- Shot on Location: Postwar Hollywood's Exploration of Real Space by R. Barton Palmer
The proliferation of location shooting in film production is one of the most significant developments in global film culture after World War II. From Italian neorealism's efforts to document its war-torn country to Hollywood's attempts to capitalize on distant, exotic locations (and the financial savings found there), many nations jumped at the opportunity to push filmmaking out of the studio into the real world. Much has been written about this phenomenon; however, that literature has largely been divided into two camps. On the one hand, there are philosophical and aesthetic studies of postwar European cinemas and their artistic goals. On the other hand, there are histories of the technological advancements and industrial goals of the floundering studios of postwar Hollywood.
R. Barton Palmer's Shot on Location attempts to unite these narratives. On a basic level, the book maps the multiple strategies through which Hollywood began to incorporate location shooting into its storytelling. But Palmer's larger claim is that Hollywood's forays into location shooting were, in fact, intrinsically linked to the industry's—and the nation's—relationship to postwar Europe. These Hollywood films—Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953) and Judgment at Nuremberg (Stanley Kramer, 1961) among them—were connected to the underlying philosophy of Italian neorealism through their commitment to documenting the real world and to authenticity more generally.
This is an intriguing, even provocative intervention. The bifurcation of postwar film studies is not merely based on regional or national grounds: the neorealists and Hollywood moguls themselves considered their goals and methods fundamentally different. Applying the philosophy of preeminent neorealist screenwriter Zavattini to unpack commercial film, then, will no doubt feel heretical to some readers, who will remember his famous definition of neorealism as a cinema that would prefer to film airplanes quietly passing by overhead rather than an airborne battle [End Page 75] and crash.1 Nonetheless, Palmer is to be commended for his ambitious, big-picture thinking, effectively drawing together threads that others would not think to connect. Bridging themes of place and space, national identity, film theory, production cultures, and the postwar Zeitgeist is not a task for the faint of heart.
To make these connections, Palmer embraces a radically interdisciplinary approach throughout his six chapters. In his first and second chapters, he focuses on literary theory and theatrical practice as they apply to place and space in the postwar context. This allows him to establish parallels between European and American concepts of realism. In his third chapter, Palmer digs into production cultures, examining lived and mythological space in The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) and Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) through traditional production histories and industrial lore. The stand-out fourth chapter, "Noir on Location," uses archival and trade sources to bring insight to location shooting's alignment with the gritty aesthetic of the noir. And in the final chapter, location shooting in the "semi-documentary" genre comes into focus through careful, extensive textual analysis. Indeed, close examination of the text is perhaps the work's leading method, including examples from all eras of film history, from The Birth of a Nation (D. W. Griffith, 1915)to The Remains of the Day (James Ivory, 1993).
This methodological admixture is largely effective in establishing the commonalities among location shooting techniques. In trying to cover so much ground, however, the author has inevitably left underexplored some areas of analysis. The sections on the "semi-documentary," while highly intriguing, in-depth accounts, could have benefited from some additional injections of documentary theory to help define this seemingly contradictory genre. Similarly, the book engages in an extensive discussion of how the concepts of "realism" and "authenticity" play out in this batch of films. As fascinating as that discussion is, it could have been pushed even further by a more theoretical inquiry into how each of these terms is defined and utilized both by film theorists today (in general or in relation to Italian neorealism...