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Italian Cinema, Italian Neo-Realism and Italian Masters

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Good morning, we are going to talk about Italian neorealism today.Let me begin with a brief background of Italian cinema. So, in 1905, the first Italian studios were built ownedby two of the largest production companies Cinecitta and Itala. So, both of these rememberwere film company production companies, both of which made successful costumes dramas.You do recall what is a costume drama right? We are talking about period pieces epics,almost in the vein of let say; The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur, so those were costume dramas,big budgeted spectacular films. Some of the famous films of this category were;The last day of Pompeii, The fall of Troy which was made in 1910, and Cabiria which was released in 1914.Now, let me tell you something about Cabiria.Cabiria was a story of a slave girl. And for those days it was mammoth production;it took six months to shoot the movie in studios, sets were constructed to shoot the movie aswell as parts of the movie were shot on locations. It was also considered extremely innovativefor those times, because it contained dolly and crane shots; some of you will be doingdiscussions of key concepts in and cinema. So, you should know what are dolly shots and crane shots.Let me write it for those who are watching it online.These are the concept that you should be knowing.And the film's success, remember we are talking about the costume drama;so the film's success in the US inspired people like D W Griffith; remember who he was,The birth of a nation and Intolerance. So, we have already talked about, he was one of thegreat pioneers of filmmaking in the US. And along with D W Griffith another US producer,director who got inspired by the success of Cabiria was Cecil. B. DeMille.And you are of course by now familiar with a works of Cecil. B. DeMille. And these two Hollywoodproducers were inspired to launch big budget production and much of the credit goes to Cabiria.Now, let me readout an excerpt from Pam Cook’s The Cinema Bookwhere Richard Dyer talks about Cabiria. So, this is what he says.“Cabiria exemplifies the fusion of epic and spectacles in Italian silent cinema.It is epic in its large-scale rendering of world historical events, and what are those events that heis talking about; the eruption of Mount Etna, Hannibal’s challenge to Rome,Scipio’s defeat of Carthage and Archimedes’ invention of fire weapons, and of individual characterscaught up in and made great by them. The heroes alert the Romans of Hannibal’s advance,and their rescue of the child Cabiria from sacrifice to the God Moloch is emblematicof roman chivalry and Carthaginians savagery. The presentation of the two heroes,Patrician Fulvio and Brawny Maciste, deploys statuesque postures and an ennobling framing,opening with shots of them singled out as men of destiny on a rocky promontory by the sea.Yet it was the slave Maciste who was to become the popular hero figure in a series of subsequent films,although in the process shading his black identity.Cabiria is spectacular in its sensuously overwhelming visual quality.The massive sets have a solidity staggering in comparisonwith both stage sets and later special effects, and computer generated constructions of the ancient world.The scale is emphasized bycantered angles that dwarf the humans, pans that indicate expanse,and forward tracking shots that draw the viewer in.Design pits, the clean lines, open spaces and white andmartial cloths of Rome against the Orientalist decadent languor of Carthage where the screenis crowded with ornate furnishing, sumptuous fabrics and furs. The spectacle of sufferingis dwelt on in the whipping of Cabiria’s nurse Croessa, Maciste chained to a milestone and,above all, the God Moloch, a vast statue with a giant mouth into whose flames children are tossed.In short, Cabiria in blend characteristics of Italian cinemawelds together in equal measure antique ideals, stylize design, sensuous pleasures and sensual energies”.So, high praise coming from Richard dyer on Cabiria,and if you pay attention to what I have just said then you can drop parallelsbetween especially Cecil. B. DeMille’s cinema and this kind of cinema that Cabiria is all about.So, the First World War and the competitionfrom the US put an end to the large scale productions. So, we are talking about evolutionof Italian cinema from huge productions, big budget productions after the First World War,and stiff competition from the US and Italian cinema, and Italian film industry was in state of transition;and it put on end to the large scale productions.However, it is very ironic;it was the fascist regime under Solini that reviewed Italian cinema. Now Mussolini (1883-1945),unlike Hitler or Stalin he did not aim at total control over the content or style of the Italian commercial cinema.See, remember Hitler had someone like Goebbels who was hispropaganda minister, and we have already talked about a film like ‘Triumph of the Will’which was nothing less than a propaganda film for Hitler; where Hitler is portrayed in avery flattering light, in very you know, he is almost defied, but that wasn’t Mussolini at all .He did not aim at total control over the content or style of Italian cinema.For propaganda reason Mussolini preferred documentary filmsand news, news real films produced byL.U.C.E, and perhaps you would like to note down the acronym, it is an acronym and perhapsyou would like to note down the full form of this acronym, L’Unione Cinematografica Educativa (LUCE).So, this body produced documentary films which Mussolini used for propaganda reasons.A fascist regime viewed Hollywood as its model, and saw cinema;and we are talking about the commercial kind of cinema more as an entertainment thanas a vehicle for propaganda. So there was a divide, documentary films were used for propaganda,whereas more commercial kind of cinema was viewed more like means of entertainment,almost like popular Hollywood cinema. Thus during fascism the industry remain relativelyfree to pursue filmmaking without facing interference from the government,and this is a key element of Italian cinema in spite of having a fascist regime, the industry wasrelatively free to pursue their kind of cinema, and there was not much of an interference from the government.Another key aspect that should you know aboutitalian cinema of this period; it is popularly and very derisively called the cinema of the white telephone,you know rich people had white telephones in their films and they hada particular kind of mise-en scene, we have been taking about. One aspect of mise-en sceneor showing lives of the rich and the elites in italian cinema was to show, you know it’san object; the white telephone, and if it is a white telephone we have to assume of course,all thus all the props and all the trappings of rich man’s house would alwaysbe the but the white telephone house, a white telephone necessarily signified that the weare looking at a very affluent kind of a family, so cinema of white telephone variety.And in the 30’s Italian cinema was dominated by this kind of cinema, these were light heartedflimsy films about the wealthy in Italy. Well, I can give you several examples of whitetelephone cinema from Hollywood also; think of all those film starring Rock Hudson and Doris day,‘Pillow Talk’, and Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida ‘Come September’,so these movies are popularly termed as the white telephone kind of cinema.‘Send me no flowers’, again starring Rock Hudson and Doris day. In fact, Doris day had cometo signify, it is a very light hearted flimsy kind of cinema in Hollywood we are talking about.So however, even during this time in Italy there were exceptions.And there was a movie titled very interestingly, ‘What scoundrels men are!’ released in 1932;and the distinction, it has the distinction of being the first Italian film to be shot entirely on location.So, this is something that we are going to discuss subsequently that howimportantly having a non-professional actors, you know non trained actors; people who arenever acted before and shooting on location and in natural lights, and having natural sounds,those were search important aspects of Italian neorealism, and then we also talkabout French new wave cinema, and the New Hollywood cinema. So, we you know there is a kind of set pattern.In 1935, the fascist regime founded a major school film,‘The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia’;so it is a film school,and it was a founded by Italian regime, the fascist regime. In 1937, Mussolini inaugurateda film complex it was called, ‘Cinecitta’. So, two major breakthrough events happeningby way of giving encouragement to films; one was foundation of a film school and anotherwas inauguration of a film complex. And then interestingly Mussolini’s son,Vittorio Mussolini, he launched a journal, and became an editor for a film journal called ‘Cinema’;and this ‘Cinema’ was interested in international films and also in understanding theories andtechniques behind quality cinema, so launching of a film journal. And later, perhaps youmay draw parallels between this and Cahier du cinema in France during the French new wave.Another key film director of this period was Alessandro Blasetti,who in 1942 made a film called ‘Four steps in the Clouds’,a movie that sort of anticipated the entire neorealist film movement.And why do we say that?The city used humble characters coming from ordinary background, so this is not a white telephonekind of cinema and anymore, this is not the costume drama anymore.So, Blasetti’s cinema, commercial yes;but still used more humble characters coming from humble background,sort of anticipatedthe kind of cinema that today we know as the neorealist cinema.Another significant film by Blasetti was ‘1860’ which was a patriotic dramaand Blasetti is associated with this kind of cinema.In 1940, Augusto Genina directed a movie calledthe movie called ‘The Siege of The Alcazar’ which celebrates the defence of the fortressin Toledo during the Spanish Civil War by Franco Giachetti, General Franco.And defence of the fortress in Toledo during the Spanish Civil War. So, taking a slice of history andmaking a movie ‘The Siege of The Alcazar’. This movie and this is significant, was madein the style of a fictional document; this is another key concept that you should know,fictional documentary, it is called (()), fictional documentary.What are the attributes of the fictional documentary? The fictional documentary style generallymeant adding a romantic subplot, love story; to thus plot majorly centered on heroic adventures,military conquers or war and adding a love story. So, blend of fiction and also somethingthat really happened, a historical account of a military conquers or you know, an adventuresthat really took place, but fictional documentary; the name suggest what these movies were a really all about.So, this kind of hybrid plot became a typical part of post war neorealist cinema, a fictional documentary.The most significant documentaries shot for the Italianarmed forces were, one was directed by Francisco De Robertis, it was called, ‘Men on the bottom’ 1940.So, it was a documentary and it was shot for the Italian armed forces.And De Robertis is important to us because he mentored Roberto Rossellini,and we are going to look at the relevance, importance of Roberto Rossellinitowards the entire new neorealist movement, neorealism in Italy.Leo Longanesi this is another key name thatyou should know, you should be familiar with. He was a journalist and a strong supporter of Mussolini.He gave the motto ‘Mussolini is always right’.Longanesi like Caesar Zavattini after him; he anticipates Caesar Zavattini, and we are going to see, look indetail who Zavattini was, and who he call up collaborated with. So, Longanesi advocatedextremely simple realistic films without elaborate sets. So, that was the contribution of Longanesi.Almost anticipated, he was a precursor to staunch neorealist like Zavattini who was a Marxist intellectual.With the fall of Mussolini and the end of the warinternational audiences were suddenly introduce to Italian filmsthrough the works of Rossellini, De Sica and Visconti.So, these are the names which are at the center of Italian neorealist cinema;Rossellini, De Sica and Visconti.Italian directors now combine thedesire for cinematic realism with social, political or economic themes that would nothave worked under the regime. See, you are not supposed to criticize the regime;Mussolini as we know, he did not interfere, he did not want the popular commercial Italian cinemato be a vehicle for his ideas.He did not turns cinema into kind of propaganda,but still there was certain limitation, there was certain taboos and that was the governmentshould not be criticized, society should not be vehemently criticized. But once the fascistregime came to an end, cinema was free from such constraints, and directors started depictingthose social and political and economic themes which could not be realized during the fascist regime.So, that was one up shot of the fall of the fascist government.So, neorealism generally refers to films of working class life, generally which are set in abysmal poverty.This movement tabbed into a particular transition in Italian life andbecame a vehicle for filmmakers interested in vivid description of history and society.The underlying message in the films is that in a better society, wealth would be moreevenly distributed; so now you get the sense that is it more about the socialist conceptof politics that wealth that, there should be an equal and equitable distribution of wealth among people in society.Often these films would be based on true incidents andused newsreel footage; this is the very common practice at least nowadays to use newsreel footage;think even a movie like ‘Forest Gum’ which is pretty main stream, but usesnewsreel footage from the times of the president Kennedy. So, but it all it started from duringthe neorealism period in Italy.So, they were, those movies were shot an actuallocation, just like the French the new waves films and use non-professional actors.So, this is something that we have been talking about quite frequently in this course; insistenceby certain kind of filmmakers or on non-professional actors, now if you think of classic Hollywood,if you think of high concept films which is an area that we will soon be talking about.So, what happens in high concept and classic Hollywood films?Insistence on, emphasizes on stars but the more realistic the cinema,the more emphasis on natural acting and use of non-professional actors.All these great directors for example, Bresson, Dreyer,the directors from the French new wave movement, they all insisted on using non- professional actors.And our own recent Dogme Manifesto from Denmark they too. That is parts of theirmanifesto to you use non-professional actors, and also using natural light, the use of natural lights,sing sound as opposed to dubbed sound.All these features were first found in the Neo-realistic cinema from Italy.The plots and the characters were used as vehicle for ideas of course,the ideology was so clear, so equally distribution of wealthamong people, so therefore it was necessary to have characters and plot as vehicle youknow it just kind of, vehicle of ideas and also for propaganda, certain kinds of idea.There was an emphasis on source sounds and avoidance of heavy musical scores, this issomething we have been talking about, because all these things, heavy musical scores;they tell you what to feel. So, Italian neorealist filmmakers avoided the use of these devices,especially background music, manipulating emotions.In the late 1940's neo-realism influence spread to Hollywood, and actual locations where cityas an important character came into prominence, long takes to bring about the touch of a verysimilitude in addition to use non-professional actors who added a touch of reality to the films;all these things influenced Hollywood as well. So, think a couple of movies likeJules Dassin’s ‘The Naked City’ and you will understand that those were the childrenof Italian neo-realism or neo-realistic cinema. Films of Satyajit Ray for example and AkiraKurosawa’s in Japan and also, Avant-garde directors in Germany, Spain and Eastern Europe,they too were influenced by the movement.The first neo-realistic movie as we know it today is ‘Ossessione’ (1942),directed by Luchino Visconti director who later directedanother great movie called ‘The leopard’ starring Burt Lancaster a wonderful movie.So, Ossessione’ is based on James. M. Cain’s American novelist, the writer of pulp fiction,author of Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice.So, James. M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice is source for Visconti’s ‘Ossessione’.The major Italian Neo-realist were Roberto Rossellini; so Rossellini is often referredto as a father of modern film by the critics of cahier du cinema along with Renoir.He was the most influential name among the nouvelle vague filmmakers.His first three films are; ‘The white ship’, ‘The Pilot Returns’ and ‘The Man with a Cross’,so these are the films Rossellini made and then he later on became one of the most influential directorsof the Italian neo-realism period.However, it was roam open city, ‘Roma Citta aperta’ (Rome,Open City) in 1945which is regarded one of the first major works of Italian neo-realismwhich cemented Rossellini’s position as the foremost neo-realist.‘Open city Rome’views together a variety of stories of Roman’s during the occupation of Italyby the German forces.It confirms to all the dictates of the neo-realist filmmakers, shot on the location,using non-professional actors, using long-wide takes, and working in sing sound, using a natural lights.Rossellini’s next film ‘Paisan’ contains six,. from the liberation of Italy,and it is the chronicle of Italy from 1943 to 1946. It was followed by‘Germany, year zero’ 1947 which is a devastating tale of defeat and solitude.And in one of the scenes a recording of a Hitler speech echoes over the apocalyptic landscape.So, it is one of those first movies to use the idea ofapocalypse, end of the world is quite nearby that is what the movie tells us.Together Rossellini’s films here ‘Open city Rome’, Paisan’ and ‘Germany, year zero’,they provide us with great commentary on, then contemporary social issuesat a time of political movements of global importance.So, politics is always foregrounded in the works of Italian neo-realist, it is more about content.Rossellini famously said that, ‘I am not a pessimist to perceive an evilwhere it exists is in my opinion form of optimism’.So, generally Italian neo-realist filmmakers like Rossellini were accused of being very pessimistic;you know they did not make escapist kind of cinema but that is not the case according to Rossellini; and he says,‘In my opinion to point out evil is the form of optimism’.So, after the spate of neo-realist films, he made several films with Ingrid Bergmanand made several documentaries on and about Italy during this phase.So, he was also married to Ingrid Bergman for quite a while.Another important director of neo-realist Italian period is Vittorio De Sica,who in a middle class district of Naples and later on joined a stage. He began his career asleading man in light hearted romantic films, but soon took to direction.The other day we were talking about Max Ophuls’ ‘The Earrings of Madame de’, and I was tellingyou that Vittorio De Sica played the role of Madame de’s admirer. So, he began his career as romantic actor.Later on his directorial ventures included a string of films whichreflected his social commitment there by challenging the escapist fare, Italian cinema in the fascist era.So, along with Rossellini, De Sica was one of the most prominent voices against the fascist era.De Sica’s ‘Shoeshine’ in 1947 was scripted by Sergio Zavattini,he was also the writer of ‘The Bicycle Thief’. ‘Shoeshine’ is an account of the shoeshineboys of the post-war Italy, it and was shot in real locations using non-professional actors.Our own Hindi movie ‘Boot Polish’ Raj Kapoor’s movie was inspired by De Sica’s ‘Shoeshine’.Vittorio De Sica’s the most famous film of course is ‘Bicycle Thieves’,which is generally regarded as the film that heralded Italian neo-realism.The plot is that an employed man played by Lamberto Maggiorani is forcedto steal a bike is caught by a crowd. Now, what makes the situation pathetic is the factthat the man’s own bicycle, which is extremely crucial to his job of bill posting is stolenthat is the commentary, that is a social commentary on a, on Italian society of that period;that a man is prevented from earning an honest living, all that he needs is bicycle.And you can think of the Iranian movie,‘Children of heaven’ where what do the children desires; just a pair of shoes.So, in a society where there is so much of disparity between the haves and have not’s,this is where crime would originate that is what, that is what the thesis is all about.So, the film is characteristic of the Italian neo-realism with its use ofnon-professional actors and shooting on actual Roman locations. And famously, it has influencedSatyajit Ray’s, Pather Panchali and Iran’s Children of heaven which was made in 1999.Let us talk about, from the neo-realist we will move on to the Italian masters;Federico Fellini is one of the most prominent names of this generation, so Federico Fellini (1920– 1993).He was son of the commercial traveler, and as a child he ones run away from hometo join the circus; back and Rome he started his career as cartoonist and illustrator.Fellini’s early works reflects pre-occupation with human weakness for illusion and loneliness;in La Strada (The Road) in 1954, the film which won him international recognition; Felliniunfolds a tale of travelling circus which was a recurring milieus in his works.Circus as a motif has been frequently employed by the several great directors.Max Ophuls says, ‘Lola Montes’ or Raj Kapoor’s ‘Mera Naam Joker’, circus as a metaphor, you knowall the world is a stage, so circus as a metaphor for our world, is often being employed by a filmmakers.Fellini's most popular films remain; La Dolce Vita which is an eloquentstatement on lives access, and the ‘Role of Paparazzi’; this is the movie that coinedthe word Paparazz in the modern times. It featured Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee and Anita Ekberg.It is a portrait of the decadent life style of the rich and famous in Italy.The plot in La Dolce Vita centers on the exploits of a gossip journalist playedby Marcello Mastroianni who covers the beat of swinging Rome’s party scenes.Along with his companion played by Anouk Aimee, Marcello travels in the exclusive set of the rich and,the famous and also the rich on the bored, even as he looks for some meanings in his life.It is very existential scene, people trying to look for meanings in their lives;on battling envy, boredom, and that is the lives of the rich and famous is all about according to La Dolce Vita.Fellini’s another land mark movie is ‘Eight and half’ which was realized in 1963,and it is a semi-auto biographical account of an artist creative process.The film traces, film director Guido Anselm’s or perhapsFellini’s, since it is partially based on his own life, creative and personal life.So, with that plot goes as that there is a new project, the director is about to startand there is no script, the filmmaker has come to dead end, Cul- de-sac. And Guido plumpshis memories of childhood and his hidden desires for inspirations.One of the famous lines in Eight and Half goes as, ‘I have nothing to say, but I want to say it’; again battlingcreative blog, writers' blog or rather directors’ blog. Battling on way, and how to get over,how to find meaning in life that is the theme. Originally, it was a title ‘A beautiful confusion’.And Fellini takes us through kaleidoscope of vivid and often outlandish images hoping for his artist buzz.So, watch ‘Eight and Half’ for the way he juxtaposes very dream like sequences with very real sequences;so that is what, the imagery is very important in Fellini.Most of his films are auto-biographical, and they are all influential by his life,his dreams, his fashions, his own films and his love for per-formative arts, so plenty of intertextuality;a terribly, terribly important filmmaker and very entertaining as well.Michelangelo Antonoini, now this is another important filmmaker or at Italian master (1912 – 2007).He begin his professional life as a critics,and was a fired by Mussolini’s regime for his leftist views. Before turning into an independent director,he contributed to the screenplay of Rossellini’s ‘A Pilot Returns’ in 1942.His early films such as the 1950’s ‘Chronicle of love affair’influenced by Visconti’s ‘Ossessione’, and The City; showed the influence of neo-realismand established his aesthetics of alienation.‘L’Avventura’ of course, remains is most important film,but ‘Blowup’ is also pretty well known; it is it was made in English;an another landmark movie, movie that went on to influence a host of new wave directoracross Europe and in Hollywood.Let me read you, and this is a book I often referred to Roger Ebert’s ‘The Great Movies’,and this is the first volume in which he reviews ‘Blow Up’.He says, ‘Michelangelo Antonoini’s ‘Blowup’ opened in America two months before I became a film critic,and colored my first years on the job with its lingering influence.It was a wakeup call for what Stanley Kauffmann named, ‘the film generation’ which quicklylined up outside ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, Weekend, Battle of Algiers, Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces’.So, you see along with all these Hollywood films Blow-Up, a British film, butdirected by Antonoini, it became one of the key films of the new wave cinema, the counterculture movement.‘It was a highest grossing art film today was picked as the best film of 1966by the national society of film critics, and got Oscar nominations for screenplay and direction.Young audiences are not interested in anymore in a movie about a ‘trendy’ London photographerwho may or may not have witnessed a murder, who lives a life of cynicism and ennui;this is an important concept in cinema of Antonoini, ‘ennui’ that is what ‘L’Avventura’ is all about.‘And who ends up in a park at down watching a college kids play tennis with an imaginary ball.The children of the audience that brought tickets for Blow-Upprefer ironic, self-referential slasher movies. Americans flew to ‘Swinging London’ in the 1960s;today’s Londoner pile onto charted jets to Orlando’.And that is how Roger Ebert introduces us tohis introduction to Blowup which he feels was a movie, a path breaking movie in several ways.And he continues,‘Over three days at the University of Virginia, I revisited Blow-Up in a shot by shot analysis.Freed from the hype and fashion, it merges as a great film if not the one we thought at the time.This was at the 1998 Virginia festival of American film which had ‘Cool’ as its theme.The festival began with the emergences of the beat generationand advanced through Cassavetes to Blow-Up, after whichthe virus of cool leaped from its nurturing subculture into millions of willing new hosts,and colored our society ever since, right down to and manifestly including South Park.Watching Blow-Up one again, I took a few minutes toacclimate myself to the loopy, psychedelic colors, and the tendency of the hero to use words like fab.Then I found the spell of the movie settling around me.Antonoini uses the materials of a suspense thriller without the payoff. He places them within a Londonof heartless fashion photography, bored rock audiences, languid pot parties,and a hero whose dead soul is roused briefly by a challenge to his craftsmanship’.So, that is what the Blow-Up is all about. People are often asked, what is Blow-Up andwhat is about, and no one really have the answer and that is the characteristic quality of Antonoini.Next, we will talk about Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922 – 1975),widely respective as the poet, novelist, and director.Pasolini is one of the most controversial and ambitious of filmmaker; his writing were scandalous andiconoclastic, and celebrated the low lives of the Italian society, the low lives includedpimps, prostitutes, hustler, gambler, thieves. And we are told that Pasolini often consortedwith these people, one was his own socialist tendencies; no one was infradig, no one was beneath him,so, would not hang around with them. He also drew much of his creative inspiration from these people.It is often said that a writer should never lose track or lose touchwith reality, with the ground reality of the society lives in. Pasolini is a supreme exampleof that kind of filmmaker, that the kind of auteur who never lost touch with the harsh reality of the life.One his most well-known and successful film includes,The Gospel According to Mathew’ (1964), which was filmed in the district of basilica;it was shot in a totally in neo-realistic style without a screenplay, so much of the shooting was improvised.Christ was a non-professional is Spanish’s student of economics.And Mary at the time of crucifixion is Pasolini’s own mother. The director used a simple camerasand minimal sets; so it is a very minimalistic kind of movie almost along with lines of Dreyer’smovie where actors are extremely real and locations and sets.So, it is not M.G.M or Cecil DeMille kind of a biblical movie. It is a very gritty, very realistic kind of set.And interestingly music ranges because Pasolini was extremely interested in experimenting with music also.So, music ranges between masses by Bach and Mozart and also the blues.So, it is it is a combination; it is a collision of all kinds of music.Pasolini’s Jesus is more along the lines of Messiah for the countercultural times, and an angry young man.He is less of the religious figure, and more a harbinger of the countercultural tim