Grit vs. Glamour
Italian Neorealism’s very definition is one that is raw and built on an innate catharsis. This film movement, in Italy, came after World War II and the fall of Mussolini, therefore the country was in disarray, broken, and shattered. It included the use of real people in the cast, filming on location, and themes about the poor and working class. Even the film stock was a crude representation of what was used prior. Filmmakers were no longer able to draw upon the resources that they once had before this period. However, what grew out of a darkened state of oppressed and sunken soul searching was a gritty rebirth and a need to exercise the people’s voice in an uninhibited and natural way. Mussolini, before his fall, had isolated Italy from American cinema, which would prove to be a positive part in the culmination of the Italian Neorealism movement. How this translated though, was not allowing American cinema to have a say in casting or involvement in any of the films produced during this time. For the film, The Bicycle Thief, directed by Vittorio De Sica, American studios wanted Cary Grant to play the lead, yet after seeing the film and studying it’s context, I could not imagine this as a genuine fit. Cary Grant almost serves as an antithesis to what Neorealism stood for.
The most sincere art often is born out of an openhearted and candid state, like the birth of jazz in the United States. It isn’t something that is planned or contrived, it just is. Cary Grant was part of the studio system in Hollywood and his good looks, suave presence, and coached speaking voice, couldn’t have been a worse choice for anything having to do with Italian Neorealism. Investigating the films that he had done around the same time as the release of The Bicycle Thief, would be Notorious directed by Alfred Hitchcock opposite Ingrid Bergman (1946) and the screwball comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, directed by H.C. Porter (1948) opposite Myrna Loy, just to name a couple. Notorious is a spy drama, rich and full of depth, which was a classic representation of not only Hitchcock’s work but also of the elegant Ingrid Bergman. Yet, the elegance and glamour of the film, as well as the way Hollywood boasted American capitalist values in its cinema, again was no match for the natural feel of the Italian Neorealist film. Furthermore, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is about a wealthy urban couple that decides they can build their dream house out in the country. Again this shows American film to be somewhat unaffected and cut off from how the rest of the world were recovering from the war. It seems almost insensitive to laugh and showcase our wealth, while the rest of the world were dealing with destruction in their homes and on their land.
In closing, it is sometimes difficult to define our feelings of loss when often the very struggle lends itself to something so beautifully created, as in the case of Italian Neorealism. It conjures in us a need for consciousness and delicate respect of the stories that make up an artistic movement whether film, art, or performance. The Italian Neorealist movement was in such juxtaposition to films that were being produced in American cinema. However, it is perfect just as it is and we all gain the benefit of its study. The Italians made the most of their resources and carried on despite their defeats, and the composition created is one of authenticity in it’s locations, casting, and depiction through the lens.
Mast, Gerald & Kawin, Bruce. A Short History of the Movies. 11th Ed. Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. Print
Video viewed in class: The Bicycle Thief