Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Italian Cinema


I don't know what Eva Green is doing on a cover of a book on Italian cinema but it sure looks good. Bertolucci was of course born in Italy but that's probably the only Italian connection the film has. The book itself, which is authored by Mary Wood who teaches film studies at the University of London, is very boring and dull. Its main focus is the financial aspects of film making, namely how the existing production, distribution and marketing mechanisms and infrastructure decide which kinds of films are made and which succeed in finding an audience and becoming part of mainstream, either artistic or popular. She uses the career of Francesco Rosi as an example and then discusses in tedious detail how he secured finances for each of his films from various sources including international co-productions. "No student of cinema can afford to ignore the industrial realities of film-making, least of all in the Italian context", she says in the introduction to the book. That might be the case but personally it doesn't interest me much. What I was looking for was a good introduction to Italian culture and society and the socio-political issues as they are represented in the films. On that front it didn't have anything new to say. She barely gets into the changing role of Church, the rise and decline of the influence of the Communist party, barely touches the problem of Mafia and I don't think even mentions the name of Silvio Berlusconi anywhere. There is a stand-alone chapter on gender representation which is comparatively interesting.

One chapter towards the end in which she discusses "visual style and cinematic space" in Italian cinema is interesting though. It is also one of the main aspects of Italian films that interests me a lot - their innovative and very expressive use of mise en scene and the attendant use of tracking shots rather than fast cutting to tell the story. It has of course its roots in the neo-realist films with their on location shooting, use of medium length shots, avoiding close-ups etc but later the same technique was used in many different and much more experimental ways, most notably in films of Antonioni, Rosi and Bertolucci. Rossellini used the same technique even when his subjects, milieu and concerns changed over time.

The concept of a national cinema itself has become an anachronism in our current increasingly globalised world, specially in Europe which is becoming more and more post-nationalistic. Whatever there is to "Italian-ness" it is preserved as a theme-park meant only as a showcase for the tourists. The concept of a national identity doesn't have much to say about how people live now. So may be that Eva Green picture on the cover is after all not that inappropriate.

12 comments:

Cheshire Cat said...

The image is probably a desperate attempt to cover up the prosaicness of the text. But I wish they hadn't doctored the image :)

Alok said...

doctored? she doesn't look real to you?

Cheshire Cat said...

No, no, she's real enough (Eva Green = where reality meets fantasy), it's a clip from "The Dreamers", or at least supposed to be. In the movie she's posing as the Venus de Milo (hence the black gloves), but apparently that was too "immodest" to present as a cover image.

Alok said...

It is a clip from The Dreamers. Even in the film the black gloves merge in the background, as intended, but it is more effective in a still image. That said, the image I put above is a bit darker than the actual on the cover.

Also fully agree with your definition/equation.

Cheshire Cat said...

OK, hints aren't going to work. In the movie scene, she was topless, and here she's been covered up. I hate this kind of doctoring of images, and not just because of the context.

Alok, I think you need to watch the movie again :)

Alok said...

I think you are confusing two different scenes but I will probably have to watch it again because I am not sure myself. It annoyed me a little when I saw it first, but the eroticisation was very welcome. I wish more movies showed such taste and frankness.

puccinio said...

I have never read this book, although why is ''The Dreamers'' used? That's a film more about French culture than Italian culture. And of course, it's a very bad film which makes me want to read this book less and less.

I mean I understand Magnani running after that truck from ''Roma Citta Aperta'' has been endlessly reproduced but that shot is so beautiful that it justifies it's repitition definitely over a shot or any shot(save for the clips from ''SHOCK CORRIDOR'' and other films) from this film.

Like I said in that other article, the best books are usually ones that tell you how films are made. Historical books, i.e. books which try to create a grand-narrative about a nation's cinema are the most suspect of the lot.

Of course not that I am discounting books on film with a critical approach, in toto. Robin Wood's ''Hitchock Films Revisited'' is something that can change how people view and even make films as does Andre Bazin's criticisms.

I checked through your post history and saw you referred to seeing ''IL MIO VIAGGIO IN ITALIA'' by Martin Scorsese, what more do you want?

Of course if you are interested than one critic who knows a lot about Italian film is Peter Bondanella, try and track his books down. They definitely connect it to the history of Italy, which includes all the histories.

puccinio said...

-----------------------------
It annoyed me a little when I saw it first, but the eroticisation was very welcome. I wish more movies showed such taste and frankness.
---------------------------------

Well eroticism is a real and natural emotion and so is more than worthy of art. Of course there's a line between eroticism and pornography. What many people admire about classic Hollywood films is how they were able to convey so much eroticism without being explicit. Of course they did it out of respect to prudish censorship but they made a hindrance a strength.

Like take ''Wild River'' by Elia Kazan which is unbearably erotic, even though both Monty Clift and Lee Remick keep their clothes on.

The same is true for Nicholas Ray's movies, ''They Lived by Night'', the scene where Cathy O' Donnell, strecthes her arms across the bed and definitely ''In A Lonely Place''.

And actually ''Rebel Without A Cause'' where James Dean sets the screen on fire, a film that actually made even heteros(of which I am one) admit how sexy a guy can be. Then Kazan's ''A Streetcar Named Desire'' which did the same for Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh and even Kim Hunter, who's a great actress but the last person you're likely to think of as erotic.

Oh and we can't forget Hitchcock's ''Vertigo''. And Grace Kelly's introduction scene in ''Rear Window'' where the camera opens to her face closing in on Jimmy Stewart's face and so our faces. Then one film, which is very, very underrated and which I will plug here is Robert Rossen's ''Lilith'' which has Jean Seberg's greatest performance after ''Breathless''.

Coming back to ''The Dreamers'', I don't think it's particularly erotic. For one thing, you don't care about the characters, so you can forget about them turning the audience on, and I don't mean down there, I mean emotionally. Eroticism is emotional tension of the highest sort and the audience has to feel that snse of desperation, longing that the characters feel for one another.

This is staggering since the same man made ''L'Ultimo tango a parigi'' which is one of the finest love stories in cinema(which you don't like I checked) and which raised the bar for cinema directed and made for an adult audience.

Bertolucci's breakthrough film, ''Before the Revolution'' is also a great erotic film about the very themes he dealt with in this film. Bernardo, Bernardo, why have you forsaken us?

Alok said...

Bondanella's book is there in the library too. It just looked a bit tattered and old and this one glamourous and new. I know... (that's one of the reasons why that picture is on the cover) Bondanella's commentary on the criterion DVD of La Strada is excellent too.

I have read Wood's book on Hitchcock and also some of Bazin's essays in his book What is Cinema? (mostly about neorealism and Jean Renoir I think). I should probably revisit them since I have seen so many films since I last read these books.

I was actually much more interested in learning about Italy through the prism of films. It really didn't have much to say on that front. I will check out Bondanella's book sometime. Theoretical questions do interest me a lot - for example those related to representation of gender and sexuality. There is a lot of film-theory on the subject but much of it is too arcane or else downright dull and boring.

puccinio said...

By the way how can I neglect Ernst Lubitsch and Howard Hawks comedies in any discussion of eroticism in films. Hawks was way ahead of his time in films like ''Bringing Up Baby'', ''His Girl Friday'' and especially ''Twentieth Century''.

Then Ernst Lubitsch made more non-explicit porn movies than any director in history. They're to cinema what Restoration Comedy is to literature...actually they're better than Restoration Comedy.

Alok said...

I haven't seen many of those Hollywood classics that you mention. I agree, representation of an Erotic tension is an entirely different beast, Hitchcock was probably a master in this. Rear Window is probably the greatest example. In fact two of my favourite Hollywood actors (and for this reason mainly) James Stewart & Henry Fonda were both masters in these kind of roles. Now this also reminds me of The African Queen a truly marvellous film which I saw only a couple of weeks back for the first time.

My comment about The Dreamers was more about explicit representation of body in cinema rather than Erotic tension implictly conveyed through genstures or other indirect means - the way bodies, not just female but male too - are eroticised, which is actually entirely different from being objectified, which is what distinguishes it from pornography. Bertolucci does succeed in doing this in many of his films. Last Tango in Paris does this very successfully too though I am put off by all those monologues which always strike me as unbearably pretentious, specially when they are devoid of any context. I find it perplexing why there should be so few genuinely erotic films when cinema as an artistic medium has the advantage of being so sensuous as compared to other art forms.

puccinio said...

I have always believed that movies about sex, about eroticism that deal with it directly will always be in a smaller quotient than films about other human realities. And I think that's true across all arts save for painting.

This isn't down to prudishness but simply that even among directors who are quite honest and capable of dealing with these themes, often may not be able to deal with them. I mean some people will say that if Joyce did not write literature, he'd be a nuclear physicist which is plain hogwash. It's not that it's a demerit to human intelligence especially something like Joyce's but just that one person can't do everything.

Like John Ford is a better director than Bertolucci, but he, a man of the 19th Century can never make any of Bernardo's movies. Directors are different. Like Antonioni is better than Fellini, but he can never ever hope to make ''8 1/2'' which is a better film than even his masterpieces, simply because he doesn't have Fellini's sensibility which is permanently linked to that film of his.

But digressions kept aside, I agree that film-makers should deal with these themes with the best freedom available to them.