The Neorealist Body in Postwar Italian Cinema
Publication Year: 2012
Film history identifies Italian neorealism as the exemplar of national cinema, a specifically domestic response to wartime atrocities. Brutal Vision challenges this orthodoxy by arguing that neorealist films—including such classics as Rome, Open City; Paisan; Shoeshine; and Bicycle Thieves—should be understood less as national products and more as complex agents of a postwar reorganization of global politics. For these films, cinema facilitates the liberal humanist sympathy required to usher in a new era of world stability.
In his readings of crucial films and newly discovered documents from the archives of neorealism’s international distribution, Karl Schoonover reveals how these films used images of the imperiled body to reconstitute the concept of the human and to recalibrate the scale of human community. He traces how Italian neorealism emerges from and consolidates the transnational space of the North Atlantic, with scenarios of physical suffering dramatizing the geopolitical stakes of a newly global vision. Here we see how—in their views of injury, torture, and martyrdom—these films propose a new mode of spectating that answers the period’s call for extranational witnesses, makes the imposition of limited sovereignty palatable, and underwrites a new visual politics of liberal compassion that Schoonover calls brutal humanism.
These films redefine moviegoing as a form of political action and place the filmgoer at the center of a postwar geopolitics of international aid. Brutal Vision interrogates the role of neorealism’s famously heart-wrenching scenes in a new global order that requires its citizenry to invest emotionally in large-scale international aid packages, from the Marshall Plan to the liberal charity schemes of NGOs. The book fundamentally revises ideas of cinematic specificity, the human, and geopolitical scale that we inherit from neorealism and its postwar milieu—ideas that continue to set the terms for political filmmaking today.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Expressing gratitude is by definition humbling, but the task of ade-quately acknowledging the people and institutions who helped to bringthis book to completion feels monumental. The commitment of MaryAnn Doane to this endeavor was vital and sustaining. She believed inthe necessity of this project from its earliest inception and has been...
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...parable of how World War II destroyed the photographic image. “Afterthe camps,” according to this parable, the camera image could onlyreveal its own inadequacy. The unprecedented death toll of WorldWar II confounded the camera; the scale of the Holocaust, Hiroshima,and Nagasaki exceeded what its lens could capture. A diverse group of...
1. An Inevitably Obscene Cinema: Bazin and Neorealism
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...arguments that locate cinema’s representational richness in the photo -graphic mechanics of image production. In the epigraph to this chap-ter, Bazin proposes that because cinema is based on the photographand its physical relationship with the real, the film image is inherentlymore graphic than other kinds of pictures. This suggests that some...
2. The North Atlantic Ballyhoo of Liberal Humanism
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...pose an increasing commercial threat to Hollywood’s domination ofthe U.S. market if Italy continued to produce both “provocative films”and “provocative beauties.”1 Life even went so far as to trace the re -cent American success of these European imports to the apparentlycontradictory lures of the realist image: the “raw honesty” of films...
3. Rossellini’s Exemplary Corpse and the Sovereign Bystander
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...describes his personal devotion to Italian cinema. The film begins withthe director sharing a memory from his childhood in the late 1940sand early 1950s, when every Friday night, his extended family gatheredto watch the Italian films broadcast on television. In his narration,Scorsese argues that seeing these films introduced him to cinema’s...
4. Spectacular Suffering: De Sica’s Bodies and Charity’s Gaze
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...cated to the suffering of the humble.”1 He said that his Shoeshinearose from the desire to bring attention to “the indifference of human-ity to the needs of others.”2 Over the course of the 1940s and early1950s, De Sica developed a mise-en-scène that he hoped would redressthis growing inconsequentiality of human life by challenging the way...
5. Neorealism Undone: The Resistant Physicalities of the Second Generation
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...the diegesis of an earlier film, the cohesive homogeneity of fictionalcinema implodes. Without an industrial rubric of star persona, adap-tation, or sequeling, this form of diegetic repetition involves a dis-ruptive intertextuality that departs from any conventional definitionof realism. Yet well before the uncanny appearance of a fiction in...
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Silverlake Life: The View from Here (Peter Friedman and Tom Joslin,1993). That film raised questions for me about using the image of asuffering body to up the ante of political discourse. Silverlake Life’sbodies are of course inscribed by a different set of historical discoursesthan those in Rome Open City. This documentary is made from a series...
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...1. I have opted to use the current authoritative English translations of filmtitles. For example, I am using Rome Open City instead of its original U.S. releasetitle, Open City. For films whose titles are rarely translated when in the UnitedStates, I have used the best-known titles. For example, La strada, Il grido, and Ilbidone remain in Italian, reflecting the names used in the United States, while...
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Karl Schoonover is assistant professor of film studies at MichiganState University. He is the coeditor of Global Art Cinema: New Theories...
Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2012