run down Italian towns. Also It could be suggested that if the studios were to used, would the neo-realists have had the money and resources to build the elaborate sets they would have required to produce the cinematic masterpieces they produced. The argument would be, these films would not have had the recognition and acclaim they received at the time, leading up to the present day where there films are still being criticality acclaimed by the industry.
Numerous also being used by many a college and university, utilizing the ten years of the movement as a module for the purpose of teaching not only about the Italian neorealist movement but giving an insight into the history of cinema verite that ultimately lead to the documentary and social realist genres of today with directors like Ken Loach. Loach’s work for instance uses many of the themes and styles we see the neo-realists use, take Kes (Loach, 1969) for example, showing the struggles of the working classes of the 1960s and 1970s.
Loach like the exponents of the neorealist movement focuses on the social issues facing the population. He also uses on location shooting, showing the dreary rundown council estates of the era. He very often uses non-actors, many of his characters are normal people, deprived, detached and living on the edges of society. He like the neo-realist’s also shows the lack of solidarity and deprivation of the common people as they struggle to eek out an existence in a destitute society
To conclude, would it be right to argue that the neo-realists knew exactly what they were doing when they used on location shooting. They wanted to capture the tension and degradation in Italian society and to do this they needed to be amongst the people that were reflected in the films. The objective of the neorealist movement was borne out of necessity. To show the true Italy they had to use the actual locations. Also It could be argued that neorealist movement lasted more than the ten years it is credited for and that it is still lives on to the present day. eing just as vibrant and relevant now in 2011 as it was in the nineteen forties. One of the most prominent themes that link the films together is editing, or lack of editing for that matter. The real time editing and slow narrative pace give a documentary feel to the films, these themes run parallel throughout all the films in the neorealist movement we often see long drawn out shots. For example in Obsession (Visconti, 1943) Giovanna (Clara Calamai) sits in the dilapidated kitchen and starts to eat, as she eats she reads a newspaper, clearly weary and exhausted she falls asleep.
This real time editing can be seen throughout all the texts in the neorealist movement. In Rome open City, (Rossellini, 1945) the pregnant Pina’s view to the view from the truck, until the shot is fired as we watch from the moving truck (Souter, 2009) shows the shear brilliance of Rossellini, bringing this unconventional scene to horrifying and harrowing crescendo. The movement rarely used any other notable editing techniques other than the use of the odd transition, like pan and wipe in the Bicycle thieves (De Sica, 1948), this allowed the films to flow and show a sense of reality.
Unlike the white telephone films and the American imports, Visconti concentrates on the ordinary. In Obsession (Visconti, 1943), He reveals his characters wildest passions, their tormented existence, the lust, adultery and even hints of homosexuality. These themes were highly controversial and virtually unheard of at the time, Obsession (Visconti, 1943), ultimately culminates in the murder of Giovanna’s aging fat husband Bragana. Giovanna’s had married him for money and security, yet when a handsome tramp appears at the door Giovanna’s falls in love with him and they decide to kill Bragana.
By concentrating on the ordinary mundane lives the people lead at the time, the degradation and squalor they live in. Visconti encapsulates the lives of the desperate people living in war torn Italy. To watch many of there films in the here and now and feel the long drawn out slow narrative, combined with the depressing nature of the films is hard to digest and follow. It could be argued that to watch them in the time of war dictatorship and abstract poverty at the time was even more of a traumatic experience for the people of Italy, thus leading to the demise of the movement. This also may explain the seemingly disproportionate impact of the movement that lasted only ten years, generated only twenty-one films, failed at the box office, and fell short of its didactic and esthetic aspirations” (Marcus, 1986 p. 263) For ten years the neorealist movement had shown how Italian society was fragmented and broken, by this time even the neo-realists themselves had become weary and disenchanted with the style and themes of films they were making.
The constant self-imposed barriers they had setup for themselves started to become a hindrance. Times were changing Italian society was becoming more affluent and the issues that the neorealist movement had concentrated on were becoming less and less relevant. The main exponents of the movement had moved on in their careers as filmmaker’s and directors and soon became disenchanted by having to stick to the rules that had signified and governed the neorealist movement. his could be argued as being one of the main reasons for the downfall of the movement. The simple fact of the matter was that the issues that had give credence to the movement were not relevant anymore. This was an issue that could not be overcome and ultimately added to the downfall of the movement. After the war was over the there was a change in government and the people were becoming more affluent. The Italian government blamed neorealist films for “ washing dirty linen in public” and for “ slandering Italy abroad” (Ruberto and Wilson, 2007 p. 6). This became the downfall of the neorealist movement as the people became fed up with the depressing films the neo-realists had to offer and started to lean more towards the upbeat American imports that were flooding the market many of these were not dissimilar to the white telephone films the neo realist movement had superceded. (Ruberto and Wilson, 2007) “ In the (The Path to the Nest of Spiders, 1947), Italo Calvino (1923–1985) reminded his readers that Italian neorealism was never a school with widely shared theoretical principles.
Rather, it arose from a number of closely associated discoveries of an Italian popular culture that had traditionally been ignored by “ high” Italian culture. Neorealist film and literature replaced an official cinema and literature characterized by pompous rhetoric and a lack of interest in the quotidian and the commonplace”. (Jesse Wolf, 2011). In conclusion .. This Essay set out to discuss how neo realism only lasted ten years and how it was committed to representing life as it was lived, in complete contrast to the fascist propaganda films it superseded.
It has looked at and evaluated the facts and drawn many conclusions. The goal of the neorealist movement was to show life as it was really being lived, the poverty and deprivation that Mussolini’s fascist government had forced on the people. The real-time editing, on location shooting and controversial themes interlaced with non-actors and strategic mise-en scene and new camera equipment gave the neo-realists powerful tools to get their message across to the viewer.
This being said the movement in Italy was like a ferocious fire that inevitably would burn itself out as society got more affluent and the people and the exponents of the movement got sick of the themes that the neo-realist’s represented. When the war was over and the market was flooded with cheap upbeat American imports the nails were in the coffin for the movement in Italy. With diligent reading and research It could be assumed that the neorealist movement only lasted ten years because of the many different factors talked about in the preceding text or conversely it could be argued that neorealism in fact has never really ended at all. t has just moved from the grasp of the founding Italian directors to the wider film fraternity and has been renamed as social realism. There are so many similarities with today’s social realism genres that it could be argued that the demise of Italian neorealism was in the 1950s yet the movement lives on in the realism genres of today. Bibliography Susan Hayward (2000). Cinema studies the key concepts. 2nd ed. London: Routledge. p202. David Bordwell, Kristin Thomson (1980). Film Art. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. 316. Laura E. Ruberto, Kristi M. Wilson (2007). Italian neorealism and global cinema. Michigan: Wayne State University Press. Gordon Gray (2010) Cinema: a visual anthropology. Berg Editorial USA. Mark Shiel (2006). Italian neorealism: rebuilding the cinematic city Wallflower press. London. p11. Millicent Joy Marcus. (1986) Italian film in the light of neorealism. New Haven: Yale university USA. p 263. Filmograthy Visconti, L. (1942). Ossessione. [DVD]. Industrie Cinematografiche Italiane De Sica, V. (1948).
Ladri di biciclette [DVD]. Arrow films Rossellini, R. (1945). Roma Citta Aperta [DVD], Arrow Films Loach. K. (1969), Kes [DVD], MGM Entertainment Webograthy http://filmdirectors. co/italian-neorealism-film-techniques/ (Woody Lindsey, 2010) Accessed on, 10/04/2011 http://wolfe-fil3037. blogspot. com/2011/02/reading-assignment. html (Jesse Wolf, 2011) Accessed on, 03/04/2011 http://www. filmreference. com/encyclopedia/Independent-Film-Road-Movies/Neorealism-HISTORICAL-ORIGINS-OF-ITALIAN-NEOREALISM. html Accsesed on 12/03/2011
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