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Global Neorealism

Global Neorealism: The Transnational History of a Film Style

Saverio Giovacchini
Robert Sklar
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Global Neorealism
    Book Description:

    Intellectual, cultural, and film historians have long considered neorealism the founding block of post-World War II Italian cinema. Neorealism, the traditional story goes, was an Italian film style born in the second postwar period and aimed at recovering the reality of Italy after the sugarcoated moving images of Fascism. Lasting from 1945 to the early 1950s, neorealism produced world-renowned masterpieces such as Roberto Rossellini'sRoma, città aperta(Rome, Open City, 1945) and Vittorio De Sica'sLadri di biciclette(Bicycle Thieves, 1947). These films won some of the most prestigious film awards of the immediate postwar period and influenced world cinema.

    This collection brings together distinguished film scholars and cultural historians to complicate this nation-based approach to the history of neorealism. The traditional story notwithstanding, the meaning and the origins of the term are problematic. What does neorealism really mean, and how Italian is it? Italian filmmakers were wary of using the term and Rossellini preferred "realism." Many filmmakers confessed to having greatly borrowed from other cinemas, including French, Soviet, and American.

    Divided into three sections,Global Neorealismexamines the history of this film style from the 1930s to the 1970s using a global and international perspective. The first section examines the origins of neorealism in the international debate about realist esthetics in the 1930s. The second section discusses how this debate about realism was "Italianized" and coalesced into Italian "neorealism" and explores how critics and film distributors participated in coining the term. Finally, the third section looks at neorealism's success outside of Italy and examines how film cultures in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the United States adjusted the style to their national and regional situations.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-123-6
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Geography and History of Global Neorealism
    (pp. 3-16)

    Among the terms that cinema scholars, critics, and filmmakers have developed in the course of the twentieth century, few if any have had the staying power ofneorealism. Since 1943, when Umberto Barbaro took the term from literary analysis and employed it to describe French realist cinema of the 1930s,¹ the term has remained current, widely applied, and hotly debated in its definition. In 2008, after winning the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival for his film,Gomorra(Gomorrah), about the Italian Camorra’s stranglehold on the harbor of Naples, director Matteo Garrone pointed out that his movie was meant...

  5. PART 1

      (pp. 19-36)

      Continuity or discontinuity? This is the central dilemma of much of twentieth-century Italian history. Is there continuity or discontinuity between fascism and the Christian Democratic regime that followed it? Was fascism a real revolution, just as thequadrunviriclaimed, or a “revelation,” as Giustino Fortunato has argued,¹ that revealed conflicts already present in prefascist Italy? The question of continuity/discontinuity also arises in the political and cultural fields, especially on a terrain as delicate as the analysis of film. Thus, the “Italian” 1930s unfold horizontally onto a cultural geography that is more complex than we initially assumed. The decade also extends...

    • SOVIET-ITALIAN CINEMATIC EXCHANGES, 1920s–1950s From Early Soviet Film Theory to Neorealism
      (pp. 37-51)

      In theSoviet Dictionary of Film(Sovetskii kinoslovar’, 1970), the entry on Italian neorealism concludes, “Having emerged under the influence of Soviet cinema (theoretical works by Eisenstein and Pudovkin, and cinematic works by Dovzhenko, among others), neorealism in its turn influenced the work of the young Soviet filmmakers of the 1950s.”¹ In a similar vein, a recent Russian book on documentary contends, “The painstaking study of the films of Pudovkin and Donskoi at the Roman Experimental Center, which influenced the formation of neorealism, is well known.”²

      Yet what is “well known” in Russia is less so among film scholars brought...

      (pp. 52-68)

      The importance of the debates on the nature of realism in art and mass culture and on the role of nonfiction films in the formation of the fascist culture forces scholars not only to reevaluate the role of the documentary in the Italian context but also to rewrite the narrative of the genesis of neorealism as part of the evolving discourses on Italian modernity.¹ Documentary and newsreels played a key role in the process of modernization brought forward by the Italian fascist regime, both as documentations of the successes of governmental initiatives (the images of Il Duce leading the way...

  6. PART 2

    • “THE EXALTED SPIRIT OF THE ACTUAL” James Agee, Critic and Filmmaker, and the U.S. Response to Neorealism
      (pp. 71-86)

      Credit the U.S. film industry with early and powerful recognition of post–World War II Italian cinema. The Hollywood Motion Picture Academy in 1947 awarded its first-ever special Oscar for a non-English-language film toSciuscià(Shoeshine, 1946), stating that “the high quality of this Italian-made motion picture, brought to eloquent life in a country scarred by war, is proof to the world that the creative spirit can triumph over adversity.” Two years later the Academy’s board gave another Oscar toLadri di biciclette(Bicycle Thieves, 1948), “the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1949” (a...

    • MARKETING MEANING, BRANDING NEOREALISM Advertising and Promoting Italian Cinema in Postwar America
      (pp. 87-102)

      The New York premiere of Roberto Rossellini’sRoma, città aperta(rechristenedOpen Cityfor its American release) in the early months of 1946 in many ways signaled a turning point in the critical and popular reception of international cinema in the United States. Foreign films—especially those from Italy—were by no means new to New York’s film culture, butOpen Cityrepresented something different: a foreign film that made money. Most foreign-language films were little seen and largely unprofitable, relegated either to small neighborhood theaters catering to ethnic audiences or to art houses patronized primarily by small bands of...

    • NEOREALISM Another “Cinéma de Papa” for the French New Wave?
      (pp. 103-124)

      When the expression that would come to designate a group of bold, young French filmmakers first appeared in the French weeklyL’express,¹ Italian neorealism already belonged to the history of film. “Neorealism—The New Wave”: critics immediately associated the two movements. And indeed, they had much in common in terms of context (an unprecedented political and social crisis), style (natural, realistic, improvised), technology (basic and light), and plot (marginalized characters, dramatic situations) as well as in terms of the fact that they formed a minority within a very prolific mainstream film industry. In addition, neither movement constituted a homogenous group...

    • “WITH AN INCREDIBLE REALISM THAT BEATS THE BEST OF THE EUROPEAN CINEMAS” The Making of Barrio Gris and the Reception of Italian Neorealism in Argentina, 1947–1955
      (pp. 125-140)

      The silhouette of a mounted policeman rapidly crosses the screen. Surrounded by smoldering piles of garbage, a man is desperately climbing a street lamp. He is escaping in a dark night; a dense fog rises from the asphalt. He is dressed as acompadrito, a hoodlum from 1930s Buenos Aires. An orchestra starts a tango. The credits announce that Cinematográfica V and Mario Soffici are presenting the filmBarrio gris. The scene that follows, which is repeated at the end of the film, shows a contrasting image: a bright and sunny neighborhood full of children wearing neat school uniforms and...

    • LIVING IN PEACE AFTER THE MASSACRE Neorealism, Colonialism, and Race
      (pp. 141-160)

      In a lecture he gave in the late 1980s at Purdue University, neorealist director and communist intellectual Giuseppe De Santis argued that neorealism had no fathers but only “a great mother, the Resistance.”¹ Thirty years earlier, in 1951, the director had suggested that neorealist cinema reflected the Resistance as the “new phase of our Risorgimento.”² In many neorealist films, the representation of the Resistance pivoted as much on the figure of the ordinary Italian as anti-Mussolini fighter as on the absence of his antithesis, the ordinary Italian as fascist. At their center was often the iconic Italian Resistance fighter or...

  7. PART 3

    • FROM ITALIAN NEOREALISM TO NEW LATIN AMERICAN CINEMA Ruptures and Continuities during the 1960s
      (pp. 163-177)

      This essay revisits the influence exerted by Italian postwar neorealist films on the so-called New Latin American Cinema (NLAC) of the 1960s. The connections between the two phenomena are as obvious and as visible as they are complex, and they have given rise to theoretical and/or historiographic discussions and disputes.¹ When we discard the superficial outlook that described a direct transmission of languages/aesthetics from one cinematic movement to the other, the neorealist “influence” on the NLAC can be seen to be mediated by an intricate, complex network of cultural and political processes that developed throughout the years between the immediate...

    • IMPORTING NEOREALISM, EXPORTING CINEMA Indian Cinema and Film Festivals in the 1950s
      (pp. 178-193)

      In 1946, when V. Shantaram made his war-effort film,Dr. Kotnis ki amar kahani, a biopic about a doctor who went with an Indian medical mission to China shortly after the Japanese invasion, he filmed it in two versions, Hindi and English, with the latter intended for the international film festival circuit or for release in the United States. He eventually sold the English version,The Journey of Dr. Kotnis, to Arthur Mayer and Joseph Burstyn, the top distributors of foreign films in the United States, who were also responsible for bringing to the American public the films of Roberto...

      (pp. 194-208)

      African cinema emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. The first African film,Mouramani, a short narrative on a man and his dog by Mamadi Touré, appeared in 1955. It was followed by an explosion of films in the 1960s. All were informed by an aggressive nationalism couched in political imperatives for authenticity. To a large extent, Manichaean stylistics framed the first African images, yet by the circumstances of its emergence, African cinema practice was as much a child of various postwar Euro-American film schools and trends. The narrative of liberation notwithstanding, films made by the first generation...

    • DOCUMENTING THE SOCIAL REALITY OF BRAZIL Roberto Rossellini, the Paraíban Documentary School, and the Cinema Novistas
      (pp. 209-225)

      Roberto Rossellini visited Brazil in August 1958 after the Brazilian government invited him to plan a semidocumentary about Northeastern Brazil. Josué de Castro’s books on the politics of hunger, specificallyGeografia da fome(The Geography of Hunger, 1946), piqued Rossellini’s interest.¹ According to Rossellini, “The book is extremely easy to translate into a cinematographic image and is also easy to show in the form of a documentary the world’s hunger and misery.”² Although the local Brazilian press highlighted Rossellini’s dramatic personal life (which at the time was divided between Ingrid Bergman and Somali Das Gupta), Rossellini focused on his intentions...

      (pp. 226-239)

      Neorealism has had a long and distinctive history in Iranian cinema. Some of the best filmmakers were influenced by its philosophical tenets and stylistic features, and domestic and foreign critics made much of the impact of Italian neorealism on Iranian authorial cinemas both before (New Wave) and after the revolution (art house cinema). There has been some controversy in film studies about what constitutes neorealism, even among its defenders. For the purpose of this study, I invoke Georges Sadoul’s definition, one of the first to call neorealism a “school” and one that offered five reasonable prerequisite characteristics:

      geographically bounded (concentrated...

  8. EPILOGUE Neorealism, Cinema of Poetry, and Italian Contemporary Cinema
    (pp. 240-256)

    As this collection of essays on international cinema demonstrates, neorealism demands a new reading that frees it from the few reassuring rules on which it was supposedly based. The dangers of creating-ismsare well known. Even the most unconventional movement risks becoming captive to its own critical legacy, a process Roland Barthes figuratively called “inoculation.” As he stated, “One immunizes the contents of the collective imagination by means of a small inoculation of acknowledged evil, immunizing it against changing; one thus protects it against the risk of generalized subversion.”¹ After years of international resonance, historical neorealism, then, had been...

    (pp. 257-259)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 260-272)