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Italian Neorealism and Umberto D

The mob, ladies and gentlemen, is dangerous. The mob is fickle, stubborn, rude, crude, abrasive and aggressive. The mob is easily controlled and remains willfully ignorant. So, then you postulate the following: Why is the world in such chaos? Sure, the international political institutions have been hijacked by evil men with evil agendas. You’d have to be insane to deny this. Evil men, of course, have always existed, and will continue to exist, however, this is out of our control. What is in our control is the ability to recognize the corruption and misdeeds of said evil men, and refuse to live in a state of feudal economic slavery. The path to becoming self-aware is to understand the concept of reality vs. consensus reality. Consensus reality is the very definition of the mob, that is to say, if enough people believe something, then it must be true. Our collective societal failure en masse to address the “hard” issues and afflictions of the global community fall squarely on each and everyone of our shoulders. A fine example of how we failed our fellow man is the woeful fact that Beverly Hills Chihuahua actually had a market here. I mean, parents voluntarily piled their children in their cars, laid out a few dozen dollars, and laughed and encouraged an obvious consumer driven propagandist film. What parents should be exposing their children to are any one of Vittorio De Sica films- the most prominent being Umberto D, The Bicycle Thief, and Shoeshine.
The very essence of Italian Neorealism is to expose the audience to a raw, unfettered portrayal of the common man and his plight. By default, few films could be as powerful as the cinema of this genre because of the untainted reality of its characters. Thompson and Bordwell in chapters 12 and 16 of our text introduce us to the core elements of the Neorealist film. The use of non-professional actors, on-location shooting, depiction of the poor working-class, and portrayal of the physical, economic, and emotional carnage caused by war are the hallmarks of this category of cinema. Bazin also states this case in his article. To understand the nature of the Neorealist film, one has to identify the history which provoked this generation of film-makers to hone their craft. A combat-ravaged post-war Italy, had serious cause for self-reflection. Incidentally, the escapist fantasies of the glitz and glamour crowd, along with their ambiguous celebrities, had become obsolete as the post-war reconstruction began. The harsh reality of the common man as he worked the daily grind had taken precedence over the wealthy and their voluptuous decadence. If we are to sympathize with and have compassion, and respect, for our fellow man, we should take this lesson to heart.
On a personal note, Umberto D is easily among my favorite films. I remember catching it on IFC during a particularly depressing chapter in my life, and being floored by the sheer emotional content of the film. I was indeed moved to tears, but ironically enough, not by Umberto’s anguished desperation, but by the joy and elation I felt from witnessing his new-found will to live. If you enjoyed Umberto, I give another De Sica film, The Bicycle Thief , my highest recommendation. Bored to death at work a few months ago, I randomly youtubed Bicycle Thief and indeed it came up in parts. They also had Michael Mann’s masterpiece Heat on there too. So if you don’t have Netflix or the scratch for traditional rental venues, you can access these films on your computer. ‘Til next week, I bid you adieu.


In an imperfect world, with imperfect gender-roles, and institutionalized social conditioning, the charge of a male enjoying a docile romantic comedy can be a remarkably serious offense amongst peers.   Having said that, If I happen to be charged with the transgression of enjoying Preston Sturges’ Lady Eve, I would gladly plead guilty.  As a fan of film, I’ve committed the sin of shying away from the screwball comedy.  It was just a matter of personal preference on my part combined with limited access to 40’s films.  I was astonished to witness the degree of sexual innuendo and references in the film when noting the conservative nature of the era.  Amongst the more humorous and obvious of such observations were the nods to the phallic symbolism, complete with the respective pollution they produced (i.e. ship’s chimney spewing steam accompanied by the groan of the warning signal).  The highly irregular and wacky plotline of the film was instrumental in my reckoning of the parallels of the screwball comedy genre in my mind, as I instantly recognized similar plot theme and motives in the more recent films I’ve grown to enjoy ( such as a wonderful little film Joe vs. the Volcano-I give this film my highest recommendation, especially for a date night-so take note if any guys are reading this).

The fact of the matter is we live in an oversexed society.  Although I genuinely enjoy Judd Apatow films ( 40-year old virgin, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshal), I can’t help but believe the strength of these contemporary films are intimately connected with their raw, unapologetic sexual ferocity.  The shock and awe aspect of these modern romantic  comedies ( the logical successor to the screwball comedy) become by default caricatures of themselves.  Hmmm…..actually, I regress, and take that back.  I really, really, really, enjoyed the aforementioned Apatow films ( bad example, I apologize), and I’ll elaborate further in a moment or so, but not before I duly note the congruence of Lady Eve with contemporary screwball films.  There was a subtle sincerity in Lady Eve that I cannot easily describe.  Perhaps it was the implicit assumption of a sweet nostalgia of yesterday: a first kiss, a first love, an innocent romance.  These were the sensations I felt when watching the film, a recollection of a better time, and possibly a brighter future. 

The political implications of a pop-genre such as film, are very formidable.  Chapter 14 of our text just reinforced what should be very obvious to anyone of sound mind.  A medium as expansive and powerful as film would only be a reasonable choice for the promotion of propaganda.  Truly a fascinating read, and emotionally significant for myself as my grandfather was a prisoner in a P.O.W. camp after the devastating wars in Europe.  On a lighter note, a few choice words from Harvey’s Sturges: Genius at Work article leapt off the page at me as I scanned the article.  In particular, his notes of Sturges’ upbringing and domestic situation.  That his mother was confidante to Isadora Duncan, a profoundly famous woman in her time, and her romance with none other than Aleister Crowley, serve as a metaphorical “Bat Signal” for serious issues and an obvious compulsion for wackiness for the young Sturges. 

                All in all I must admit what a true pleasure it was to view Lady Eve.  And in admitting this, I’ll hopefully exorcise those myopic demons that have been bred into me in regards to film, and have made renting “soft” films a labor in itself.  Your mind, after all, is like a parachute, it only works if it’s open.

Money in brown paper bags, that’s gangsta….eeerr umm Gangster

What is the essence of film?  Surely the nature of cinema, with it’s broad subject matter, lends itself to open interpretation on every possible front.  Why do we watch films?  Why, for that matter, do we analyze them thusly, and give so much credence to the art form?  Does film serve as a form of escapism to deliver us ( even if momentarily) from the elemental dullness of our lives?  Whatever the case may be, the “gangster” film, in all its variables, has captivated audiences the world over the better part of a century.  

 In Thompson and Bordwell’s chapters nine and ten of our text, we learn of the development of sound in film, an ever-evolving technology that has been become integral to film-making.  We are also introduced to the incestuous relationship of the studio system, where a “conspiracy” of sorts manifested itself to optimize the studio’s profits as they monopolized the film industry.  The stylistic appeal of the gangster film is deeply rooted, of course, in the film’s ability to capture the peripheral sounds associated with the genre.  Police sirens, aggressive dialogue, the screeching tires of the subsequent car chase, the inevitable shootout, name your cliché, as all of the aforementioned are the hallmark of the gangster film.

In Warshaw’s “The Gangster as a tragic hero,” the reader is presented with a quick overview of the gangster’s status as an anti-hero of sorts in American culture.  Regardless of the media’s pro-establishment propaganda, the allure of the gangster, outlaw has been central to various cultures as a literary, artistic, political, cultural icon.  From myths of yester-yore such as Robin Hood, to factual outlaws in the vein of Spartacus, to modern gangsters in the likeness of Dillinger, Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, the gangster invariably captures our collective fascination as they become the symbolic F$ck You! to an often corrupt and broken system.  The gangster in film, in particular, allows their audience to live vicariously through their nefarious deeds, as the viewer can mentally satiate their darkest desires and would-be fantasies.

For our modern purposes, the power of the gangster film is universally undeniable.  The joy and elation of viewing Wellman’s The Public Enemy was a familiar sensation to me as I’ve always been fond of the Gangster film genre.  From Scorsese, to Ferrara, to De Palma, to David Chase’s The Sopranos, the gangster has through sheer imagination and force entered American pop culture lexicon and continues to awe audiences.


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