AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
One of the most highly regarded and influential national cinemas, Italian film has also been the subject of a number of lengthy historical surveys, auteur studies and detailed film anthologies, the most recent of them, in the '24 Frames' series, featuring essays on twenty-four key films by various scholars. (1) Given the wide range of accessible reading on the topic, this article addresses some key moments and central thematic concerns, pointing towards further reading and viewing. (2)
Immediately following the Second World War and during the subsequent period of social and economic reconstruction, Italian film was linked intimately with the refashioning of the national image, In more recent times, especially since the late 1980s, filmmakers and critics have grappled with the demands of a new 'post-national' environment, in which both regional and global imperatives have impacted on issues of nation, culture and identity. (3) These two fundamental and interlinked concerns inform the following discussion.
Post-Second World War: The Advent of Neorealism
MARTIN Scorsese introduces his recent documentary, Il mio viaggio in Italia (My Voyage to Italy, 2002), by discussing the influence of Italian cinema on his own life, and on the history of cinema in general. Beginning predictably with one of the most well-known moments of Italian film history, neorealism, Scorsese reminisces about his experiences of film and television when growing up as a part of a large family in the Sicilian diaspora of New York. The first Italian film he saw was Paisa (Paisan, Roberto Rossellini, 1946). He recalls not only being profoundly affected by the powerful images of Italy at the end of the Second World War, but also by the contrast between the experience of viewing Hollywood fantasies and watching Italian films, where the 'places look real'. He tells us that: 'neorealism was shaking up film viewers all over the world'. Scorsese's desire to introduce viewers to the wonders of Italian cinema is an important project, even if it does replay some of the myths associated with neorealism. In fact, a major strength of the documentary is Thelma Schoonmaker's exquisitely edited film clips, which give the viewer a taste of key films such as Roma, citta aperta (Rome, Open City, Roberto Rossellini, 1945), Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica, 1948) and La terra trema (The Earth Trembles, Luchino Visconti, 1948).
In the wake of the Second World War, the new Italian cinema was acclaimed nationally and internationally. Critics like Andre Bazin claimed that neorealist films spoke truthfully and poetically about the human condition, specifically the poverty and grief of Italians as they attempted to reconstruct their lives after the fall of Fascism and the end of the war. There is no doubt that something exciting occurred in Italian cinema in the early post-war years, especially after the privations of the preceding era. Many films of the period blend documentary and fiction forms, utilize non-professional actors and location shooting, and use long takes to de-dramatize the narrative. (4) But, as Marcia Landy observes, neorealism has been 'subject to the most formulaic of interpretations', and too often assumes 'the proportions of a hallowed mythology and a source of nostalgia for a world not realized'. (5) One of the other problems of the 'myth' of neorealism is that it elides or ignores the earlier history of Italian film, not simply in the preceding Fascist period (when there were several important developments such as the establishment of Cinecitta, (6) Centro Sperimentale, (7) the Venice Film Festival, and various film journals such as Bianco e Nero and Cinema), but also in the silent era, when major epics were produced.
But clearly, neorealism was significant. As Angelo Restivo has pointed out recently:
From Andre Bazin to Gilles Deleuze, the history of cinema has been conceived as marked by a great break or divide--classical to modernist, or action-image to time-image--of which the post-war Italian cinema is the great exemplar. In fact, Robert Kolker--in the chapter significantly titled 'The Validity of the Image'--takes neorealism as the fundamental point of reference not just for the European new waves that followed, but for cinematic developments across the globe. (8)
And indeed, neorealism has been influential on a wide range of other …