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Neorealism Explained: Side-by-Side Comparison of De Sica's vs. Selznick's 'Terminal Station'

What is NeorealismWhen we talk about film movements we’re referring to a certain sensibility toward filmmaking usually espoused by a certain country during a certain time in history. However, since films aesthetically and narratively evolve, they tend to be tricky animals to cage. Italian neorealism is no different. If you’ve ever found it difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes a film a neorealist film, a video essay by the British Film Institute puts two versions of Vittorio De Sica’s Terminal Station (Stazione Termini) side by side to compare the approach taken by De Sica and Hollywood producer David O. Selznick.

The characteristics of Italian neorealism, like all film movements, are distinguishable for the most part, but of course contain variations and deviations from “the rule.” Traditionally speaking, these films are classified by their realistic depictions of the Italian lower class, highlighting the everyday struggle to survive. These films typically are filmed on location, use unprofessional actors (most famously in The Bicycle Thief,) and employ long takes and wide shots — which were thought to capture more “reality.”

This video essay compares the approach De Sica took when editing Terminal Station, known to American audiences as Indiscretion of an American Housewife, and that of Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, known for producing Gone With the Wind.

The differences are pretty astounding. Take a look for yourself below:

In my opinion, the quicker editing of Selznick’s version lost most of what makes Italian neorealism so beautiful. De Sica’s version allows our eyes and minds to linger, taking in the whole scene, leaving us alone with the empty space after the subject leaves the frame. I missed that in the Selznick version. (Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of De Sica and Italian neorealist cinema, so I’m not afraid of a long take or 2 — or 700.)

What do you think of the differences between the two versions of Stazione Termini? Out of all of the film movements (German expressionism, French New Wave, etc.) what approach to film do you most relate to? Let us know in the comments.

Link: Video essay: What is neorealism? — British Film Institute

[via Indiewire]


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  • Great video. THANKS for sharing.

  • There was a Soviet director named Sergey Gerasimov, who was in the avant guard of the “social realism” movement (meaning, he sang odes to the communist system) But, as a technician, he was quiet competent and, in 1967, his film “The Journalist” won the top prize at the Moscow Film Festival (OK, the results were rigged but the film was fairly popular among the Soviets with ~ 28 million tickets sold).
    Anyhow, as a master of social realism, the lingering shots were Gerasimov’s staple. The problem was that it made a 90 minute movie a nearly four hour movie. Sure, the shots were wonderful but the story took far too long to unfold.

    The photography is quite clever but, boy, does it linger. If someone is interested –

    • ADHD much? Hollywood babies prefer 1.5h fast food?

      • I believe you misconstrued what he said…a film that is ideally 90 minutes shouldn’t be stretched out to 4 hours, in the same way that a film that needs 4 hours to be done justice shouldn’t then have several hours of unnecessary footage on the end. Also calling someone a Hollywood baby is a dick move, you have no idea what sort of content anyone else is consuming and mindless prejudices will only serve to preserve your own ignorance of the wider world.

  • The real problem with the neorealism is that it isn’t a cinematographic movement, really.
    It became a movement after american critics started to ode the italian films produced after the second world war (starting with “Ossessione” by Visconti, 1943 and “Roma città aperta” by Rossellini, 1945).

    The reason because a lot of italian movies shot in the period between 1945-1955 looks so similar each other, wasn’t really a matter of what theorists said about neorealism, but more because they didn’t has money, they didn’t has studios (some destroied during the war), they didn’t has actors anymore because of the war (we can see a lot of big women actress instead of men), so they shot stories about what they saw and with the “tools” they had: destoied cities, people by the streets, old film stocks, not blimped cameras (they where obliged to record audio separately).

    • Not so.

      The Neorealist movement in Italy was based upon a critical foundation from its outset: many of the movement’s main screenwriters and directors such as Zavattini, Visconti and De Santis had previously worked as critics. In that capacity they had outlined the basis of a neorealist aesthetic long before the end of the war, and before the destruction of studio facilities made the movement a widespread reality.

      If (as most do) one charts the beginning of Neorealism from Visconti’s Ossessione, which was shot in ’43, then the suggestion that that the movement originally arose out of a scarcity of post-war resources is nonsense. The theory preceded the films, not the other way round.

      • Okay fine, a scarcity of resources DURING war. That’s not so unheard of.

        • Again, not so.

          The rejection of studio-style techniques by the pioneers of Neorealism was primarily an ideological one, born from a desire to escape the highly stylized nature of studio productions. The movement – and its first cinematic expressions – predated any of the pertinent (that is, severe) economic deprivations which were experienced by Italy after the Allied invasion. Ossessione, as well as 1860, were produced under the auspices of Vittorio Mussolini, who had the entire resources of the Italian film industry at his beck and call.

          Regarding ‘scarcity of resources during war’? Here I’d suggest that for two features and several shorts made in a country yet to be invaded, greenlighted as they were by the son of the country’s leader, it’s not a relevant consideration.

          • Dolly, I think you studied cinema… Because all you write is the”theory” you learn in schools.
            Listen Andrea. I think he is Italian (and me too…).
            Things aren’t gone as you studied in books. What you read is a “re-cut”.

            Great article and great video!!!

          • shaun wilson on 07.30.13 @ 4:00AM

            I think you’re missing the point, the fact is that the Italian film industry was decimated by the end of WW2 and the supply of 35mm film into Italy in 1945 and 1946 was scarse which impacted on proto neorealism and neorealism (there was an embargo made by the allies in 1945 of 35mm, 16mm and 8mm film being brought into the country and most of the film stock suppliers had been bombed). And this moreover had a huge impact on early neorealism from a pragmatic point of view. So production in 1945 was not what it was in 1955 as the RAF ha launched an attack on the remaining film stock factories on 3 September 1943 during the Operation Baytown raids and by Jan 1944 there were little amounts of stock left from the German supplies that were already used to make Italian propaganda films. In sum, you are correct that the Neorealist standpoint was based on ideogical reasons but the pragmatics were they had little resources to shoot in 1944 and 1945 which impacted on their choice of locations and cast/crew as “d” has suggested.

          • Reply to Shaun:

            I agree. Insofar as filmmaking was impacted by military action, there is a break, an interruption if you like, between the earliest manifestations of Neorealism and it’s subsequent ubiquity after the war.

            Here, I’d argue that what began as a kind of ideological idealism about cinema became, by ’45, a matter of sheer contingency and pragmatism. So whilst the theory was already there, it had to wait (as with so many theories) for the right historical circumstances in order to flourish.

      • well, being italian and a former student of national cinema school, I collected a lot of anectotes aboout Neorealism. according to one of the producer of rossellini, one of my teacher the reason of neorealism movie was THE POOR TOOLS that after the war were available. plus, the gaffers and keygrip that worked in the fascist cinema era were pushed out cinecittá and that “telefoni bianchi” approach was abandoned. De Sica as well Anna Magnani started their career in fascist movies; anna magnani was used to wag wild felines along via veneto during the fascist era. for sure neorealism intercepted many brains and critics and is considered the golden age of italian cinema. and showed the socialist approach in real world telling.

  • FG, Zavattini, Puccini and De Santis (amongst others) formulated Neorealism as an idea in the pages of Cinema magazine several years before the idea became widespread filmmaking practice. This is a recorded fact, not a theory.

    May I ask, were you born eighty years ago? Have you spent significant time with those responsible for these films and their attendant criticism? If not, then with what special ‘personal’ knowledge do you dispute the official history of these events? I’m curious.

  • shaun wilson on 07.30.13 @ 7:03PM

    I just did some research into the italian film industry in 1945 and one point I was surprised to read although it makes perfect sense (albeit terrible news), was that film makers under the fascist era who refused to work in the propaganda film industry were shot on site. So while there were indeed crews available to film at the the end of the war, the numbers were in limited supply as they were either pows with the allies, dead, resettled, or in Russian post war death camps. Pretty bleak… Hats off to them for making the content they did…

  • Reduanul azim on 07.15.14 @ 5:49AM

    I like Italian neorealism. Because thay are so

  • Marc Goodman on 07.15.14 @ 5:05PM

    Great video, great page.