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February 09, 2008

Senso, 1954. Dir. Luchino Visconti

Senso, 1954. Dir. Luchino Visconti

(Original run-time 121 minutes)


Links to Visconti's historical films The Leopard and The Damned


Senso Poster





Introduction


Senso was the first feature film Visconti made after Bellissima (1951). Already Bellissima had been accused of breaking with the precepts of neorealism but this was nothing to the criticism which Senso received. Senso has been seen by noted critics such as Richard Dyer and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith as extremely important film. Despite this the film was beaten by the more commercially 'art' oriented La Strada at the Venice Film Festival that year. Richard Dyer voted for it as a top ten critics choice film for the BFI and Nowell-Smith (2003) when introducing the film comments that:

... Senso is beyond question one of the greatest, and also the most Viscontian, of all Visconti's films.

As with much of Visconti's work there was a battle with the censors. The film was a critique of the dominant discourse and creation of the triumphalists myths surrounding the Risorgimento fight for unification of Italy. A key scene which would have helped show that the Risorgimento was a also a popular movement was cut. As a result as Marcus (1986) notes this "succeeded in removing the film's true revolutionary sting". The currently available Optimum DVD is only 116 minutes long whilst the original running time of the film was 121 minutes long. The original version shown in the UK was little more than 90 minutes long! In order for the film to be able to represent its main thrust the missing scenes are crying out for restoration.

Senso is the first of three films which deal with European nationalism very directly the others being The Leopard (1963), and The Damned (1969). By linking these three films together based upon analysing their underlying theme of European nationalism and its effects upon the social structure of modernity it is beginning to read Visconti's ouevre differetly to Bacon (1998) for example who categorises Senso along with The Leopard as straightforwardly films of the Risorgimento. Whilst this is self-evidently the case Visconti was too powerful a thinker to stop there. Much of the rest of his work was concerned with various elements of exposing the various power structures within society and there was a continual level of conflict and tension expressed between the nation state and the rise and decline of older empires and newer governmental forms.  

Senso explores the myth underlying the unification stories of the Risorgimento in the years leading to the the removal of the Austrian Empire from its control of much of Northern Italy. The Leopard goes back to a slightly earlier time in 1860 when the Bourbons are ejected from Sicily. In 1866 when the events of Senso are taking place a revolt in Palermo is crushed on orders from the government of Italy based at the time in Turin.  In Senso the potential for a popular movement is effectively denied by those in command of the Italian forces although a key scene is censored which clearly shows this.  Both these films show the complicity, compromises and collusion and processes of hegemony taking place amongst the fractured ruling elites. Nationalism can still be seen as progressive in the Marxist sense of modernity ushering in a more dynamic social order. By comparison The Damned can be seen as a closure on Visconti's artistic explorations into European nationalism which as I argue elsewhere can clearly be seen as Visconti's critique of the limits of nationalism and the dead end which it ultimately leads to at a structural level within society.


Plot Summary

The plot is very different from the book which it is nominally based upon by the writer Boito. The opening scene takes place in La Fenice the Opera House in Venice in 1866 just a few months before the Veneto is freed from the control of the Austrian Empire.

The opera being enacted is Verdi's Il trovatore where the third act is coming to a climax. The mounting tension on stage and the the declarations of being prepared to fight to the death are enhanced by the chorous shouting All 'armi, All 'armi (to arms, to arms). This defiance is mirrored in the audience as the audience is shown bundles of leaflets being passed forwards to those wanting to resist the Austrian occupation.

Suddenly a rain of green, white and red leaflets flutter down from the balconies onto the Austrian officers who are sitting in the best stalls. Small sprays of flowers of the same national colours are thrown or warn by the women on their dresses.  an Austrian officer makes a disparaging remark about that was the way the Italians like to resist occupations- through bunches of flowers and leaflets. He is challenged to a duel by an Italian. The officer is Franz and the Italian spectator Ussoni who is a leader of the underground resistance.

Austrian Officers at the Opera

In the opening scene at La Fenice the Austrian officers have the best seats at the opera whilst the Italian elites are at the back and in the balconies. They are soon to rain down leaflets on the unsuspecting Austrians 


The Marquis Ussoni is the cousin of Livia the Countess of Serpieri who is in a loveless marriage to a man much older than her. Serpieri it turns out is just an aristocratic opportunist happy to change sides from Austria to Italy when it becomes increasingly clear who is going to win control of the Veneto. Franz uses his position to ensure that Ussoni rather than fighting a duel is exiled for Franz has no interest in duelling: like Livia he prefers his melodrama onstage rather than offstage.  

Livia and Ussoni at La Fenice

Livia is with Ussoni at La Fenice after he has made a challenge to a duel to Franz. Here he is looking for a way out. Livia has told him how foolish he was to raise his head above the parapet. Here it is obvious that Livia's personal concerns are not reflected in Ussoni's mindset. Any desire is inevitably a chaste one.



Livia has professed an interest in meeting Franz who has a reputation for being very handsome, ostensibly this meeting is to help out Ussoni but one can sense an ambivalence. Soon after Ussoni is exiled Livia and Franz become lovers. However the war is coming increasingly nearer. Franz is posted to the front and the Count Serpieri takes Livia to their summer villa to avoid the fighting. Before they leave Livia is summoned to an address where she meets up with Ussoni who is planning an uprising. Ussoni charges her with the safekeeping of some funds in order to supply the rebels at a later date.

A while later Franz breaks into the villa and seeks refuge with Livia who hides him. The discussion is moved around to the possibilities of Franz being able to bribe a doctor to get himself discharged from the army. To do this Livia betrays the nationalist cause and gives Franz the money and jewels intended for the rebels. In the process of this the audience is shown what Livia cannot see; the expression on Franz's face is one of pure opportunism. He has enjoyed Livia, but love isn't part of the equation for him. 

Franz then manages to bribe his way out of the army and sends a note to Livia. Livia can't bear to be emotionally imprisoned in her marriage any longer and makes a dangerous journey to find Franz. When she arrives she is greeted by a decadent and dissolute Franz who is drunk and with a prostitute. Franz regales her with unpleasantries forcing her to leave. Livia reports him for desertion to the Austrian army. Franz is arrested and summarily executed. The last we see of Livia is her slowly walking in the shadows shouting Franz out loud.


A Gramscian History of the Risorgimento

The plot outline tells us little of the importance of the film which seeks to historicize the Risorgimento in an entirely different way to the official hisories of the period. this also opened up the possibility for audiences to mount a critique of the postwar situation in Italy which had failed to enact any genuine transformation in the class relationships of society. With its main target audience being Italians often with a lot of basic knowledge about the Risorgimento this was an ambitious film.  The film was a target of the censors and had many critics from both the right and the left of the political spectrum. Whilst the criticisms from the Right were to be expected the ones from the left showed up the limitations of the left-wing imaginary of the time.

Key critical opponents of the film were Zavattini and Chiarini who took a fundamentalist approach to the neorealist ethic. For them  Senso was a total betrayal of neorealism as it eschewed the harsh moments of the present in a return to the past. As Marcus notes:

...neorealism constitutes the absolute standard against which Senso is measured and found wanting, by Chiarini and Zavattini who fault Visconti for abandoning the modern subject matter and stylistic transparency of the postwar school. (Marcus 1986 p 171)

The left-wing critic Aristarco on the other hand defended the film arguing that Senso represented an extension and evolution of neorealism. Rather than negring neorealism it marked the return to realism proper in the 19th century sense of the term. In reality Aristarco is effectively accusing neorealism of being a surface aesthetic rather than an aesthetic which is probing below the surface to explore the social forces which shape society throwing up various social forms which can be either recorded or analysed. This was a return of the old argument between the French Naturalists (Zola for example) and the Realists.

Chiarini however took the position that neorealism's immediacy contained a moral imperative which raised public consciousness about social conditions and could help formulate policy change.  Both neorealism and the sense of postwar social solidarity which welcomed Rome Open City(1945 ) was long since past. The reality was that neorealist films had frequently failed in the box office and failed therefore to capture the popular imagination. In the meantime a right-wing government supported by the Americans and the British and the promise of Marshall Aid had been installed some time before the release of Senso. Chiarini and Zavattini were seemingly driven by a head in the sand idealism.

It is here that Visconti's Marxism comes to the fore because Senso in its very essence is a recognition of the importance of history and who controls and owns history. History for Visconti was a powerufl ideological tool in the control of the intellectual elites. It was Gramsci's recognition of the importance of creating working class or organic intellectuals who could challenge the hegemonic ideas of the elites which was one of the factors driving Visconti. At the level of aesthetics and how it worked with politics he had been increasingly convinced by the Lukacsian arguments about the realist and its role in exposing class relations.

Visconti's relationship to Lukacsian thought is crucial when it comes to the construction of his characters. Here it is important to develop a 'type'. Lovell (1980) notes that :

The most appropriate type of character, for purposes of typicality, is neither the statistical average nor the great hero, but an unexceptional individual caught at the centre of conflicting social and political forces. (Lovell, 1980 p 71) 

Lovell cites Lukacs directly and whilst we can think about this in relation to the novel it seems pertinent to suggest that this is the problematic that Visconti was wrestling with when he reinvents the character of Livia in quite a different way to the character originally envisaged by Boito who wouldn't fit the 'type' very well:

The problem is to find a central figure in whose life all the important extremes in the world of the novel converge and around whom a complete world with all its vital contradictions can be organised. (Lukacs: Writer and Critic cited Lovell 1980 p 71)
The Role of Women in the Age of Bourgeois Nationalism

Feminist historians have noted that in the 19th century rise of nationalism women were ususally excluded from the bid for more democratic rights based upon the nation state for those who could be classed as citizens. Women in the rise of Greek nationalism were largely chattels and baby-bearers of potential new citizens (women got the right to vote in 1952 in Greece and in Italy in 1945). Of course in the 19th century no women had a vote anywhere except New Zealand in 1893.


Livia and Franz at the Opera

Franz (Farley Granger) meets Livia (Allida Valli) for the first time at La Fenice. Livia wishes to negotiate with him over thefate of Ussoni who has challenged him to a duel


Bearing this in mind it is worth thinking about this in relation to the character of Livia the Countess. Livia by being a woman is largely sidelined from the great political and social causes of the day. She is in a typical arranged aristocratic marriage to a much older man, which is loveless and even childless. As a woman she is little more than a chattel, after all the progressive nationalist movement of the day says nothing about the position of women in society, why should she care? Rather she is at the mercy of emotional whims. Her admiration of her cousin might well be sexual as much as it is based upon someone who is an ideological doer. But at heart it is an nationalist ideology which effects her little. She has no great antipathy towards Austrians otherwise why after the protest in the opera house would she wish to meet a handsome Austrian officer, and with her husband she is continually in the company of Austrians. She is part of a more internationalist aristocracy.

On their first meeting Franz quickly establishes that he isn't an idealogue, melodrama on the stage is best kept where it is not extended into real life he points out.  Livia is quickly attracted to him becuase of his easy going ways and his attentiveness to her. By comparison the only times we see Ussoni with her he is proclaiming in a melodramatic way that it is the nation and if necessary death which must come first. Franz is a romantic of sorts but not a Byronic one, for courtly love as Marcus points out has a strong code in which the male must:

...be a warrior as well as a suitor, spurred onto deeds of military prowess by the desire to please his lady. (Marcus 1986 p 177)


In this sense there is a sense of decline and decay between the lovers and when Franz exempts himself from the virile world of the military he loses all the things in life which structure his identity, romantic love cannot exist outside of time and reality it is based in a materiality which is income based and class based. Franz has lost both. Unlike Boito's original novella which is an 'ahistorical love story' (Marcus 1986), Visconti's version lives up to Lukacs' definitions of the historical novel where suggests Marcus:

the personal destinies of a number of human beings coincide and interweave within the determining context of an historical crisis. (Marcus, 1986 p 178)


The issue of gender and nationalism has been effectively highlighted in this this film although perhaps at an unconscious level. Livia as a synechdoche for women as well as a de facto member of the aristocracy through father and then husband is counterpoised to the the nationalism of Ussoni who fits in with the description of nationalism provided by Anthony Smith:

The concept of nation, then, is not only an abstraction and invention, as is so often claimed. It is also felt, and felt passionately, as something very real, a concrete community, in which we may find some assurance of our own identity and even, through our descendents, of our immortality. But transcending death is what the world religions sought in their different ways; so, we may ask, does this not make of nationalism some latterday religion in secular disguise? (Smith 1998p 140)


Compare Smith's analysis with the comments of Ussoni in the scene where he unceremoniously places the funds raised for the partisans into Livia's care. Livia, please note, wasn't overkeen but wasn't given an opportunity to refuse:

...we must forget ourselves...Italy's at war...It's our war...our Revolution



senso_2.jpg

Above. After breaking into the country villa Franz is opportunistically throwing himself on Livia's sense of love and fear for him.


Livia is torn between a betrayal of trust and her own individual desires, for events have unfurled in a way which she could not have imagined. But in the end she undergoes little in the way of personal risk for she is a member of the aristocracy and she is allowed to pass by both sides to reach her lover. Franz has an historical premonition of the passing of the Austrian elite to which he belongs, also a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. By comparison Livia effectively survives the chain of events because we are always given a voice over. We can assume that she goes back to her husband chastened by the course of events at least at the level of the emotions. Serpieri of course has switched sides, at no time is the position of Livia fundamentally threatened in the film. Her romantic gesture of running away to her lover was flung back in her face. She is embedded in a social structure as much as Franz. Marcus points this out very effectively:

...the primacy of the Livia-Franz plot over the Livia-Ussoni one constitutes a Gramscian criticism of the Risorgimento in melodramatic terms. (Marcus  1986 p 185)

In Marcus' estimate Livia is introduced to the audience 'on a moral pedestal so lofty that her decline occasions surprise as well as distaste'. (Marcus p 181). However on reading the film more closely this is perhaps being overly judgemental of Livia for as stated earlier her position is a weak one, she is dependent upon men and is married to one who is uninterested in her. Marcus here seems to be almost identifying with the nationalist cause because Livia really her 'fall' only comes when she uses the monies for her own purposes. But as a woman she has no money of her own.

When Livia asks for an introduction to the officer on the grounds of the fact that all the young women are talking about Franz. At this point given that she has kissed a nationalist bouquet we can imagine that this is a cover in order to get her cousin out of trouble but we could take it as a sign of ambivalence. Ussoni is told off by her for being entirely foolhardy jeopardising his own position and others by his over-reaction to a trite insult. In contradisinction to Anthony Smith's almost impassioned plea Livia doesn't feel the nationalism of her cousin passionately at all, it is the attraction to her cousin which is the dominant concern as Nowell-Smith makes clear:

Her (Livia's) devotion to the cause is personal, and she betrays it becuase sexual passion has more power over her than devoted admiration and friendship. But her attraction to Franz has its own social motivation. Through it she realises a nostalgic longing for the lover to whom as a member of her class she was entitled, but never had. Against this patriotism has nothing to offer......It is not a cause which can fully satisfy her aspirations or appease her regrets. (Nowell-Smith, 2003 p 70)


Here we see a marked difference in approach between Nowell-Smith and Marcus. Livia is rebellious but there is nowhere to go she cannot escape history or society as an isolated individual. As the film progresses her uneasy position between all the conflicting male elements which is apparent in the opening theatre scene becomes more apparent. Gradually she becomes more and more isolated with the acardian villa leaving her only with the complicit maid to support her. Stealing the money means that she will become totally isolated from the partisan struggle and physically she will become isolated from her lover. In this scene she is faced with the core contradiction which the film is building up to: she must sacrifice herself  for the nationalist cause and betray her lover who it appears is the only person ever to have brought her true joy. The alternative is that she must sacrifice Franz to a likely death or serious injury on the battlefield. It is here that Visconti turns to melodrama in ordr to highlight the importance of the scene, there can be no turning back from here: which must she reject?

Nowell-Smith importantly points out that one cannot legitimately equate the position of Franz with that of Livia. Franz knows that his Austrian Empire is teetering and on the wane: his tirade against Livia is as much a bitter recognition of this passing, a Byronism turned sour suggests Nowell-Smith. Franz is genuinely a decadent he argues. Nowell-Smith  points out that the poitiions of Livia and Franz aren't comparable, however his comment about Livia having 'a freedom to abuse' rather goes against the structured role as a woman caught between patriarchal forces:

He is quite clearly seen as a representative of a dying class. she represents nothing so simple. Her character is all her own, and the conflicting external determinations that work on her are not sufficient to fix her in any mould. At least she has the freedom to abuse, which Franz never has. (Nowell-Smith 2003 p 69)


The representation of women in Visconti's films is seriously underwritten: instead critics focus on Visconti's homosexuality and his aristoctratic background. It would of course be foolish to ignore Visconti's homosexuality and there is little doubt that it played a role in his filming and also in his understandings of sexual politics in general, an area in which more work needs to be done. Nowell-Smith (2003 p 214) points out that almost all of his films are about the family and that only in Bellissima does the family emerge in strengthened form. Senso is one of those films which can be read as a critique of the bourgeois family. 

Visconti's representations of women are extremely important. On the grounds that critics have endlessly discussed Visconti's aristocratic background one might well ascribe his representations of women to his relationship with his mother which was a very positive one. His mother came from a bourgeois industrialist's background and marriage to Visconti's father brought the wealth necessary for him to carry on with his aristocratic ways including his philandering. It would appear that Visconti's mother was a vehicle for the transfer of money just as Angelica was in The Leopard.

Visconti fequently represents prostitutes and prostitution.  For Visconti sexual relations frequently centre around money and power. Just as Livia gets to hold the purse strings -albeit temporarily- in Senso so does Giovanna in Ossessione. Franz in Senso and Gino in Ossessione both then turn to prostitutes to assert their masculinity and illusory control. But the women are punished for breaking the male codes. Visconti is clear that under capitalist society women are extremly repressed. Certainly prostitution is seen as something which women have little choice but to turn to occasionally, as did Giovanna before she married Bragana in Ossessione. There is a Marxist analysis of family relationships which runs through Visconti's work as well as more straightforward themes of class and history, nationalism and its historically determined failures. It is a theme which will be returned to in the future.  


Demythologising the Risorgimento

A core preferred meaning for Visconti's Senso was to demythologise the Risorgimento and to draw parallels to present day Italy.  Several projected scenes were censored because Visconti was going far too close to the bone of the official versions of history. Coming at a time when the Italian right had managed to reimpose their political control an influential film-maker such as Visconti wasn't going to be given much leeway. Whilst the position of the Serpieris explains the opportunism of many of the aristocrats as well as some of the issues around the relationship of women to the nationalist project it is in the figure of Ussoni that many of the most poignant political issues revolve around.

A question posed by Nowell-Smith was whether Visconti was posing a double question, suggesting on the one hand that the attempts to change Italian post-war society had failed in a similar way to those of the popular movement of mythology around the Risorgimento. An alternative take was even more radical: whether the failure of the Risorgimento to install a proper popular government which concerned all the people was a direct result of the ability of the new and old elites to create a hegemonic position which ensured that the working and peasant classes were largely left in the same poverty stricken position.  The position of poverty  is amply represented by later films such as Olmi's Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) set in 1898, and also Bertollucci's 1900 (1976).

In Senso the position of the peasantry is made abundantly clear during the battle scenes based upon the Battle of Custoza. Whilst the peasants are going about their business transporting what appears to be hay on their carts the Italian army is racing about, forcing gun carriages past the carts of the peasants who are oblivious to the proceedings. It is a clear denial of the myth of a popular movement espousing all members of the  'community' who are according to Smith impassioned by the 'very real concrete community'. It was a point that Aristarco made in Visconti's defence as Bacon (1998) points out:

Politics of power continue but it doesn't bother them. It is as if they were saying: ' you do what you want gentlemen, it doesn't concern us. It's not our war.' (Aristarco in an interview with Bacon. Bacon 1998 p 81) 

Aesthetic objections to Senso and also Visconti's thorough way of working

But the Gramscian argument fails to address the most troublesome objection to Senso - that of its spectacular elements, which ally it with the more retrograde examples of prewar production... the criticism is hard to refute because it rest on the  assumption that  aesthetic form  determines  thematic content and that a luxurious , self-congratulatory style full of extracinematic conventions will necessarily compromise any aspirations the artis may have to  revolutionary meaning. Marcus 1986 p 187)

Marcus notes that despite the scepticism from many on the left side of the critical establishment Visconti's insistence that the mise en scene must be appropriate to the position of the class being represented eventually allowed a better critical reception for a newer generation of film makers such as Wertmuller, Bertollucci and Cavani.

It is difficult to think of any director who has had so many complaints about the expense and details of the sets. Whilst those who tried to adhere more strictly to what they understood as the fundamentals of neorealism which was closer to an ethnographic mode of filming the poor, Visconti had much greater artistic ambitions. Those who took on board Brechtian Marxist ideas would also have been less concerned with the verisimilitude of the sets for Brechtianism is a deliberately ascetic aesthetic approach.  Visconti's Marxism based upon Lukacsian realism was concerned with verisimilitude in its mise en scene indeed the precision demanded by Visconti in his sets was legendary, whether it was the dinner plates in The Leopard or the parquet flooring in The Damned. to try and get away from this sour and fruitless so-called critique of Visconti it is worth dwelling for a moment on his aesthetics and the poetics of his oeuvre.  

Viscontian Aesthetics & Poetics 

It is isn't popular to discuss the poetics of cinema or even its aesthetics yet these are fundamental aspects of cinema. Some aspects of Visconti's can be equated to that of Angelopoulos that other great film maker who has embedded his film making as a conscious effort to historicize and thus politicize the present, yet just as Visconti began to do later in his life so Angelopoulos became more distanced from politics. Later works in both directors take up elements of nostalgia. Here it is important to come to some definition of nostalgia for Visconti is frequently accused of being nostalgic about former aristocratic times. 

In an interview with Andrew Horton "What do our Souls Seek?" Angelopoulos explians how one night he was in the same building as Tarkovsky who was shooting the film Nostalgia at the time. Tarkovsky argued that it was a Russian word but in fact it comes from the Greek 'homecoming'. Angelopoulos then puts the notion of 'home' within a national context nevertheless he points out that home:

...is a place where you feel at one with yourself and the cosmos. It is not necessarily a real spot that is here or there. (Angelopoulos in Horton 1997 p 106)


Although Angelopoulos is usually associated with the modernism of Antonioni in particular the link to nostalgia is interesting:

...almost all the films, and the later ones most particularly, are suffused with a nostalgia for the family as an institution. (Nowell-Smith, 2003 p 214) 


Although the historical projects are different for Visconti explores particularly the mechanisms of history in a period of transition on the 1860s the search for 'home' is crucial for Visconti's leading characters live in a world of the unheimlich. Visconti is not at home in life any more than his characters are. Livia in Senso is plainly not at 'home'. In the conversation in the bedroom of the Venetian boarding house at the begining of the relationship  Livia wishes to step outside time which is very significant:

In their different ways, both Franz and Livia have attempted to step outside of history and to blind themselves morally, either by decision or deception, to the way they exploit other people in dedicating themselves to hedonism on his part, to romantic fantasies on hers. (Bacon, 1998 p 80)


History, Visconti seems to be saying, is a motor of change which is impossible to evade. Frequently that change is very limited despite all the underlying political idealism represented in Senso by Ussoni. In Ludwig, Ludwig's homosexuality combined with the duties and expectations of  kingship  place him  in an  'unhomely' position.  Perhaps a key difference between  Visconti's aesthetics and that of Angelopoulos is that the latter anchors much of his work within Greek culture particularly upon the myth of Odysseus. This gives his work a more spatial and geographical grounding than Visconti's which has far more interior work.  The return of the old Communist in the  Voyage to Cythera (1983) and the lack of recognition for him within a society which should have been 'home' plays with history in a different way but the situation is 'unhomely'. Visconti's aesthetic is more Proustian and Angelopoulos' more Brechtian in the ways they deal with time both also have an approach which is inevitably suffused with their own national cultures.

The richness of the Renaissance and the painterliness of Visconti's work is in sharp contradstinction to the distancing of Angelopoulos' camerawork and the highly stylised set-pieces which make the latter's work 'modernist' rather than 'realist', yet both are deeply engaged with historical processes. Just as Senso was a critical attack upon the canon of Risorgimento history so Travelling Players from Angelopoulos was a 'fundamental revision of Greek "official" history...' Georgakas 1997 p 29-30). Whilst the aesthetic forms are quite different, both directors chose to embed within their form an historicisation which opened up dominant discourses and also made the audience work. Angelopoulos seems to bridge the gap between Visconti's sense of aesthetics which are far more implicit compared to Godard's very explicit approach noted by Nowell-Smith again. Visconti chose to subvert the well established forms of melodrama and opera and in doing so was challenging well established audiences familiar with much of the content, for it must be remembered that in Italy even Gramsci recognised that opera played a very different role in the formation of a 'national popular' than it had in other countries.  The petulant criticisms of Visconti from the left failed to understand that art has many ways of challenging dominant norms not least through the handling of history. Visconti's contribution to embedding theories of history within his cinema has yet to be fully recognised just as his determination to combine realism with other older aesthetic forms such as melodrama great works of art which perhaps will come to be appreciated above those contributions of his contempories such as Fellini and Antonioni who will perhaps come to be seen as very much film makers of their time. 

In both aesthetic routes there seems to be a phenomenology of vision at work which can make many critics of all persuasions uncomfortable:

We are not usually aware that an unconscious element of touch is unavoidably concealed in vision; as we look, the eye touches, and before we even see an object we have already touched it. 'Through vision, we touch the stars and the sun', [10] as Merleau-Ponty writes. Touch is the unconsciousness of vision, and this hidden tactile experience determines the sensuous quality of the perceived object, and mediates messages of invitation or rejection, courtesy or hostility. (The Architectural Review  |  Date: 5/1/2000  |  Author: Pallasmaa, Juhani)


Interestingly Pallasmaa has completed a book on cinema and architecture The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema which includes chapters on the work of Tarkovsky and Antonioni - Having only had a very brief look at it it is something to return to. Through them we can examine the work of Angelopoulos in relation to history and also think about the existential meaning of the mise en scene in the work of Visconti for we must remember Visconti too has exterior spaces the dry dustiness of Sicily, the frozen alps and the arcadian pastoralism of northern Italy in summer. Architecture too is redolent with meaning in the work of Visconti. This could prove to be a fascinating area of comparison in terms of the social ontology of the characters who people the films. This phenomenology can also be thought of in terms of metaphor when we start to talk of "the feel" of a film or having 'the touch' of a certain director. Here we re-enter the debate about the auteur but that is for another day.  


Conclusion

Visconti  is arguably the film director who has treated history and the theory of history along with a discourse that recognises history to be an intellectual area of competing ideologies. Even Angelopoulos doesn't seem to have done that. Senso was the first of Visconti's great trilogy of films relating to history and arguably we can add his Ludwig into this a fourth historical film. Certainly all the four film: Senso, The Leopard, The Damned and Ludwig use family relations as a synechdoche for other features of societies in change. Whilst the treament may be a little different between them being more of a Verdian nature and moving towards a Chekovian one suggests Bacon (1998 pp 60-62).

This piece argues that there are great implicit depths to Visconti's work and one which I have started to tease out here is in relation to the position of women in Visconti's films and in particular there relationship to the 'great' events unfurling around them. Livia in Senso understands that  nationalism will really make little difference to her. This piece also recognises the importance of realism in its Lukacian sense to Visconti's project which is one designed with an Italian audience very much in mind. The piece also cross -references Visconti's handling of history to that of Angelopoulos another Mediterranean film maker who also started his film worl in France as did Visconti. There are some similarities between the two in terms of long films and the slowness of pace use of longer shots and longer takes, yet for all that there are large aesthetic differences between the two. Both in their own ways bring out the materiality of the surroundings, both are renowned perfectionists as well. There is certainly more room for comparison here however currently this will be difficult as most of Angelopoulos' films are currently unavailable in the UK. 


Of course there is much more that can be said about this film. For the interested reader Nowell-Smith, Marcus and Bacon all have differetn insights into the film and all come as recommneded reading. There is also a chapter on Senso in the Wallflower Press "The Cinema of Italy" which is a useful first stop.   

Notes on the Cinematography of Senso


Senso is unusual -to say the least- in that three cinematographers were involved. Nowell-Smith (2003 p 78) provides a full explanation. G.R. Aldo (Real Name Aldo Graziati) was Visconti's chosen cinematographer; sadly he died in a car crash before the films completion. Nowell-Smith notes that according to the published screenplay Aldo shot all the scenes in and around the Villa Valmara as well as the battle scenes and the retreat.

Robert Krasker was then hired. Krasker shot most of the rest of the film inluding the opening scene at La Fenice, most Venice exteriors, interiors of the Franz's lodgings, Livia's house, Ussoni's house and the home of the Austrian General in Venice.

Rotunno who had been the camera operator shot the executions scenes and 'a few bits and bobs'.

Nowell-Smith also notes that these cinematographers all had different ways of working resulting in a different feel.  Nowell-Smith defends Krasker's work in his shooting of La Fenice and the opening scenes suggesting that Krasker achieved exactly the effect needed by Visconti for these scenes:

Indeed, the use of different lighting effects, due to different cinematographers but co-ordinated by Visconti himself, is essential to the formal articulation of the film. Particular sequences and locations each have a tonality of their own, inspired often by different styles and genres of nineteenth-century painting.

Theses aspects of mise en scene in Visconti's work are incredibly important to in dpeth analysis of his multi-layered approach to meaning. Ivo Blom an art historian is currently working on many aspects of painting and its relationship to Visconti's films.

Film Crew

It is particularly worth noting that both:

  • Franco Rosi
  • Franco Zeffirelli 

were  assistants on this film just as they had both been Visconti's assistants on La Terra Trema (1948)

Cinematography 
Actors 
  • Alida Valli
  • Farley Granger
  • Massimo Girotti
  • Heinz Moog
  • Rina Morelli
  • Marcella Mariani
  • Christian Marquand


Screenwriters
  • Luchino Visconti
  • Suso Cecchi D'Amico
  • Carlo Alianello
  • Giorgio Bassani
  • Paul Bowles
  • Tennessee Williams


Links to Visconti's historical films The Leopard and the damned

Webliography

The entries below represent the best in English I could find on a Google search down to page 30. Very disappointing. It is clearly an underwritten and under watched film!

BFI gallery on Senso  

Visconti Website: Senso a Palimpsest

Luchino Visconti and the Italian Cinema Gianfranco Poggi Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Spring, 1960), pp. 11-22. (JSTOR article needing the readies or instiutional access)

Luchino Visconti's "Musicism" Noemi Premuda International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Dec., 1995), pp. 189-210. Another JSTORarticle with no buy option so instituional access required.

Useful site on a lecture series and screenings of Italian films representing the Risorgimento

Bibliography

Bacon, Henry.1998. Visconti: Explorations of Beauty and Decay. Cambridge: CUP

Horton Andrew. 1997."What do our Souls Seek: An interview with Theo Angelopoulos". In Horton Andrew E. 1997. The Last Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos. Trowbridge: Ficks Books

Lovell, Terry. 1980. Pictures of Reality. London: British Film Institute

Marcus, Millicent: "Visconti's Senso The Risorgimento According to Gramsci". In Marcus, 1986. Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. 2003 3rd RE. Luchino Visconti. London: British Film Institute

Sellors, C. Paul. 2004. "Senso". In Bertellini, Giorgio ed,, 2004. The Cinema of Italy. London Wallflower


October 19, 2007

Chronology of Important European Films

A Chronology of Important European Films  1918 - 2003


Introduction 

This page is work in progress. Many links have been made to in site or external reviews or places where the film can be purchased; films post 2003 are now being  added. Gradually in site 'hubs' are being developed for specific national directors so that clicking on an entry will allow the visitor to access the hub where links to more specialist information on the directors will become available. This is currently a long process and will take many months. The development plan for this aspect of the site work is to open up director based pages which will provide links to the currently best available relevant web sites based upon a Google search  of normally up to page 20.

Objective 

The primary purpose of this entry is to allow visitors to start to make comparisons across national boundaries by gaining a more synoptic view of cinematic developments in parallel countries. This accords with the main cinematic purpose of the blog which is to contribute towards an understanding of European film history in the five major industrial countries of Europe since the end of the First World War.


Many directors worked in a number of countries and, as in any other cultural industry, there are plenty of crossovers becuase cultural workers such as directors and cinematographers are often chosen for specific skills or want to work in a different country to gain a more cosmopolitan experience. Visconti, for example started working with Renoir in France before the Second World War, Emeric Pressburger worked in Berlin before choosing to escape Nazism and coming to Britain. Cavalcanti worked in France and then Britain was brought up in Switzerland and was of Brazilian origin. Truffaut worked with Rossellini briefly. This is of course the tip of the iceberg and signifies the importance of cross-cultural influences within the growth of European cinema. A tradition that carries on to this day.   


Uses For This Page 

This page should help a wide range of people who have an individual, academic or film programming interest in European cinema. First of all, my apologies to visitors who are disappointed because their country is not included in the list. I have chosen to focus on the five major industrial countries of Europe as my main area of research and development. All five are currently members of G8 the World's largest GDPs. Compared to the United States all these countries struggle to get a thriving independent film which has a large audience in its own country. This basic fact about issues of the cultural representation of a range of cultures is an important aspect of what can be termed cultural citizenship.

The definition of cultural citizenship is one which argues that people from different places are able to represent themselves to the rest of world. Out of the Western European countries studied here only France has managed to maintain a very powerful indigenous film culture largely because of its film policies which necessarily extend into the sphere of exhibition and distribution.

To develop more work on more European countries is beyond the scope of an individual blogger. This huge absence points the way to thinking about how to develop a much more powerful pan-European film culture which takes on board the need to develop audiences as well as exhibition, distribution and production systems. For those interested in current institutional initiatives please link here to the European Film Institutions page

Hopefully this blog and page will contribute to this greater idea. For any interested visitors the page should contribute to gaining an overview of European cinema as it has developed since World War I. This date has been chosen as it was a turning point in World history marking the transition of global power from European Empires to the United States although of course it took many decades to complete the transfer.  

The page should help those running film clubs and societies who are trying to work out their programming, it should also help students and those independently interested in European cinema to quickly develop ideas and themes which can then be followed up. 


Underwritten Films and Directors 


One reason for doing this undertaking was to discover which films / directors were underwritten on the web. Whilst most searches will turn up highly specialist articles in small academic journals which require users to be members of a subscribing university there are sometimes very few well informed and well written in depth articles about certain films and / or directors. As I gradually make my trawl  I will note here where there seem to be weak spots in web coverage. This might stimulate interest in the films and ensure that they still remain available.

Taviani Brothers: For most of the films I have been searching so far there is relatively little quality in depth material to recommend. They have made a lot of powerful films in Italy and deserve more serious web recognition. 

Francesco Rosi: This is another director who remains underwritten on the web. Again he has made a lot of important films about Italy frequently with a strong humanitarian / political edge. 

Luchino Visconti: Regarding his 1976 film L'Innocente there is little of any use on a Google search at present. The link I have goes to a Google sample of Henry Bacon's book - this is highly recommnded by the way. The English entries via Google on Senso are generally weak despite the importance of the film as recognised by Nowell-Smith and Dyer.

Rene Clair: Le Silence est d’or there is very little available in English on a Google search.

Guiseppe de Santis: One important point to note is the fact that Bitter Rice has not been available in the UK for a considerable period of time. This is surprising to say the least because not only is it seen as an important film in the canon of Italian neorealism but it was also one of the most commercially successful of the neorealist canon. 




The Chronology


Year

France

Germany

Italy

Soviet Union / Russia

United Kigndom

1918

Dulac: Le Bonheur des autres

Gance: Ecce homo

Gance: J’accuse

L’Herbier: Phantasmes


(Weimar Cinema  until the coming of Sound: An Overview)







1919

Dulac: La Cigarette

Dulac: La fete espagnole

Lang: The Spiders

Lang: The Plague in Florence

Lubitsch: Madame Dubarry

Wiene: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari







1920

Dulac: La Belle dame sans merci

Dulac: Malencontre

Gance (-1922) La Roue

Wegener: The Golem







1921

Dulac: La Morte du soleil

Lang: Destiny

Murnau: Nosferatu







1922

Dulac: Werther (Unfinished)

L’Herbier; Don Juan et Faust

Lang: Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler







1923

Clair: Paris qui dort

Dulac: Gossette

Dulac: La Souriante Mme Beudet

Gance: Au secours

Lang: The Nibelungen







1924

Dulac: La Diable dans la ville

Renoir: La fille de l’eau

Leni: Waxworks

Murnau: The Last Laugh




Eisenstein: Strike

Protazanov: Aelita



1925

Clair: Le Fantome de Moulin Rouge

Dulac: Ame d’artiste

Dulac: La Folie des vaillants

Gance (-1927): Napoleon vu par Abel Gance

Gance(-1927) Autor de Napoleon

Gance (-1928) Marine

Lang: Metropolis

Wiene: The Hands of Orlac



Eisenstein: Battleship Potemkin

Kuleshov: The Death Ray



1926

Clair: Le Voyage imaginaire

Dulac: Antoinette Sabrier

Gance (-1928) Danses


Fank: The Holy Mountain

Murnau: Faust

Murnau: Tartuffe



Kuleshov: By the Law

Pudovkin: The Mother

Vertov: A Sixth of the World

Hitchcock: The Lodger

1927

Arrival of sound In USA

Dulac: Le Cinema au service de l’histoire (Compilation)

Dulac: Invitation au voyage

(Online screening available) 

Renoir: Charleston

May: Asphalt

Ruttman: Berlin Symphony of a City


Eisenstein: October

Pudovkin: The end of St. Petersburg

Shub: The End of the Romanov Dynasty

Shub: The Great Road


1928

Dulac: Germination d’un haricot

Dulac: Le Coquille et le Clergyman

(See under Invitation etc for online screening) 

Dulac: La Princesses Mandane

Gance: Cristallisation

L’Herbier: L’Argent

L’Herbier: Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie

Renpoir: Marquetta

Renoir: La petite marchande d’allumettes


Lang: Der Spione

Pabst: Pandora’s Box



Pudovkin: Storm Over Asia

Shub: The Russia of Nicholas II and Lev Tolstoy



1929


Bunuel: Un Chien d'Andalou & L'Age d'or

Dulac: Etude cinegraphique sur une Aaabesgue

Dulac: Disque 927

Dulac: Themes et variations

Renoir: Tire-au-flanc

Renoir: Le bled

Pabst: Diary of a Lost Girl

Siodmak et al: People on Sunday



Dovzhenko: Arsenal

Eisenstein: Old and New or The General Line

Kovinstev and Trauberg: The New Babylon

Protazanov: Ranks and People

Turin: Turksib

Vertov: Man With a Movie Camera

Asquith: A Cottage on Dartmoor

Hitchcock: The Manxman (His last silent film) 

Hitchcock: Blackmail

1930

Cocteau: Le sang d’unpoete

Gance: La Fin du Monde

Gance: Autour de La Fin du Monde

Vigo: A Propos de Nice

Von Sternberg: Blue Angel



Dovzhenko: Earth



1931

Clair: Sous les toits de Paris

Clair: Le Million

L’Herbier: Le Parfum de la dame en noir

Pagnol: Marius (Technically directed by Korda)

Renoir : On purge bebe

Renoir: La chienne

Vigo: Taris

Lang: M

Pabst: The Threepenny Opera

Sagan: Girls in Uniform



Vertov: Enthusiasm



1932

Clair: Le Quatorze juillet

Gance: Mater dolorosa

Pagnol: Fanny (Technically directed by Allegret)

Renoir : La nuit du carrefour

Renoir: Boudu sauve des eaux

Dudow: Kuhle Wampe

Lang: Das Testament das Dr. Mabuse

Riefensthal: The Blue Light



Eisenstein: Que Viva Mexico!



1933

Pagnol: Le Gendre de Monsieur Poirier

Pagnol: Jofroi

Renoir: Chotard et cie

Vigo: Zero de Conduite

(Nazi Film Genres)



Ophuls: Liebelei

Steinhoff: Hitler youth Quex

Zeisler: Viktor and Viktoria




Kuleshov: Velikii uteshitel' (The Great Consoler)

Korda: The Private Life of Henry VIII

1934

Gance: Poliche

Gance (-1935) Napoleon Bonaparte

L’Herbier : Le Scandale

Pagnol: L’Article 330

Pagnol: Angele

Renoir: Madame Bovary

Renoir: Toni

Vigo: L'Atalante

Trencker: The Prodigal Son (1933-34)


Wegener: A Man Must go to Germany



Vasiliev Bros: Chapayev

Hitchcock: The Man who Knew Too Much

1935

Gance: Le Roman d’un jeune homme pauvre

Gance: Jerome Perreaux, heroes de barricades

Gance: Lucrece Borgia

Pagnol: Merlusse

Pagnol: Cigalon

Renoir: Le crime de Monsieur Lange

Renoir: Toni

Riefenstahl: Triumph of the Will

Blasetti: Old Guard

Dovzhenko: Aerograd

Kosintsev and Trauberg: The Youth of Max

Cavalcanti: Coalface

Hitchcock: The Thirty-Nine Steps

1936

Carne: Jenny

Gance: Un Grand amour de Beethoven

Renoir: Partie  de Campagne





Dzigan: We From Kronstadt

Eisenstein: Alexander Nevsky

Hitchcock: Sabotage

1937

Carne: Drole de drames

Gance: Le Voleur de femme

Pagnol: Regain

Renoir: La Grande Illusion



Gallone: Scipio the African




1938

Carne: Hotel du Nord

Carne: quai des brumes

Gance: Louise

Pagnol: La Femme du boulanger

Renoir: La Marseillaise.

Renoir: La bete humaine.

Froelich: Heimat

Reifenstahl: Olympia

Alessandrini: Luciano Serra Pilota



Asquith: Pygmalion

Hitchcock: The Lady Vanishes

Saville: South Riding

1939

Carne: Le Jour se leve

Gance: Le Paradis perdu

L’Herbier: La Brigade sauvage

L’Herbier: Entente cordiale

Renoir: La regle du jeu








For contextual links  and more films see: British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1939–1951


British Cinema of the Second World War


Hitchcock: Jamaica Inn


Korda: The Four Feathers

Reed: The Stars Look Down

Woods: They Drive by Night

1940


(French Cinema in the Second World War

Gance (-41): La Venus aveugle

Pagnol: La Fille du puisatier

Harlan: Jew Suss

Hippler: The Wandering Jew
(on arrival go to p 147) 


Mauder & Sessner :The Attack on Fort Eben-Ebel





Hitchcock: Rebecca

1941

L’Herbier: Histoire de rire

Liebeneiner: I Accuse

Ruhman: Quax the Crash Pilot





Powell and Pressburger: The 49th Parallel

1942

Carne: Les visiteurs du soir

Becker: Dernier atout

Gance (-1943): Le Capitaine Fracasse

L’Herbier: La Comedie du bonheur

L’Herbier: La Nuits fantastique



De Sica: The Children are Watching Us

Rossellini: L’uomo dalla Croce

Visconti: Ossessione

(Intro to Neorealism

(Thinkquest site "by student team on Neorealism



Cavalcanti: Went the Day Well?

Howard: First of the Few

Lean: In Which We Serve

Powell and Pressburger: One of Our Aircraft is Missing

1943

Becker: Goupi main-rouges

Bresson: Les anges du peche

Carne (-1945) Les Enfants du paradis

Clouzot: Le Corbeau

Von Baky: Munchausen

Rossellini (43-44) : Desiderio



Arliss: The Man in Grey


Powell and Pressburger: The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp


Launder & Gilliat: Millions Like Us

1944

Gance: Manolette





Eisenstein: Ivan the Terrible Part 1

Batty: The Battle for Warsaw (UK / Poland)

Asquith: Fanny by Gaslight

Clayton: Naples is a Battlefield (Documentary)

Lean: This Happy Breed

Olivier: Henry V

Powell and Pressburger ; A Canterbury Tale

Gilliat: Waterloo Road (Spiv)

Reed: The Way Ahead

1945

(French Cultural Policy After WWII

Becker: Falbalas

Bresson: Les Dames du Bois du Boulogne

Carne:Les Enfants du Paradis

Harlan: Kolberg (1943-45)

Rossellini: Roma citta aperta

Eisenstein: Ivan the TerriblePart 2

Arliss: The Wicked Lady

Boulting: Journey Together

Crabtree: They Were Sisters

Lean: Brief Encounter

Powell & Pressburger: I Know Where I’m Going

1946

Carne: Les Portes de la nuit

Cocteau: La Belle et La Bete

L’Herbier: Au petit bonhuer

Staudte: The Murderers are Among Us

De Sica: Shoeshine

Rossellini: Paisa


Crichton: Hue and Cry (Ealing Comedy)

Jennings: A Defeated People

Lean: Great Expectations

Powell & Pressburger: A Matter of Life and Death

1947

Clair: Le Silence est d’or

Lamprecht: Somewhere in Berlin

Rossellini: Germany Year Zero


Boulting Bros: Brighton Rock (Spiv)

Cavalcanti: They Made Me a Fugitive (Spiv)

Hamer: It always Rains on a Sunday (Melodrama / Social Real)

Powell and Pressburger: Black Narcissus

1948

Cocteau: L’Aigle a deux tetes

Cocteau: Les Parentes terribles

Renais: Van Gogh (Short)

Tati: Jour de fete




De Santis: Bitter Rice

De Sica: Bicycle Thieves

Visconti: La Terra Trema



Asquith: The Winslow Boy

Lean: Oliver Twist

Powell & Pressburger:The Red Shoes

Reed: Fallen Idol

1949

Becker: Rendez-vous de juillet

Melville: Les enfants terribles

Melville: Le Silence de la mer



Rossellini: Strombli: Terra di Dio



Reed: The Third Man

Cornelius: Passport to Pimlico

Hamer: Kind Hearts and Coronets

Mackendrick: Whisky Galore

1950

Carne: La Marie du port

Clair: La Beute du diable

Cocteau: Corolian (Short)

Cocteau: Orphee

Genet: Un Chant d'amour

Resnais: Gaugin (Short)

Resnais: Guernica (Short)





Antonioni: Cronaca di un amore

De Sica: Miracle in Milan

Fellini : Variety Lights

Rossellini: Franscesco guillare di Dio



Lee: The Wooden Horse

Deardon: The Blue Lamp (Social Problem Films)

Odette (Biopic / War)

1951

Bresson: Le Journal d’un cure de campagne

Cocteau: La Villa Santo-sospir

Staudte: The Subject (GDR banned FDR)

De Sica: Umberto D

Fellini: The White Sheik

Visconti: Bellissima



For contextual links and more films see: British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1951–1964


Boulting: High Treason (Anti-Communist)

Boulting: The Magic Box

Crichton: The Lavender Hill Mob

Mackendrick:The Man in a White Suit

1952

Becker: Casque d’or

Pagnol: Manon des sources

Tati: Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot



Antonioni: I vinti


Rosi:Camicie rosse (Red Shirts)


Rossellini: Europa ‘51





Asquith: The Importance of Being Earnest 

Lean: The Sound Barrier

Frend: The Cruel Sea (War)

1953

Carne: Therese Raquin

Clouzot: Wages of Fear

Gance: La 14 juillet 1953

L’Herbier: Le Pere de madamoiselle


Antonioni: La signora senza camelie

Fellini: I vitelloni


L. Anderson: O Dreamland (Social Real)

Cornelius: Genevieve

Crichton: The Titfield Thunderbolt (Comedy)

Gilbert: The Cosh Boy (first Brit X Rated Film) 


Reed: The Man Between (Anti-Communist)

1954

Becker: Touchez pas au grisbi

Carne: L’Air de Paris

Gance: La Tour du Nesle

Varda: La Pointe courte

Kautner: Ludwig II

Kautner: The Last Bridge

Fellini: La strada

Rossellini: Viaggio in Italia

Rossellini: Fear

Visconti: Senso


Hamilton: The Colditz Story (War)

Asquith: The Young Lovers

1955

Clair: Les Grands Manoeuvres

Clouzot: Les Diaboliques

Dassin: Rififi

Renais: Nuit et Brouillard (Short)


Antonioni: Le amiche

Fellini: Il bidone

De Sica: Two Women


Anderson: The Dambusters (War)

Mackendrick: The Ladykillers (Comedy)

1956

Bresson: Un Condamne a mort s’est echappe

Gance: Magirama

Resnais: Toute la memoire du monde (Short)


Fellini: Le notti di Cabiria

Risi: Poor but Beautiful

Chukrai: The 41st

Romm, Mikhail: Murder on Dante Street

Romm, Mikhail: Ordinary Facism

Gilbert: Reach for the Sky (War)

Together (1956) Lorenza Mazzetti

(Free Cinema) 

Momma don't Allow Karel Reisz  and Tony Richardson

(Free Cinema) 

1957

Clair: Porte des lilas

Malle: Lift to the Scaffold

Melville: Bob le Flambeur

Truffaut: Les Mistons (short)

Resnais: Le Mystere de l’atelier (Short)

Rivette: Le Coup du berger (Short)

Reitz & Dorries: Schicksal einer Oper . (57-58)

Antonioni: Il grido

Visconti: White Nights

Kalatozov: Cranes are Flying

Boulting: Lucky Jim

L. Anderson: Everyday Except Christmas (Free Cinema)

Lean: Bridge on the River Kwai (War)

1958

Becker: Montparnasse 19

Carne: Les Tricheurs

Chabrol: Le Beau Serge

Malle: Les Amants

Resnais: Le Chant du styrene

(Short)

Tati: Mon Oncle




Rosi: La sfida (The Challenge)

Abuladze: Someone Else’s Chidren

Gerasimov: And quiet lows the Don



1959

Bresson: Pickpocket

Cocteau: Le Testament d’ Orphee

Gance (-1960): Austerlitz

Resnais: Hiroshima mon amour

Truffaut: 400 Blows

Reitz: Baumwolle (Doc)

Rosi: I magliari (The Weavers)


Rossellini: Generale Della Rovere

Chukrai: Ballad of a Soldier

(British New Wave)

Boulting: I'm Alright Jack

Boulting: Carlton-Browne of the FO


Clayton: A Room at the Top

Greville: Beat Girl 

Hamer: School for Scoundrels

Reed: Our Man In Havana

Richardson: Look Back in Anger (Social Real)

Reisz: We are the Lambeth Boys (Free Cinema)

Thompson: Tiger Bay

1960

Becker: Le Trou

Carne: Terrain vague

Clement: Plein Soleil

Godard: A Bout de souffle

Godard: Le Petit soldat (released 1963)

Rivette: Paris nous appartient

Truffaut: Tirez sur le pianiste

Lang: The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse

Reitz: Krebsforschung I & ii. (doc short)

Antonioni: L’avventura

Fellini: La dolce vita

Visconti: Rocco and His Brothers

Tarkovsky:The Steamroller and the Violin

Dearden: The League of Gentlemen

Green: The Angry Silence


Powell: Peeping Tom (Thriller/Horror)

Reisz: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Social Real)

Gilbert Sink the Bismark (War)



1961

Clair: Tout l’or du monde

Godard: Une Femme est une femme

Truffaut: Jules et Jim

Resnais: L’Annee derniere a Marienbad

Varda: Cleo de 5 a 7

Kluge: Rennen (Short)

Reitz: Yucatan (Short)

Antonioni: La notte

Fellini: Boccaccio ’70 (episode)

Pasolini: Accattone

Rosi: Salvatore Giuliano

Chukrai: Clear Skies

Dearden: Victim (Social Real)

Richardson: A Taste of Honey Social Real)



1962

Bresson: Le Proces de Jeanne D’arc

Godard; Vivre sa vie

Marker: La Jetee

Melville:Le Doulos

Oberhausen Manifesto: New German Cinema directors


Kluge: Leher im Wandel (62-63) (short)

Antonioni: L’eclisse

Bertolucci: La commare secca

Pasolini: Mama Roma

Taviani Bros: A Man for Burning

Visconti: The Leopard

Tarkovsky: Ivan’s Childhood

Lean: Lawrence of Arabia (War)

Schlesinger:A Kind of Loving (Social Real)

Dr. No (Spy)

Forbes: The L-Shaped Room (Social Real)

1963

Godard: Le Mepris

Franju: Judex/Nuits Rouge

L’Herbier: Hommage a Debussy

Resnais: Muriel



Fellini: 8 1/2

Taviani Bros: Outlaw of Matrimiony

Rosi:Le mani sulla città (Hands Over the City



Anderson: This Sporting Life

Brooks: Lord of the Flies

Losey: The Servant

From Russia with Love (Spy)

Schlesinger: Billy Liar (Social Real +)

Richardson: Tom Jones (Literary Adaptation)

1964

Gance: Cyrano et d’Artagnan

Godard: Bande a part

Rouch / Godard / Rohmer et al.: Paris vu par



Antonioni: il deserto rosso

Bertolucci: Before the Revolution

Pasolini: The Gospel According to St. Matthew

Rosi:Il momento della verità (The Moment of Truth

Visconti: Sandra

Kosinstev: Hamlet



Lester: A Hard Day’s Night (Swinging Sixties)

1965

Carne: Trois chambres a Manhattan

Clair: Les Fetes galantes

Gance (-1966): Marie Tudor

Godard: Alphavile

Godard: Pierrot le fou

Kluge: Yesterday Girl (65-66

Schlondorff: Der junge Torless (65-66)

Bellocchio: Fists in the Pocket

Fellini: Juliet of the Spirits

Pontecorvo: The Battle For Algiers





Boorman: Catch Us if you can (Swinging Sixties)

Furie Sidney J: Ipcress File (Spy)

Lester: The Knack (Swinging Sixties)

Polanski: Repulsion (Horror)

Ritt: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Spy)

Scheslinger: Darling (Swinging 60s)


Loach: Up the Junction

1966

Bresson: Au hazard Balthazar

Godard: Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle

Resnais: La Guerre est finie

Reitz: Mahlzeiten (Mealtimes). (66-67)

Pasolini: The Hawks and the Sparrows

Tarkovsky (released 1971) Andrei Rublev

Anderson (Michael): The Quiller Memorandum

Antonioni: Blow Up (Swinging Sixties)

Hamilton: Funeral in Berlin

Narizzano: Georgy Girl


Alfie

Polanski: Cul de Sac

Reisz: Morgan: a Suitable Case for Treatment

Zinneman: A Man For All Seasons

1967

Bresson: Mouchette

Gance: Valmy

Godard: La Chinoise

Godard: Week-End

Pagnol: Le Cure de Cucugnan

Resnais: Loin du Vietnam (Part of a collective work)

Herzog: Signs of Life

Kluge: Artists at the Top of the Big Top: Disoriented

Pasolini: Oedipus Rex

Taviani Bros: The Subversives

Rosi: C'era una volta(Once Upon a Time)

Visconti: The Outsider

Askoldov: The Commissar

Losey: Accident

Loach: Poor Cow

1968

Carne: Les Jeunes Loups

Renais: Je t’aime, je t’aime

Rohmer: Ma nuit chez Maude

Herzog: Fata Morgana (68-70)

Syberberg: Scarabea

Bertolucci: Partner

Fellini: Histoires extraordinaires (Episode)

Pasolini: Theorem

Taviani Bros: The Magic Bird

Taviani Bros: Under the Sign of Scorpio


Anderson: If

Lester: Petulia

Reed: Oliver

Richardson:Charge of the Light Brigade (Swinging Sixties)

Donner: Here We go Round the Mulberry Bush

1969

Bresson: Une Femme douce

Costa-Gravas: 'Z'


Gance (-1971): Bonaparte et la Revolution

Melville: L'armee des hombres

Fassbinder: Love is Colder Than Death

Herzog: Even Dwarfs Start Small (69-70)

Kluge: The Big Mess (69-70)

Sanders-Brahm: Angelika Urban, Verkauferin, verlobt (Doc)

Wenders (69-70): Summer in the City

Fellini: Fellini Satyricon

Pasolini: Pigsty

Pontecorvo: Qiemada

Rossellini: Acts of the Apostles

Visconti: The Damned



Hamilton : Battle of Britain

Attenborough: Oh what a Lovely War

Loach: Kes


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

1970

Carne: La Force et la droit


Melville: Le Circle Rouge

Rohmer: Le Genou de Claire

Fassbinder: The American Soldier

Bertolucci: The Conformist

Bertolucci: The Spider’s Strategem

Fellini: I Clowns

Pasolini: Medea

Pasolini: The Decameron

Rosi:Uomini contro

Rossellini: Socrate

Motyl: White Sun oft he Desert (Red Western)


Roeg: Performance

1971

Bresson: Quatre nuits d’un reveur




Losey: The Go-Between

1972



Fassbinder: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Herzog: Aguirre: Wrath of God

Sander: Does the Pill Liberate Women? (Doc).

Syberberg: Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King

Wenders: The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty

Wenders: The Scarlet Letter

Antonioni: China

Fellini: Roma

Rosi: Il caso MatteiThe Mattei Affair) (


Visconti: Ludwig

Tarkovsky: Solaris

Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange

1973



Fassbinder: Fear Eats the Soul

Sander: Male Bonding

Wenders: Alice in the Cities

Bertolucci: Last Tango in Paris

Fellini: Amacord

Moretti: La sconfitta

Rosi: Lucky Luciano



Roeg: Don’t Look Now

Anderson: O Lucky Man

1974

Bresson: Lancelot du lac

Renais: Stavisky

Rivette: Celine and Julie Go Boating

Fassbinder: Fox and His Friends

Herzog: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

Syberberg: Karl May


Moretti: come parle,frate?

Pasolini: Arabian Nights

Taviani Bros: Alonsanfan

Visconti: Conversation Piece

Mikhalkov: At Home Among Strangers, A Stranger at Home



1975



Schlondorff & von Trotta: The Lost Honour of Katerina Blum

Wenders: False Movement

Wenders: Kings of hte Road

Antonioni: The Passenger

Pasolini: Salo

Rossellini: The Messiah

Mikhalkov: A Slave of Love

Tarkovsky: Mirror

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

1976

Carne: La Bible

Renais: Providence

Fassbinder: Chinese Roulette

Fassbinder: Satan’s Brew

Herzog: Heart of Glass

Herzog: Stroszek ((76-77)

Reitz: Stunde Null (Zero Hour)

Sanders-Brahm: Shirin’s Wedding

Syberberg: Our Hitler (76-77)

Bertolucci: 1900

Fellini: Il Casanova di Frederico Fellini


Moretti: Io sono un autarchico

Rosi: Cadaveri eccellentiIllustrious Corpses) (

Visconti: L'Innocente (The Intruder)





1977

Bresson: Le Diable probablement

Kluge: The Patriot (77-79)

Schlondorff / Fassbinder / Kluge/ Reitz et al : Germany in Autumn

Schlondorff: The Tin Drum. (1997098)

Von Trotta: The Second Awakening of Christa Klages

Wenders: The American Friend

Taviani Bros: Padre, Padrone

Mikhalkov: Unfinished Piece for a Mechanical Piano

Jarman: Jubilee

Winstanley

1978



Fassbinder: The Marriage of Maria Braun

Herzog: Nosferatu

Fellini: Prova d’orchestra

Moretti: Ecce Bombo

Olmi : Tree of Wooden Clogs

Mikhakov: Five Evenings

Harvey: Eagle’s Wing

Parker: Midnight Express

1979



Schlondorff: The Tin Drum

Schlondorff / Kluge / Aust von Eschwege : The Candidate. (79-80)

Von Trotta: Sisters or the Balance of Happiness

Bertolucci: La luna

Fellini. Prova d'orchestra

Rosi: Cristo si è fermato a EboliChrist Stopped at Eboli) (

Taviani Bros: The Meadow

Konchalovsky: Sibiriade

Menshov: Moscow Does not Believe in Tears

Mikhalkov: Several Days in the Life of I.I. Oblamov

Tarkovsky: Stalker

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

1980

Renais: Mon oncle d’Amerique

Fassbinder: Lilli Marleen

Herzog: Woyzeck

Reitz: Heimat (80-84)

Sander: The subjective Factor (80-81)

Sanders-Brahm: Germany Pale Mother

Antonioni: Il mistero di oberwald

Fellini: City of Women



Roeg: Bad Timing

1981



Fassbinder: Lola

Fassbinder: Veronika Voss

Syberberg: Parsifal (81-82)

Von Trotta: The German Sisters

Bertolucci: Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man

Moretti: Sogni d'oro


Rosi: Tre fratelliThree Brothers) (


Taviani Bros: Night of the Shooting Stars

Mikhalkov: Kinsfolk

Reisz: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Hudson: Chariots of Fire

(Start of Heritage Cinema?

Gregory’s Girl

1982



Fassbinder: Querelle

Schlondorff / Kluge / Engstfeld: War and Peace (82-83)

Von Trotta: Friends and Husbands

Wenders: The State of Things

Antonioni: Identificazione di una donna



Anderson (Lindsay): Britannia Hospital 


Greenaway: The Draughtsman’s Contract

1983

Bresson: L’Argent

Renais: La Vie est un roman

Herzog: Fitzcarraldo

Reitz & Kluge: Biermann -Film (short).

Schlondorff: Swann in Love

Von Trotta: Rosa Luxemburg


Moretti: Bianca

Mikhalkov: A Private Conversation

Tarkovsky: Nostalgia

Gilbert: Educating Rita

Leigh: Meantime

MacKenzie: The Honorary Consul

Local Hero

Potter: The Goldiggers

Eyre: The Ploughman’s Lunch

1984

Renais: L’amour a mort

Reitz: Heimat Part 1

Syberberg: die Nacht (84-85)

Rosi: Carmen


Taviani Bros: Chaos



Joffe: The Killing Fields

1985

Varda: Sans toi ni loi

Lanzmann: Shoah

Kluge: The Blind Director

Sanders-Brahm: Old Love (Doc)

Schlondorff: Death of a Salesman


Moretti:La messa e finita



Bernard: Letter to Brehznev

Frears: My Beautiful Laundrette

Lean: A Passage to India

1986

Barri: Jean de Florette

Berri: Manon des sources

Resnais: Melo

Sanders-Brahm: Laputa





Cox: Sid and Nancy


Douglas:Comrades

Ivory: Room With a View

Jordan: Mona Lisa

1987



Herzog: Cobra Verde

Kluge: Odds and Ends

Wenders: Wings of Desire

Olmi: Long Life to the Lady!

Rosi: Cronaca di una morte annumciata (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)


Taviani Bros: Good Morning Babilonia

Mikhalkov: Dark Eyes

Little Dorrit

Ivory: Maurice

Frears: Prick up Your Ears

Wish You Were Here

Robinson:Withnail & I

1988



Von Trotta: Three Sisters





Greenaway: Drowning by Numbers

Leigh: High Hopes

Sammy and Rosie Get Laid

1989



Wenders: Notebook on Clothes and Cities

Fellini: Intervista

Moretti: Palombello rossa



Greenaway: The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and Her Lover

Julien: Looking for Langston

1990



Von Trotta: Return

Fellini: La voce della luna

Moretti: La cosa

Rosi: Dimenticare Palermo (To Forget Palermo)

Taviani Bros: The Sun also Shines at Night

Mikhalkov: Autostop

Leigh: Life is Sweet

Minghella: Truly, Madly, Deeply

1991

Carax: Les amants du Pont-Neuf

Jeunet & Caro: Delicatessen

Pialat: Van Gogh

Wenders: Until the End of the World



Mikhalkov: Urga: Territory of Love

Loach: Riff Raff

1992




Reitz: Heimat Part 2


Rosi: Diario napoletano (Neapolitan Diary)



Ivory:Room With a View

Ivory: Howard’s End

Neil Jordan : The Crying Game

1993

Kassovitz: Cafe au Lait / Blended


Kieslowski:Three Colours: Blue

Kieslowski: Three Colours White (Co-pro)


Muller: The Wonderful Horrible life of Leni Riefenstahl


Von Trotta: Il Lungo Silenzio

Wenders: Far Away so Close


Taviani Bros: Fiorile

Mikhalkov: Anna 6-18

Leigh: Naked

Loach: Raining Stones

Potter: Orlando

1994

Chereau, La Reine Margot


Kieslowski: Three Colours Red (Co-pro)

Von Trotta:die Frauen in der Rosenstrasse

Von Trotta: The Promise

Wenders: Arisha, the Bear and the Stone Ring


Moretti: Caro diario

Moretti: L'unico paese al mondo

Mikhalkov: Burnt By the Sun

Chada: Bhaji on the Beach

Newall: Four Weddings and a Funeral

1995

Kassovitz: La Haine

Mimouni: L’Appartement

Wenders: Lisbon Story

Antonioni ( +Wenders) : Beyond the Clouds



Boyle: Shallow Grave

Winterbottom: Butterfly Kiss

1996


Wenders: Lumiere de Berlin

Moretti: Opening day of 'Close-Up'

Rosi: La tregua (The Truce)

Taviani Bros: Chosen Affinities


Boyle: Trainspotting

Herman:Brassed Off

Lee: Sense and Sensibility

Leigh: Secrets and Lies

Minghella: The English Patient

1997

Kassovitz: Assassin (s)

Wenders:Alfama

Wenders: The End of Violence





For contextual links and more films see: British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1997–2010




Boyle: A Life Less Ordinary

Madden:Mrs. Brown

Potter: The Tango Lesson

Prasad: My Son The Fanatic

Ramsey: Kill the Day

Winterbottom: Welcome to Sarajevo

1998


Von Trotta: Mit 50 Kussen Manner Anders

Moretti: Aprile

Taviani Bros: You Laugh

Mikhalkov: The Barber of Siberia

Kapur: Elizabeth

Leigh: Career Girls

Ritchie: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Sofley: Wings of a Dove

1999



Twyker: Run Lola Run

Benigni : Life is Beautiful



Jordan: The End of the Affair

Leigh: Topsy Turvey  

Michell: Notting Hill


O'Donnell: East is East

Ramsey:Ratcatcher

Rozema: Mansfield Park

2000

Chabrol:Merci pour le Chocolat.

Chereau: Intimacy

Godard: Histoire (s) du cinema

Haneke: Code Unknown(French co-pro) 


Ozon: Water Drops on Burning Rocks




Frazzi & Frazzi:The Sky is Falling




Contemporary
British Directors Hub Page


Pawlikowski: The Last Resort

2001

Denis: Trouble Every Day

Godard: Eloge de l’amour

Haneke: The Piano Teacher

Jeunet: Amelie

Ozon: 8 Women

Tavernier: Laissez-Passer

Hirschbiegel: Das Experiment


Moretti: The Son’s Room



McGuire: Bridget Jone’s Diary


Winterbottom: 24 Hour Party People

Loach: The Navigators

2002

Breillat: Sex Is Comedy

Philibert: Etre et avoir

Dilthey: Das Verlangen (The Longing)




Sokhurov: Russian Ark

Chadha: Bend it Like Beckham

Greengrass:Bloody Sunday



Hüseyin: Anita and Me

Mackenzie: Young Adam

Leigh: All or Nothing

Loach: Sweet Sixteen

Ramsey: Morven Callar

2003


Rohmer: Triple Agent

Becker: Goodbye Lenin!

Reitz: Heimat Part 3


Bellocchio: Good Morning Night



Frears : Dirty Pretty Things

Hodges: I'll Sleep When I'm Dead 

2004
Hirschbiegel:Downfall


Leigh: Vera Drake

Loach: Ae fond Kiss

Gleenan: Yasmin

Pawlikowski: My Summer of Love

Potter: Yes

2005

Haneke: Caché


Rothemund:Sophie Scholl

Weingartner:The Edukators




Dibb: Bullet Boy

Frears: The Queen

Mireilles: The      Constant Gardner

Winterbottom: A Cock and Bull Story

Wright (J): Pride and Prejudice

2006
von Donnersmarck:The Lives of Others


Arnold: Red Road

Loach: Wind That Shakes the Barley

Meadows: This is  England

Williams: London to Brighton

Winterbottom: The Road to Guantanamo

2007



Broomfield: Ghosts

Corbijn: Control

Gavron: Brick Lane

Kapur: Elizabeth the Golden Age  

Loach: It's a Free World

Winterbottom: A Mighty Heart

Winterbottom: Genova

Wright: Atonement


2008 Assayas: Summer Hours




Davies: Of Time and The City

Herman: The Boy in Striped Pajamas

Leigh: Happy-Go-Lucky

Maybury: The Edge of Love

Meadows: Somers Town






September 06, 2007

Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City

Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City. 2006. Mark Shiel. Wallflower Press Short Cuts Series Paperback

Italian Neorealism Rebuilding the Cinematic City

Return to film Studies Book Reviews



In all of this, the notion of representing ‘the real’ – real society, real cities, real people – has become more and more compromised and indeed commodified. In this cultural climate, perhaps the time is right to reclaim the real for its radical potential. (Shiel p 127)



ossessione_1a.jpg

Visconti's Ossessione



Introduction

I still think that Italian Cinema from 1943 to approximately 1980 is the most productive and interesting one of any national cinema. Sadly it is becoming less well known as this period disappears into history. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly any  serious study of the period is embedded in Italian departments and knowledge is thus limited to a few cognoscenti. Neorealism is one of the few aspects of Italian cinema taught more generally on film studies courses however this is often restricted to a brief chapter in a more general film history book. Yet ,as Shiel’s last paragraph cited above notes, rather than the solidarity of early neorealism being an historical occurrence perhaps the sentiments and general approach of neorealism are due a revival. As globalisation runs its course leaving pockets of bitter poverty in even the richest countries and in countries like Brazil leading to bullet proof cars and helicopters for the upper classes representing the real seems to be becoming a priority.

Shiel’s recent book on neorealism is therefore more than welcome because it allows the interested follower of Italian cinema and also students an accessible but authoritative route into this fascinating period of European and Italian history in greater depth. The reader won't put of by the intensely theoretical work which is aimed at a very small target audience of those already in the know which is in part unfortunate outcome of the pressure of the research assessment exercise in Universities.

I strongly recommend this to colleagues in the tertiary sector who teach courses such as the neorealism option on the World Cinema unit for the WJEC A level. It may also be useful for student supervisors of the OCR critical research project area for those taking the World Cinema option. Whilst the book will be too difficult for most sixth formers it will prove a remarkable useful resource which is very well informed indeed as well as original and imaginative and well written as one would expect from somebody who is teaching on the recently upgraded film studies depart at Kings College London.

Technical Aspects of the Book

It may seem a little churlish and pedantic to be critical of the book’s organisation but it would have been useful to have had pages references in the index to mentions of specific films, perhaps under the name of the director as Bondanella does in his large general history of Italian cinema. It is very useful to be able to navigate straight to comment upon a particular film without having to trawl through the book. As none of the other books in this series do this perhaps Wallflower will think about doing this should the titles come out in revised editions which many of them deserve to.

What is Neorealism?



roma_1.jpg

The iconic image of Anna Magnani as Pina moments before being gunned down in Rossellini's Roma Citta Aperta  

(Link to BBC interview with Rossellini on this Rossellini page)



Defining Neorealism very precisely is fraught with difficulties. Discourse around Neorealism tends to fall into two schools of thought however Shiel neatly sidesteps this with a convincing argument. Defining any cultural moment is notoriously difficult and the more closely the object of research is gazed upon the more heterogeneous it can seem. Shiel notes that the term Neorealism can be used ‘flexibly’. For some, Neorealism runs from Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) until Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957). Other have preferred a more tightly defined range of films from Rossellini’s Rome Open City to De Sica’s Umberto D (1952). This kind of discussion can quickly fall into point-scoring and it is more useful to see the whole period as being inextricably linked and indeed being strongly influential well beyond 1957. In this sense Raymond Williams’ notion of ‘structures of feeling’ is a useful term to call upon when discussing cultural moments and movements. Shiel chooses the following approach:

Neorealism is also thought of not so much as a particular moment defined by starting and end dates, but as a historically – and culturally – specific manifestation of the general aesthetic quality known as ‘realism’, which is characterised by a disposition to the ontological truth of the physical visible world. From this perspective, the realism of Italian Neorealism manifested itself in a distinctive visual style. (Shiel: 2006 p1).

Importantly Shiel points out that not all neorealist films contain all of the cinematic strategies that neorealism is know for – location shooting, use of non-professional actors etc. There isn’t a precise formulaic set of rules to describe neorealism.




umberto_d_3.jpg

De Sica holds to the notion of having a non-professional actor in the leading role in Umberto D



Neorealism as a Wider Cultural Movement

Neorealism was a much wider cultural movement than just cinema. Many people will be familiar with writers such as Calvino who were strongly associated with neorealism however the movement extended to photographers and painters and interestingly also architects. This link to architecture was something new to me and is dealt with in chapter three of the book called neorealism and the City. Calvino’s book Invisible Cities is of course one link and Deleuze of course wrote about the different city space of post-war cinema because the spaces of the cities were opened up by the devastation of the fighting. Rossellini deal with this in Paisa particularly in the episode based upon Florence, but nowhere is more marked than in his Germany Year Zero where he was specifically invited by the authorities to film in Berlin because of Paisa and of course Rome Open City. Other critics and theorists apart from Deleuze also wrote extensively about the city and cinema especially Kracauer and Bazin.




Germany Year Zero

Rossellini's Germany Year Zero





The Structure of the Book

The book is well structured with an initial chapter describing neorealism, here the importance of the French pre-war directors Renoir, Carne and Clair is emphasised. The chapter also contains some useful synopses of the emergence of neorealist directors under the Fascist regime such as Rossellini and De Sica. The book then moves on to examine the first phase of neorealism as Shiel understands it because he sees work of the 1950s as being part of neorealism which is adapting to changing circumstances rather than being a complete break with what had gone before. In the first phase the dominant feel of the films are built around a notion of solidarity.

I found chapter three perhaps the most interesting because Shiel has applied the growing interest within the fields of film and cultural studies with the city and representations of the city to the realm  of neorealist cinema.

Neoralist images of post-war urban crisis are an especially important legacy because Italy was the only one of the defeated Axis powers whose cinematic representations of the city achieved iconic status internationally so soon after its military defeat. (Shiel p68)

He has also extended the concept of neorealism to movements in architecture allied to notions of building for community. Shiel also draws parallels in the shift from phase one of neorealism (solidarity), to the second phase (focusing more on disaffection and alienation) to shifts in architectural discourse and practices.



Rocco and his Brothers 11   Rooco and his Brothers 12

Modern Northern Milan meets Southern emigrants in Rocco and his Brothers from Visconti.

It is a great film and thoroughly embedded with the concrns of modernisation and modernity. Visconti meets Dickens with politics perhaps. It is a film which seems to be a direct descendent if not a continuation of  neorealism. Its treatment of the city is well worth considering in depth.  However it isn't a film which Shiel mentions, whilst writers like Bondanella rather sweep aside its powerful political insights suggesting it is more operatic and melodramatic than having the spirit of " a naturalist novel or a neorealist film". (Bondanella 2002, p198)



Chapter four is entitled “The Battle for Neorealism”. It focuses upon the rapidly changing circumstances within Italian society as Italian politics consolidated around the Christian Democrats who were victorious in the 1948 general election a time when Hollywood comes to dominate Italian cinema. Shiel also notes the demands from the more hard-line left such as the critic Umberto Barbaro ( http://www.bfi.org.uk/features/cinemaitalia/neorealism.html ) for a move towards an aesthetic based upon Socialist-Realism, which had less to do with reality and more to do with creating mythical heroes. In this chapter Shiel also makes a brief comment upon Visconti’s Bellissima largely following Geoffrey Nowell-Smith’s position in which Bellissima carries:

neorealist hallmarks but its light-hearted comedy and melodrama set it somewhat apart from the rest of Visconti’s generally political oeuvre. (Shiel p 93).

As can be seen from my review of the recently released DVD of Bellissima from Eureka Video I have a reading which gives Visconti credence for having a sharp political cutting edge whilst still maintaining the solidarity of neorealism which is hammered home (perhaps unconvincingly but that is an artistic comment not a political one).Hopefully readers won’t be put off Visconti’s excellent film by this comment.



bellissima_7.jpg

A moving moment in Visconti's Bellissima as the built in advantages of the middle classes aremade abundantly clear



Cronaca di’un amore poster

Poster of Antonioni’s Cronaca di’un amore



In chapter five Shiel reviews neorealism’s second phase. In this analysis he is in agreement with Andre Bazin who considers that it was in the closing shot of Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria that finally closes the door on neorealism. The chapter opens with an analysis of Antonioni’s Cronaca di’un amore. Sadly I haven’t seen this film which along with I think all of Antonioni’s early work is unavailable in the UK so I’m unable to comment upon Shiel’s analysis beyond noting that there is no reason to think of it as anything but thorough.



voyage_to_italy_5.jpg

Rossellini's Voyage in Italy



In chapter five Shiel also comments upon the films of Rossellini from this period, with some time spent on Voyage in Italy one of several from this time made with Ingrid Bergman. This film at least is available in an excellent BFI version with a very interesting analytical commentary by Laura Mulvey as an extra. Shiel says of Voyage in Italy:

Comprises an expansion of neorealism in the direction of the metaphysical or spiritual concerns and resembles the direction taken by Antonioni. (p 104).

Rossellini had commented as early as 1949 very soon after the Christian Democrats came to power that “ You cannot go on shooting in ruined cities forever”, a clear recognition of the rapid changes and that European reconstruction was beginning to have an effect. Shiel argues that in Francis God’s Jester (available from Eureka video) Rossellini was playing with a metaphor where the relationship with God and other humans was played out in the absence of material. A comment perhaps on the priorities of the CD party and the values being expressed as what became known as the ‘economic miracle’ got under way.

Nights of Cabiria 3

Above from Fellini's Nights of Cabiria

From here Shiel moves to examine the work of Fellini who made six films during this period of the early to mid-fifties. The focus here lies upon Nights of Cabiria. Shiel suggests that Fellini:

Employed realism as a window onto internal character although like the films of Antonioni and Rossellini they never strayed far from social concerns and presented their personal tragedies as narratives with real social implications. (p 113)

Shiel notes that it was this film which initially working within a neorealist framework grows out of it in its final moments. It was Bazin who noted that whilst the film remained largely neorealist he noted that Cabiria was looking at the spectator in a way that changed the relationship of the spectator to the film moving away from the objectivity of the spectator prized by neorealism.

Shiel’s conclusion which I have noted at the beginning of this review notes the legacy of neorealism. Here Shiel claims a wide range of important films on a global scale were influenced by neorealism. Whist I don’t wish to decry these claims I think that the social concern expressed in We are the Lambeth Boys by Karel Reisz (1959) may be underplaying the British documentary connection especially the influence of Humphrey Jennings many of whose films are considerably underestimated. In that sense the notions of realism which Shiel clearly thinks have been seriously downplayed in academia in recent years partially because of the rise of post-modern discourse has a wide and deep roots running through European film culture. Certainly the work of Francesco Rosi and Olmi kept the neorealist flame alive in Italy itself.




Tree of Wooden Clogs 2

From Olmi's Tree of Wooden Clogs



Conclusion

As an excellent, readable, rigorously researched but accessible book this is the best that I have read on neorealism from the perspective of the more general reader. It would be an excellent book to have as a reference for those new to neorealism as it provides enough contextual information to place this loose movement in a holistic sense, it chooses a good range of films to use as brief case studies and provides an historical scope which includes both the origins of the movement and the long-term influences of this movement which has had a critical success which far outweighs the box-office returns of the time. The book provides a good range of films to be followed up and an excellent range of references which opportunities for the more committed reader to follow up. This book is a must for students, teachers and those interested in Italian and / or European cinema and comes strongly recommended.


August 19, 2007

Bellissima: Luchino Visconti

Bellissima: Luchino Visconti (1951)

Bellissima outside Cinecitta

A bleak view of Cinecitta as Maddalena and Maria return from the screenings with hopes dashed


(Visit Visconti web-hub)

Introduction

The September 2007 release of Bellissima (1951) by Luchino Visconti in the ‘Masters of Cinema series from Eureka video is nothing short of a red letter day for followers and students of Visconti and his oeuvre. It is a film which is sadly underwritten in English. Before any critical comment is made it is important to note that this film makes for excellent viewing. Visconti's direction is superb and Anna Magnani excels in the leading role.  

The well known post-war history Italian Cinema by Peter Bondanella surprisingly fails to mention the film at all. This film is very important for a number of reasons. It marks a transition from Neorealism to post-neorealism within Italian cinema; it is a meta-cinematic film which deals in a biting comedy a critique of the institution of cinema itself – it thus predates Fellini’s well known La Dolce Vita (1959) by several years; it can be taken as a strong indirect critique of the political direction Italy was taking at the time as well as a critique of the Christian Democratic government's relationship to America  it gives many insights into the way Visconti worked as a director with his performers (Anna Magnani & Alessandro Blasetti); lastly and by no means least as a film it is good viewing – it appears as a favourite of Richard Dyer’s in one of Sight & Sound's surveys about favourite films of critics.

This article cum review of the DVD will firstly place the film in its historical context and then provide a brief synopsis of the film. I will then follow this with an analysis in relation to the key writing in English on Bellissima by the leading critics Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Henry Bacon and Millicent Marcus all of whom are very positive about the film in general whilst all providing a range of different insights into Bellissima. I will then provide a few comments on the Eureka DVD itself which contains a useful booklet with comments from Nowell-Smith amongst others as well as a documentary as an extra. I have also provided a webliography based upon a ‘Google’ up to page 20 of a search in English only. The results are generally disappointing and reinforce the notion that this film is much underwritten in the English speaking world. Hopefully this posting and the DVD will encourage more engagement with Visconti’s work and also provide some impetus for translation from the work of Italian critics making this available to a global audience. Nowell-Smith commented many years ago that this film was underwritten perhaps because it is the most ‘Italian’ of Visconti’s films. He has commented that this is to miss out on an important film:

But it is the most subtle and elusive thing of all, the element of self-criticism and irony and the expense of its own ‘Italian’ quality, which has most effectively prevented it from being assimilated and appreciated by foreign audiences.” (Nowell-Smith, 2003, p 45).

Generically Bellissima is a sub-genre of comedy which is called neorealism rosa or pink neorealism. As such it makes for good viewing and importantly helps to undermine the commonly held stereotypes within the discourse which has developed around Visconti. This is a point which Nowell-Smith brought out in the first edition of his book many years ago:

The commonly held stereotypes about Visconti are that he is totally humourless and incapable of self-irony, that his imagination is sensual rather than intellectual, and that he is a crude social-realist with a taste for ‘positive’ heroes, and an anti-feminist who neither likes nor understands his women characters. (Ibid)

These aren’t stereotypes that I recognise within Visconti’s oeuvre however if these are widely held today then this welcome release of Bellissima will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of a director whose contribution to the development of cinema has yet to be fully recognised in the English speaking world. Certainly Eureka has done the world a favour by releasing this film in its most prestigious series giving Visconti the recognition he fully deserves.


Italian Cultural Policy & Political Context

Out of the three main critics referred to here Henry Bacon has usefully provided the contextual background to Bellissima. Released over three years after La terra trema (1948) Italy had undergone significant political change which strongly effected the cultural policy background of the production of Bellissima, indeed Bellissima can be read as an indirect political response to this changed political environment.

The Christian Democrats had won the 1948 elections. At the same time the Vatican excommunicated all those who had voted communist or had collaborated with communism – one wonders if they cared! – Films with a left-wing social agenda were now deemed to be very risky investments without government support; furthermore, there was a strong risk of the film being confiscated by the authorities. The Christian Democrats controlled the production grants and also the mechanisms for exporting film. Overall this control acted as a de facto form of censorship. The neorealist movement was itself branded as left-wing despite the fact that directors such as Roberto Rossellini were politically quite close to the Christian Democrats. The then Undersecretary of State Giulio Andreotti specifically attacked De Sica’s Umberto D as unpatriotic:

…De Sica has done a disservice to his country, if people around the World begin to think that Italy in the twentieth century is the same as Umberto D. (Cited Bacon, 1998 p53).

Neorealism as a form was also under attack from elements of the Left. The great Soviet filmmaker Pudovkin took the Stalinist social realist approach to filmmaking at a meeting in Perugia exhorting filmmakers to focus on content rather than from and to generate ‘positive heroes’.

As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, a key problem for the Italian industry as a whole as well as the neorealist elements was the rapidly increasing domination of the cinema by Hollywood productions. In 1946 Italy had managed to produce 65 films even in the aftermath of the war. By 1948 this had dropped to 49. Between1945-1950 they controlled 60%-75% of the market share.

One response of Italian filmmakers to this changing environment was to use aspects of Hollywood within their own cinema. Increasingly the features of Hollywood gangster movies appeared in post-neorealist films. Another important development was the development of a comedy sub-genre called neorealism rosa (pink neorealism). It was a genre with its roots in pre-war light comedy of the fascist period and according to Bacon had a similar social message which was keep to the status quo and forget ideas of social mobility and egalitarian society. This sub-genre developed the use of highly eroticised stars such as Gin Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren. Bacon comments that the films were rather more successful than true neorealist films in creating a wide audience for Italian cinema.

During the period between La terra trema and Bellissima Visconti had returned to the theatre. Bacon (p 51) suggests that this was because …he wanted to create something grandiose , to take some distance from realism. Visconti was accused by the purist wing of the neorealists of betraying neorealism however Visconti himself saw neorealism as a method and in response called for the use of fantasy as a complete display of liberty (Bacon, 1998 p 52). It was during this period that Visconti met Thomas Mann, a writer Visconti held in enormous respect. Visconti gained Mann’s permission to create an opera-ballet using Mann’s novella Mario & the Magician. Sadly this was postponed several times by La Scala and was only finally put into production after Mann’s death.


Synopsis




Bellissima Maddalena and Maria

Maddelena (Anna Magnani) is projecting her desires for success onto her daughter Maria




Working class Maddelena Cecconi hears a request from the film director Allessandro Blasetti for the prettiest young girl in Rome to star in a film he is making. Maddelena takes her child Maria to Cinecitta and joins the crowds of middle class mothers and their daughters in the herd to get an audition. Maria is chosen as a finalist and Maddelena sacrifices everything to train Maria up for the audition including lessons in acting and ballet. She also goes to dressmakers and hairdressers to prepare Maria for the big day to put Maria on a par with her better off peers. During this time she has fallen in with a local hustler who promises to get her the right contacts for a fee. He then starts to make sexual advances towards Maddelena. All the time relations with her non-aspirational husband deteriorate. Maddelena gains access to the projection booth during the viewing of Maria’s screen test. Maria is in tears and the film production team watching become intensely derisive of the small girl. Maddalena is outraged and despite the part being offered to Maria Maddelena has had an epiphany and understands that she has ignored the needs of her daughter by substituting her own desires. She refuses to sign the contract and returns chastened to the family home.




Bellissima Ballet Lessons

The scene in which Maddalena takes Maria to get ballet dancing lessons is very poignant. Maria is identified as being only 5 in the film whilst the casting is for a little girl of between seven and eight. This age and size difference becomes a visual trope throughout the film to emphasise the impossibility and impracticality of Maddalena's desires.  This impossibility is emphasised in the ballet school by the tiny figure of Maria at the bar. The emphasis within the mise en scene between Maddalena and the fashionably dressed middle class mothers who have been taking their daughters to ballet lessons for three years emphasises the class divide which is at the core of this film. It is the illusion of possibility of entering this world of illusion as a route out of poverty which is being thoroughly critiqued. It is a theme which Visconti would return to when dealing with the illusions of boxing in Rocco and His Brothers (1960).














Critical Analysis

For a person who can't keep up with very fast often histrionic Italian which has many local references to such things as the local Rome football teams having this film available on DVD is a huge benefit. The possibility to return quickly to repeat particularly dynamic moments of interaction is essential. In this sense Nowell-Smith's explanation that this film is the most 'Italian' of Visconti's films and most difficult for a non-Italian to watch is relevant. 

The film itself is a joy to watch. The power and charisma of Magnani in full-flight drags the film along in her wake, however, this power is more than just a diva taking control and totally dominating, it is a performance which brings out the best in those around her. For those who have seen Rome Open City (1945, Rossellini) or the later Mamma Roma (Pasolini, 1962) this will come as no surprise.   Visconti himself notes this in his interview with Michele Gandin:

...Magnani's improvisatory flare has natural instinct behind it, not theatrical artifice. Moreover she knows how to place herself on the same level as her fellow performers, and she also knows how to carry them along with her - how to raise them up to her level as it were. I wnated this particualr - and extraordinary aspect of her personality, and I got it. (Bellissima booklet p 24) 

Metacinema


Bellissima is the first of the postwar Italian films to be metacinematic in others words to be providing a critique of the institution of cinema itself. Fellini and Lattuada's film Variety Lights (1950), had already begun a reflexive exploration of the illusion / reality of performance and entertainment exploring the creation of an opportunistic singer to become a stage diva.  Much of Fellini's later work was to continue in this reflexive vein commenting critically on film and media, perhaps most notably in La Dolce Vita (1959). Of course Godard's Le Mepris(1963) is also a metacinematic representation, dealing with divisma and an inceasingly tawdry Cinecitta as well.

Bellissima was very much the initiative Salvo d’Angelo who had lost money on La terra trema, nevertheless he still retained confidence in Visconti’s abilities as a filmmaker. Initially Visconti was disinterested in the project and wasn’t impressed by Zavattini’s original script, however when he was offered the opportunity to work with Anna Magnani the much loved Pina in Rossellini’s Rome Open City (1945). The inclusion of Magnani as the leading lady:

…would allow him to build a self-conscious reflection on the workings of divismo (stardom) and the power of spectacle into the very structure of his film. (Marcus, 2002, p 40).

The inclusion of Magnani would also help to target a much wider audience for she was widely identified as a ‘woman of the people’ after her role as Pina. Using her as a lead would help considerably in subverting the neorealism rosa and using comedy: in a way that is consistent with the director’s ethical commitment. (Bacon,1998, p 54).

The Importance of Performance & the Role of Anna Magnani

Of the three critics referred to here it is Marcus who draws out the importance of the use of Maganani most effectively and she specifically cites an interview with Visconti which shows the underlying importance of Magnani to the project:

“I was interested in working with an authentic “character”, with whom many more interior and meaningful things could be expressed. And I was also interested in knowing what relationship would be born between myself as director and the “diva”Magnani. The result was very felicitous.” (Visconti cited Marcus, 2002, p 40).

(This interview is available on this Eureka DVD in a new translation).  

Henry Bacon also refers to the importance of Magnani to the success of Visconti's wider project of providing a critique of the illusory aspects of mainstream cinema: “On the whole, Magnani amply demonstrates how theatricality and stylization can be used to reveal aspects of reality that might otherwise remain hidden. (P 57).

The tension between mainstream Hollywood cinema - which Maddelena is besotted with - and the losing struggle of Italian cinema especially the neorealist ideal is highlighted when Maddelena is watching Howard Hawks' Red River from the yard outside their basement flat where they can overlook screenings of an outside cinema. This outside cinema firmly places the importance of cinema in the lives of working class people and shows the illusory  and exotic world which can be projected. It is a theme which reappears in Umberto D (1951) which was also scripted by Zavattini.  It is clear that some of those involved with the neorealist movement were adapting to the political shifts and cultural in Italian society and fighting something of a rearguard action against the incursions of Hollywood. 

Visconti is astutely working within this tension and the use of Italy's most universally loved star allows Visconti to make a very powerful film which would be full of very specific meanings for the contemporary local audiences. Magnani herself is clearly aware of the ironies for her own position as a diva was clearly threatened by the increasing incursions of Hollywood into mainstream culture and corresponding shrinkage of the Italian industry. Her own background was from the working class and her own history of success within the entertainment industry undoubtedly gives her an edge in this performance. At the time her personal life with Rossellini who had gone off with Hollywood Star Ingrid Bergman providews another very personal take on the powers of Hollywood. 

Another point  which was probably attractive to Visconti was that Magnani was the epitome of the organic intellectual in Gramscian terms. With a working class background and total dedication to  professionalism she was the embodiment of a popular figure rather than a populist one. Visconti was highly sceptical of  idealist versions of neorealism which solely promoted the use of the non-professional actor. More minor characters such as Spartaco (Maddalena's husband were ordinary people. Walter Chiari (The Hustler) was a rising star and according to the DVD documentary interviews with Zefirelli and others from the production team Chiari was needed as Maganani at that time didn't have the pulling power any longer.  


The Politics of Mise en Scene 

The importance of mise en scene within Visconti's political critique is very marked. The working class environment of Maddelena's home in a basement where she can be spied upon by boys in the neighbourhood and which is full of blaring loud music raises the general attitude of the environment to a cacophony at times (it is an early version of the banlieu in Kassowitz's La Haine).In Bellissima escape is provided by the outdoor cinema, whilst in La Haine the lads attempt a more physical escape. The protagonists are in both films faced with class barriers. 

Maddelena is differentiated immediately from the middle class mothers and their children who flock to  Cinecitta to propress the future of their daughters. The size and age of Maria in contrast to the middle class girls one of whom was eleven in the first audition emphasises class difference. The representations of Cinecitta itself as a tawdry site of dream production can be contrasted to representations of Hollywood where entrance to the studios is always guarded and stars appear in chauffeur driven cars driving through gilded gates. The dreams manufactured in Cinecitta can only be second rate ones anyway, Visconti seems to be implying.

The basement flat which Maddelena's family occupies is bare of food and comforts. They are planning to escape as a family anyway as they want to move into a new house symbolised by plans. The patients whom Maddelena administers injections to are a mixture of genuine cases and pampered hypochondriacs. It appears as though Maddalena as a nurse isn't paid on a regular salary but on the work completed. Administering another course of anti-biotics will allow her to buy a coat. Her income  is unstable and insecure and this seems to link intertextually to Bicycle Thieves (De Sica: 1948). There is an important point to be made here because several of the critical writings have identified Maddalena as somebody who just goes around giving  injections to diabetics and associate her with a kind of charlatanism which is just as illusory as cinema itself. Certainly the dressmakers are cynical about what she does a reference to a scene where she administers an unnecessary injection to a lazy and overfed woman who lies around in bed a lot who Maddalena teases mercillesly in a scene played for laughs. Then she has to go to see the Commendatore a diabetic who also needs a course of streptyomycin prescribed by the doctor. This will allow her to afford a coat. 

The use of cinematic spaces - particularly the ballet class scenes alluded to above - emphasise the huge class differences and the real lack of social mobility within the system. This can be read as a clear critique of the Christian Democrats who have deliberately and systematically closed down the routes to social equality which were ideals at the heart of the solidarity combining national identity and meritocracy at the heart of the neorealist idyll. Again the use of particular stars and their performance is all part of mise en scene understood in its wider meaning. The star persona of Magnani  precisely embodied the possibilities of social mobility and success which she had achieved in her own life adding a rich layer of interpretive possibilities for audiences who would have been highly aware of these changes in the Italian environment as well as the filmic references.


Visconti's Ending & Zavattini's Ending

The ending of the film really emphasises Visconti's political agenda and shows how the whole film uses cinema itself as a synechdoche for the changed class and power relations in Italy. His ending is in marked contrast to Zavattini's original script. Zavattini's approach often seemed to be pessimistic and fatalistic with the structures of society set to overwhelm individual agency forever leaving the suffering individual on the margins of society. Nowhere does this seem so marked as in Umberto D. The original script of Bellissima written by Zavattini was generally pessimistic. Maria was to be turned down by Blasetti end of story.

Visconti's ending was far better. Not only did it give Maddelena moral power at a personal level but this power needs to be understood as an embodiment of national identity for it is  precisely her iconic status as the visual trademark of neorealism (Marcus, 2002 p 41) which she earned as the character of Pina being ruthlessly gunned down by the Nazis in Rome Open City which allows her to become a form of critique in itself. In this sense Bellissima is where her star status carries over character martyrdom to elide into a personal martyrdom in her relationship with Rossellini ousted by a Hollywood star. Magnani as off screen persona / on-screen persona is a double signifier of invasion and a compromising of Italian identity firstly with the Nazis and then with the power of the USA and its influences on Italian society in the immediate postwar period as it helped to undermine the communist and left political agandas. 




Bellissima Maddalena and Maria Projection Room


Here Maddalena and Maria are pictured in the projection room secretly watching the initial screenings of the children for the role. The is the second part of Maddalena's initiation into the workings of the cinema as an institution. The editor Iris who has smuggled them in had herself played minor roles but explained to Maddalena that this was luck and that she had been consigned to the editing room. clearly this is a possible outcome for Maria. 

The whole of Maria's screen-test is fascinating as it leads Maddalena towards her epihany. Maria is too small to blow out the candles on a cake. The gradual snuffing out of the candles a projection of Maddalena's emotions as her dreams are slowly snuffed out as well. She isn't going to taste the cake of success just beyond her reach. Then the mood changes from disappointment to one of shock as Maria bursts into tears because she has forgotten the lines of her poem. This creates a ripple of ruthless laughter around the theatre amongst the men in power. The mood again shifts as an  enraged Maddalena bursts in on Blasetti and his production team. Maddalena's barging past is again an intertextual reference to Rome Open City where the Nazis line up the occupants of the appartment block to conduct a search and ther is much pushing and shoving. 






Visconti's ending resulted in Blasetti offering the role to Maria. Maddelena turns down the contract. At one level this gives her a moral credibility on a par with Pina as Marcus has noted. However it goes much further than this, because the ending isn't just a simple closure. It leaves the audience with the question as the the last shot focuses upon the sleeping innocent child: what will the future then be for Maria? - again her role is synechdocal for the future of Italy itself. This shot can also be read intertextually for the role of children and the closing shot of children in Rome Open City as the way to the future is clearly referenced. 

Rather than struggling to join a world of petit-bourgeois parents endlessly scrapping to crawl up the ladder using their children there has to be a way which doesn't complacently accept the status quo in the way that Maddalena's husband is doing, nor does it mean sacrificing the genuine needs of ones children to the illusory world of show business and entertainment parasitically built on the dreams and incomes of the working classes. The promise Maddalena makes to her husband is that she will work hard on her own merits to earn them their new house. There is of course a jokey reference made to giving the population of Rome diabetes but this can be overread as a form of illusion on a par with cinema. 

The end scenes have an even greater irony in them than intended because as Maddalena jokes about Burt Lancaster as being such a nice star to tease her husband about her recently lost fantasies about Hollywood today's audience is aware of how Burt Lancaster was initially foisted onto Visconti to play the lead role in The Leopard (1963).Lancaster again appeared in Conversation Piece (1974) this time as a friend of Visconti's. 

It seems that Visconti is thowing problems at the audience, they are being seduced in the short-term, but there is no clear future for Italy if they follow this path. The path for the country is dependent upon solidarity and hard work but it will provide more stability and more satisfaction in the future.  The open ending requires the audiences to participate in making thier own future or else the illusionists would pull the strings. This reading of the ending differs considerably from Nowell-Smith's who reads the film  as  a  straightforward criticism  of the cinema  as an industrial  and social process (Nowel-Smith, 2003 p 55). Nowell-Smith then argues that Visconti doesn't have the open endings of the type which Antonioni uses rather he relies on a rigid and self-contained structure. (ibid). Here Nowell-Smith reads the husband as a concrete pole of attraction which allows Visconti to clearly treat the central theme. Bacon too argues that the ending is one of family unity, unique amongst Visconti's films. Here I would suggest that it is a return to class and that a sense of solidarity is represented through the family which would seem to be an excellent way of passing on a coded political message in a censorious cultural environment promoting 'family values'. Here it would be interesting to undrstand how audiences of the time read this. 


Gender Relations


One issue which none of the three main critics of this film writing in English have dealt with in depth is that of gender relations. Maddalena clearly suffers some degree of physical abuse although this is unseen.  There is a furious argument in the flat when the dress is delivered and in front of the other women in the flats who come to rescue her she complains of being bruised. Again in the final scene she admits defeat to the husband and says that he can give her the usual four slaps.

Unsurprisingly it is Marcus who raises the issue of gender and notes that Visconti exposes the self-serving notions of motherhood by reversing the gender roles in the Cecconi household... (2002, p52-53).  Certainly superficially he takes some care of Maria, undressing her and promising ice-cream but for him there is no discussion about Maria's future he doesn't say that that Maria's future should be in the school, rather it is Maria who wants to go back there. Rather it is better to read Spartaco's role as one of acceptance of the status quo with a few dreams about a better place to live if he works steadily. This isn't an Italy that Visconti wanted any more than an Italy in thrall to America (it must be remembered here that the "Economic Miracle" was underpinned by Marshall aid).


Spagnolo’s survey on the consequences of this American conception of economic assistance on home affairs is straightforward. The CDs’ role accounts for the economic policy they attained in the short run. U.S. grants were used to fund productive investments rather than to foster industrial investments with a clear employment-creating effect as the American authorities in Europe suggested.  (Selva  2004 p 4).

Marcus talks of Maddalena's parental failure, but rather than failure it is a missplaced energy put into illusions of cinema which we can see as an allusion to Christian Democracy and its American backers. It is the false dreams of American capitalism as Visconti saw it which was the core issue. Arguably it was less Maddalena living vicariously through her daughter as a genuine but missplaced attempt to ensure a better future for her daughter. Her reaction when Iris the editor tells her of her failure to become an actress and her being cast aside that genuine doubt emerges and a recognition that all is not what it seems becomes apparent. Bacon notes that the role of Iris was played by Liliana Mancini and that this was very much what had happened to Mancini in real life. (Bacon 1998 p 57).   

Gendering is clearly apparent in the control of power in the film and here the industry / country is clearly run by men. Arguably here Visconti is again challenging the return to family values being promoted by the Christian Democrats in which women are returned to the family by utilising the iconic status of Magnani again. Solidarity in Rome Open City was through both genders as epitomised by Magnani.  Again the dynamism of Magnani and her committment to the future of Maria / Italy meant that she would be developing a different route, not selling out to Cinecitta / American capitalist ethics.  


Conclusion

There are many more things which can be discussed about this film and Marcus, Nowell-Smith and Bacon all provide useful insights. The suggestion that there is a class position being indirectly  proposed  is my own.  Whatever thoughts turn out to be if you are interested in Italian cinema or european cinema at all the release of the imprtant DVD for the English market is an opportunity not to be missed. 



The Eureka Masters of Cinema DVD of Bellissima


bellissima_10.jpg


Section under construction awaiting copy of the DVD 

Advertised Extras include:

A PROPOSITO DI BELLISSIMA [31:42]. This is a useful documentary and consists of interviews with the Rosi, Zefirelli, Ceccho D'Amico and others on the processes of making Bellissima

• Video interview with Bellissima co-screenwriter and assistant director Francesco Rosi [10:31]. This interview is a useful extract taken from a longer interview with Rosi who also worked with Visconti on La terra trema. It gives some useful insights into neorealism.

• Original theatrical trailer [3:51]

• 32-page illustrated booklet containing the chapter by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith from the 2003 3rd edition of his well known book on Visconti. This is an important and useful bonus. The booklet also features a short interview with Visconti with Michele Gandin in a new translation by Bert Cardullo, Professor of American Culture and Literature and author of Vittorio De Sica:Director, Actor,Screenwriter. 




Key Production Details (taken from Henry Bacon, 1998)

First performance: Italy, December 28th, 1951

Length: 3,162 metres

Duration 113 minutes

Director: Luchino Visconti

Assistant Directors: Francesco Rosi, Franco Zeffirelli

Scriptwriters: Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Francesco Rosi, Luchino Visconti. (NB Interestingly Bacon has acknowledged Zavattini as being the original scriptwriter in the text but hasn’t included him in this list presumably because as he points out the final script moved so far away from the original and included so much improvisation that Zavattini’s contribution was obviated.)

Leading Actors: Anna Magnani (Maddalena Cecconi), Walter Chiari (Alberto Annovazzi), Tina Apicella (Maria Cecconi), Alessandro Blasetti (As himself).

Bibliography


Bacon, Henry. 1998. Visconti: Explorations of Beauty & Decay. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-59960-1 (Pbk)

Marcus, Millicent. 2002. After Fellini. Baltimore & London: John Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6847-5 (Pbk)

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. 2003 (3re). Luchino Visconti. London: British Film Institute. ISBN 0-85170-961-3 (Pbk) 

Selva, Simone. 2004.State and Economy in Italy before the EconomicMiracle: Economic Policy and International Constraints from the Reconstruction through the Pre-Boom Years. Business and Economic History Online.



Webliography


http://eurekavideo.co.uk/moc/catalogue/bellissima/


http://www.italica.rai.it/eng/cinema/film/bellissima.htm


http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/26611?view=credit


http://www.bfi.org.uk/features/visconti/filmography.html


http://www.bfi.org.uk/features/visconti/resources.html


http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=65606


http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0015-1386(196021)13%3A3%3C11%3ALVATIC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S


http://www.altfg.com/blog/film-festivals/anna-magnani-at-lacma/


http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/italian/courses/ugrad/it9.html


http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/rosi.html


http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/03/26/journey_italian.html


http://www.italiamia.com/cinema_magnani.html


Return to Visconti Web-hub






June 09, 2007

Thyssen Fritz (1873–1951)

Thyssen Fritz (1873-1951).

Thyssen was a  multimillionaire industrialist controlling the United Steel Trust. Joined the Nazi Party in 1923 who helped fund the Nazi Party. This financial support was particularly important in these early years. Was one of the group of industrialists who petitioned Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor but demanded that Otto Strasser and the SA should be repudiated for their continuous attacks on industry and their demands for nationalisation. In 1933 became head of the national employers association a powerful industry pressure group which enthusisatically embraced the corporatism of the Nazis. Quite a different position to that held by Gustav Krupp for example. In the Spring of 1933 Thyssen was extremely critical of Krupp and his leadership of the German Employers Federation (RDI) and Krupp’s tactic of trying to find a business/labour compromise in talks with the trade unions. But in 1938 he became rapidly disillusioned by the way in which autarky and the 4 Year Plan were overturning conventional economics and appeared to be dead set on a course to war. As a result he fled to Switzerland. Subsequently Goring’s Reichswerke took over slices of Thyssen’s empire which - somewhat ironically! - were confiscated under the law of 1934 which gave the Nazi state the power to expropriate the property of communists. Thyssen eventually went to France and was turned over to the Nazis by the Vichy government there, and was incarcerated in a concentration camp. He went to Argentina in 1948.

Extra 

This entry is linked to a posting on Visconti's representation of Nazism in The Damned. This posting supplements that article.   


Reichenau, Walter von (1884–1942)

Reichenau, Walter von (1884-1942)

Reichnau was a career army officer he followed General Blomberg into the Ministry of War in 1933 fully co-operating with the Nazis. Reichenau made the agreement with Himmler to keep the army confined to barracks during the 1934 Rohm Purge. After the event Reichenau even issued a statement justifying the murder of General von Schleicher. He commanded the 10th Army in Poland in 1939 and the 6th Army invading Belgium and France and was made a Field Marshall. In Russia he issued specific anti-Jewish orders and would almost certainly have been tried at Nuremberg had he not been killed in an air crash in 1942.

Extra 

This entry is linked to a posting on Visconti's representation of Nazism in The Damned. This posting supplements that article.   


Lubbe, Marianus van den (1909–1934)

Lubbe, Marianus van den (1909-1934)

Luube was found in the Reichstag building on the night of the Reichstag fire and was executed by beheading for this the following year. Originally trained as a mason he was an itinerant construction worker. At one point had joined the Dutch communist Party but disliked the discipline and authoritarian codes therefore left to join an small anarcho-syndicalist group. He had his eyesight severely damaged by an accident at work and was almost unemployable. From February 1931 he had begun a trek towards Russia. Getting only as far as Poland he returned to Germany going to Berlin. Lubbe was a believer in ‘direct action’ which he thought would arouse the working classes from their apathy and passivity in the face of the growth of Nazism. He had practised ‘direct action’ in Holland which had caused his break with the Communist Party. He started a campaign of arson in Berlin beginning with an attempt on the 23rd of February to burn down a welfare office a symbol of the oppression of the working class through unemployment. He followed this up with arson attempts on the town hall and the former royal palace. These attempts had been frustrated by early discovery and had barely mentioned in the press. Lubbe then proceeded to attack the Reichstag itself. Although half blind he was able to gain easy access to the building and proceeded to start a series of fires. He was eventually found and overcome by Reichstag officials. Subsequent evidence confirms that Lubbe had been acting alone. Rudolf Diels the non-Nazi head of the Prussian police considered that Lubbe was a madman however Hitler ranted that it was a communist plot and that Communists and social democrats would be repressed mercilessly. Orders were issued for the arrest of over 4,000 Communists. Diels ignored the demand that they be instantaneously shot. There is huge debate about whether Lubbe was set up to do this work by Nazi agents. Certainly it is the case that the excuse for the repression of the communists only a few days before the last election of the Weimar period which saw Hitler being finally swept into power on a popular vote was an excellent pretext to use great physical violence to disrupt and fragment the Communist party and Social Democratic Party campaigns. The timing of this event and upping of the ante in terms of violence against left of centre opposition to Nazism legitimised through state institutions which led to the ability to pass the ‘enabling act’ provides strong circumstantial evidence pointing to a case of agent provocateurism. (For a useful recent account see Evans: 2003: pp 328-338). 

Extra 

This entry is linked to a posting on Visconti's representation of Nazism in The Damned. This posting supplements that article.


Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Gustav (1870–1950)

Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Gustav (1870-1950)

The main inheritor of the vast industrial and munitions manufacturing group which went by the same name. From 1931 he was in the important position of Chairman of the Association of German Industrialists. Initially he had opposed the rise of the Nazis warning Hindenburg against them. However he was reconciled to Hitler’s leadership and following Schacht became an enthusiastic supporter. Underlying this support was the way that Hitler destroyed the unions and their political power bases in the Communists and Social Democrats, combined with the removal of Otto Strasser who posed a radical threat. Finally the very strong Nazi position on rearmament guaranteed a meal ticket for the foreseeable future of Krupps. Gustav thus made heavy contributions to the Adolf Hitler Fund administered by Martin Bormann.


Extra 

This entry is linked to a posting on Visconti's representation of Nazism in The Damned. This posting supplements that article.


Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Alfred (1907–1967)

Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, Alfred (1907-1967)

The son and heir of Gustav Krupp he was an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler and in charge of weapons and munitions production at the company during WW II. He opened factories in Nazi occupied countries utilising slave and concentration camp labour. He was made minister of the war economy in 1943 and sentenced at Nuremberg to 12 years in prison and the confiscation of all his vast property worth many millions of pounds. He was released very early in 1951 and his property was restored to him.

Extra 

This entry is linked to a posting on Visconti's representation of Nazism in The Damned. This posting supplements that article.


Heydrich, Reinhard (1904 – 1942)

Heydrich, Reinhard (1904 - 1942)

Returned to The Damned Article 

Chief of Reich Security Head Office and Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Son of the founder of the Halle Conservatory. In a a contemporary Lexicon of Music and Musicians by his father’s name was a note which said ‘real name Suss’. There is therefore a clear implication that Heydrich was of Jewish extraction a fact that he sought to hide very carefully. His appearance was more Nordic and he was a skilled and fanatical organiser. He was continuously promoted within the SS and Security Services and was responsible for organising the Einsatzgruppen organised murder squads. As protector of Bohemia and Moravia he employed a carrot and stick approach. Those who served the regime were rewarded whilst others were fearsomely treated. The allies in London thought he was setting a dangerous precedent and this appeared to be one of the main reason why they organised his assassination. As a reprisal the village of Lidice was raised to the ground and thousands were transported to the camps. There was little danger of serious collaboration between the Czechs and the Nazis again. Heydrich’s reputation is one of an almost pathological cold ruthlessness.

Extra 

This entry is linked to a posting on Visconti's representation of Nazism in The Damned. This posting supplements that article.   


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