American Cinema at a Crossroads: The European Dimension of the Hollywood Renaissance through a Reading of "Bonnie and Clyde"


Diploma Thesis, 2004

141 Pages, Grade: 3


Excerpt

Contents

ABSTRACT

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER ONE
The Social and Cultural Conditions for the Reception of European Films in Post-War America
1920-1946: Brief Overview
Hollywood in the Shadow of the Paramount Decision and the ‘Red Scare'
The ‘Juvenilisation' of Hollywood Films and the Challenge of Television
The Emergence of the Art House Movement

CHAPTER TWO
The Italian and French New Waves and Their Impact on American Cinema
Documenting the Social Reality of Post-War Europe: Italian Neorealism
The ‘Personal' Cinemas of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Luchino Visconti
A Cinema of Artistic Rebellion: The French New Wave
The Aesthetic Impact of European Cinema on American Directors of the Hollywood Renaissance: Overview

CHAPTER THREE
Delving into the Zeitgeist of Sixties America: Bonnie and Clyde as a Product of a European-Oriented Cultural Context
Introduction to Bonnie and Clyde
An Infatuation with European Cinema: American Film Schools of the 1960s and the Pioneers of the Hollywood Renaissance
The Creators of Bonnie and Clyde: Robert Benton, David Newman, Arthur Penn... 76 Updating the Gangster Genre: Aesthetic and Thematic European Influences on Bonnie and Clyde

CHAPTER FOUR
On the Threshold of a ‘New Hollywood': Institutional Transformations and the Role of Bonnie and Clyde
Hollywood at a Crossroads: Industrial Shifts until the Mid-1960s and the Production History of Bonnie and Clyde
Redefining the ‘Permissable': Bonnie and Clyde and American Censorship
‘A Cheap Piece of Bold-Faced Slapstick' or ‘The Definitive Film of the Sixties'?: Critical Campaigns Related to Bonnie and Clyde in the 1960s
In the Aftermath of Bonnie and Clyde: The Hollywood Renaissance and the American Auteur

EPILOGUE
The Legacy of European New Waves in Contemporary Cinema

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ABSTRACT

The genesis of the Hollywood Renaissance in the late 1960s was the by­product of a synthesis of factors related to social, cultural, institutional, and technological shifts that had been taking place in the United States since the late 1940s. Within this context, the role of European cinema was crucial.

It has become a critical commonplace that the films of the Hollywood Renaissance embody a significant aesthetic kinship with the cinematic new waves that had emerged in Europe during the post-war period. This study aims this position further by demonstrating that post-war European new waves at once constituted aesthetic models for Hollywood Renaissance films and shaped key areas of the context that allowed this movement to emerge in the first place.

As far as European cinema is concerned, the emphasis here is placed on films of the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, and New Italian Cinema.

Through an extensive use of textual and contextual evidence, this thesis investigates the origins, nature, and extent of the formal impact that post-war European cinema movements had on American filmmaking. It is argued that, inspired by their European counterparts, Hollywood Renaissance filmmakers experimented with all the components of a film: mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, sound, and narrative style - often aiming to create in their pictures the acute sense of realism that European post-war films conveyed. A more frank approach towards traditionally ‘taboo' subjects was also employed.

Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) - the film that, according to critics at large, articulated an aesthetic ‘break' with the classical tradition and signaled the beginning of the Hollywood Renaissance - is employed as a case study, as it epitomises the European influence in social, cultural, and institutional terms.

This study also considers the continuing influence of European cinema on American cinema post Bonnie and Clyde, arguing that in recent years, several American directors have re-discovered the pioneers of post-war European cinema movements and have attempted to recreate the spirit of new wave films in their own pictures.

INTRODUCTION

13 August 1967. The latest Warner Bros. fare, a gangster film, is released in the United States. American audiences and critics speculate that the new Warners picture might be a tribute to the popular gangster films of the 1930s, for which the same production studio had been responsible. Their expectations are belied; what they are confronted with has little in common with the 1930s James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart vehicles, produced by Warner Bros.

Centred on the activities of an outlaw couple and set against a Depression- era backdrop, this film appears to be aesthetically closer to European features that have flooded the country since the late 1950s than to earlier Hollywood pictures. Stylistically, it is characterised by close-up shots, oblique angles, expressionistic painterly contrasts, and abrupt shifts in tone and mood. Gruesome images of violence are succeeded by slapstick images; funny one-liners are followed by conversations about death.

The film's male protagonist is a gangster unlike any of his predecessors in Hollywood cinema. Full of emotional weaknesses and insecurities - most of them stemming from the fact that he is sexually impotent - he constantly needs to remind himself and people around him that he only uses violence when he has no other option. A stark contrast to the ‘urban wolf' of earlier gangster films, he does not hesitate to fall on his knees and beg his partner, in life and crime, to return to him, when she decides to leave.

The female protagonist is also a far cry from the beautiful ‘appendage' of the stout male character, typical of the 1930s gangster film. Assertive and dynamic, this woman becomes an agent of action, participating fully in the activities of the gang; when she meets the man she falls for, she overtly expresses her emotional and sexual desires, unrestrained by any inhibition.

The leading couple undergo moments of existential crisis, whereby they reflect upon their outlaw life and their future. Rather than focusing on action, the film displays an equally profound interest in the characters and examines closely their physical journey in the heart of the American Midwest as well as their introspective, psychological journey which takes place in the meantime. In the disturbing finale of the film, the two gangsters are ambushed by the authorities. Partially filmed in slow motion cinematography, the sequence has a distinctive, almost balletic quality; while the characters are being gunned down, their bodies move as if dancing. Once this grisly dance is over, silence engulfs the screen and the audience.

The film is Bonnie and Clyde and its creators, screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton, and director Arthur Penn - all of them acolytes of post-war European cinema.

The aesthetic kinship of Bonnie and Clyde with European cinema is not coincidental, neither is its example unique at this point in the history of American cinema. Benton, Newman, and Penn were not the only filmmakers whose artistic vision had been significantly shaped through the European canon. The late 1960s had seen the emergence of a group of American filmmakers who had been regular patrons in movie­theatres that screened European films, and who had studied with enthusiasm European film theory and criticism in earlier years. When the conditions for filmmaking in Hollywood allowed it, these directors and screenwriters attempted to revolutionise classical cinema, often looking towards Europe in search for aesthetic models and inspiration. Some of them systematically sought to emulate their European counterparts. The result was the emergence of a new cinematic phenomenon, which is often referred to as the ‘Hollywood Renaissance' or the early phase of the ‘New Hollywood' which continues to date.

One group of the pioneers of the Hollywood Renaissance consisted of young graduates of film schools whose official curriculum had been informed by some of the latest European theoretical trends, including the French ‘politique des auteurs'. Many of these film graduates, such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and William Friedkin, were influenced by the European films and criticism they had been exposed to as students and early on attempted to recreate and integrate European aesthetic patterns in their own films.

These young filmmakers were joined by a group of aspiring directors and screenwriters of an older age, who had previously worked in theatre and television, unable to materialise their idiosyncratic ideas or to experiment with theme and form in Hollywood, until a more favourable industrial context allowed them to do so. Arthur Penn, Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman, Sidney Pollack, and Mike Nichols are representatives of this group. Added to them, were directors and/or screenwriters, such as Bob Rafelson, Peter Bogdanovich, and Dennis Hopper, who had never attended film schools but had learned the cinematic language through a process of osmosis, by obsessively watching films. As Chapter Three will demonstrate, the majority of these directors and screenwriters, shared a profound admiration for European filmmakers who had pioneered artistically exciting cinematic new waves in the post-war period and generally promoted the idea of ‘film as art'.

In 1967, Bonnie and Clyde signalled the beginning of the Hollywood Renaissance, which would be characterised by stylistic innovation and a new thematic orientation based on a more frank approach to traditionally ‘taboo' issues. It should be noted that experimentation with cinematic form had already been attempted in earlier Hollywood films, such as Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker (1964); nonetheless, Bonnie and Clyde made this attempt more consistent and in many respects articulated a ‘break' with the classical tradition. Shortly after its release, a wave of other Hollywood films followed its example, violating traditional stylistic and thematic patterns in Hollywood cinema. As this thesis will demonstrate, in fact, this ‘break' took place under the influence of European aesthetic models, which had held sway in the United States since the late 1940s.

The last five years have seen a renewed interest in issues related to the Hollywood Renaissance; however, there is no systematic study of the European influence on American filmmaking of the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the most detailed accounts of this period is Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex ‘n' Drugs ‘n' Rock ‘n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, which was an invaluable source of information while researching and writing this thesis.1 Biskind's book was recently (2003) adapted into a documentary with the same title, directed by Kenneth Bowser, which featured key directors of the Hollywood Renaissance talking about their films and the general cultural climate of the 1960s and 1970s. In 2003, another relevant documentary was released, titled A Decade Under the Influence, directed by Ted Demme and Richard LaGravenese. Both documentaries consider the Hollywood Renaissance ‘a turning point in the history of American cinema' and make note of its European dimension, while A Decade Under the Influence refers extensively to American directors who ‘borrowed' European cinematic structures in order to revolutionise Hollywood.

Horsley's The Blood Poets: A Cinema of Savagery 1958-1999 is another insightful study, which includes an analysis of key Hollywood Renaissance films in terms of their approach to violence.2 Some of Horsley's views related to Bonnie and Clyde are addressed in Chapters Three and Four. Cook's History of the American Cinema: 1970-1979, provides useful information on the late years of the Hollywood Renaissance and insight into the reasons for its demise3, but only briefly refers to the influence of European cinema. Regarding Bonnie and Clyde, Friedman's collection of essays titled Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (2000) is an indispensable tool to any person who seeks a profound understanding of the film and the issues that have surrounded it since its release4. Other recent studies of this period are King's New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction (2002) and Lev's American Film of the 70s: Conflicting Visions (2000) - a very interesting investigation of the social agendas that informed the films of the 1970s.

Through extensive textual and contextual evidence, this thesis will attempt to demonstrate that the Hollywood Renaissance was to a great extent symptomatic of the broad cultural and institutional impact European cinema had exerted in the United States since the late 1940s. By tracing the roots of this process of artistic fertilisation, this study will seek to prove that the real impetus for the emergence of the Hollywood Renaissance was in fact not American but of European origin.

Accordingly, Chapter One will address the social and cultural conditions in post-war America, which first allowed a wide distribution and exhibition of European films in the country and subsequently encouraged a favourable audience and critical reception of them in the same context. Reasons for the popularity of specific European films among American audiences will be discussed and questions related to the decline of this popularity around the mid-1960s will be briefly examined.

Chapter Two will focus on European cinematic new waves, which, according to contextual evidence, had the most notable cultural and institutional influence in the United States. Italian neorealist films, the French New Wave, and representative films of the ‘New Italian Cinema' will be discussed in terms of their content, audience and critical reception in the United States, as well as their aesthetic impact on subsequent American features.

Chapters Three and Four will present a case study: a detailed reading of Bonnie and Clyde in terms of the European dimension of its content and the context from which it emerged. Chapter Three will include a textual analysis of the film in the light of European aesthetic models which conditioned it, and a discussion of the way in which it employed European patterns in order to subvert traditional generic conventions. Biographical information about the film's creators will be cited, so as to assist a better understanding of their artistic link with Europe. The same chapter will investigate the thriving film culture of 1960s America, part of which were the film schools that generated the future pioneers of the Hollywood Renaissance.

Chapter Four will examine the changing production practices in Hollywood, which allowed the making of Bonnie and Clyde in the late 1960s, while the focus will be on aspects of the American movie-industry and discourses related to it, which were partially conditioned by post-war European cinema and criticism: studio practices, censorship, critics, and the role of the director in the filmmaking process.

The Conclusion will briefly address the legacy of European new waves in contemporary American cinema. As will be argued, this legacy survived the passage of time and the domination of the ‘blockbuster', having been passed on from one generation of culturally ‘enlightened' American filmmakers to another.

In the late 1960s, American cinema found itself at a cultural and industrial crossroads. The Hollywood Renaissance was not merely a symptom of a society in transformation or of an ‘ailing' movie-industry in need of re-invention; to a great extent, it was the systematic attempt on the part of a group of directors and screenwriters to create an American new wave equivalent to the ones that had culturally swept Europe after World War II. This aspect in the development of American cinema cannot possibly be overlooked.

CHAPTER ONE

The Social and Cultural Conditions for the Reception of European Films in Post-War America

1920-1946: Brief Overview

The aesthetic influence of European cinema on American filmmaking in the late 1960s and early 1970s had its roots in the art house movement which had emerged in the United States in the aftermath of World War II. The activities of the art house movement included the systematic promotion of films which were considered ‘alternative' to the Hollywood fare. Among these pictures were European films - the latest ‘products' of cinematic new waves that had swept the Old World. Due to the crucial importance of the art house movement to the promotion and subsequent positive reception of European films in postwar America, it would be insightful to briefly examine its forerunner: the ‘little cinema' movement which emerged and flourished during the 1920s.

Named after the ‘little cinema' - a small movie-house dedicated to the screening of non­mainstream films (both American and foreign), the little cinema movement was pioneered by theatre operators and other cineastes who firmly believed in the idea of film as a form of art rather than mere spectacle.5

Detailed historical information over the genesis and activities of the little cinema movement is fairly difficult to retrieve; even the exact historical point of its emergence is surrounded by controversy.6 By 1927, the little cinema movement had crossed the boundaries of New York; nineteen movie-houses around the country operated as little cinemas. These were in fact the only exhibition sites where European films occupied the biggest part of the screening time and often ran for one up to three weeks. One of these films was Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (1920).

Directed by Robert Wiene, produced by UFA (one of the leading film companies in Europe following World War I) and distributed in the United States by Goldwyn, Caligari introduced German expressionism, a new cinematic trend that would eventually become the cornerstone of new genres, namely the horror film and the film noir. The film exposed a specialised American audience to a cinema whose aesthetics contrasted strikingly with the Hollywood tradition.

Imbued with a sense of disorientation and confusion, as the spectator follows the story through an asylum inmate, that is, a potentially unreliable narrator, Caligari reflects the human horror in the face of death and conveys the despair generated during and in the aftermath of the First World War. An aesthetic advance compared to other films of the 1920s, Caligari had a profound impact on subsequent American productions.7 Its popularity in little cinema circuits for the first time revealed the financial potential of European films in the United States and encouraged some exhibitors to consider the systematic inclusion of such features in the schedules of their movie theatres. Within a short period of time, due to fewer censorship restrictions8 and more flexible movie-theatre schedules, European films began to thrive in American exhibition sites during the 1920s.

Following Caligari, numerous European productions appeared in little cinemas, which also specialised in avant-garde films, documentaries, and films based on the classics. Little cinemas endeavoured to reach an audience that was open to and appreciated the unusual and the experimental. Contrary to mainstream theatres, little cinemas were small in size, paid less in rentals for the films they screened and had a regular audience. By the late 1920s, they had become significant sites of an alternative film culture, which attracted an audience primarily consisting of middle and upper class intellectuals and university students.

The financial and critical success of European films attracted the interest of Hollywood studios, which sought to import more features that promised financial profit. Accordingly, in the period 1925-1930, landmark films such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) and Josef Von Sternberg's Der Blaue Angel (1930) were imported and released by Paramount Pictures, F.W. Murnau's Der Letzte Mann (1924) and Georg Wilhelm Pabst's Die Weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü (1929) by Universal Pictures, and F.W. Murnau's Faust (1926) and Fritz Lang's Spione (1928) by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.9 In many cases, it was not merely distribution that studios were involved in, but also exhibition, as European films were occasionally included in the schedule of mainstream theatres controlled by the majors.

The 1930s brought about significant structural and economic transformations in the film industry that inevitably affected the distribution and exhibition of European films in the United States. To begin with, the advent of sound in motion pictures rekindled the interest of American audiences in Hollywood productions and, as a result, the majors gradually turned away from the foreign market and focused their attention on the native film product. With distribution and exhibition of European productions no longer supported by the majors, independent distribution companies took over and little cinemas became once more the primary outlets for European films in the United States.

Nonetheless, by 1933 it had become apparent that little cinemas would not survive the coming of sound and the pressure of operating on the margins of the Hollywood mega-industry. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, economic pressures were a further factor for the demise of little cinemas. As the popularity of ‘escapist' Hollywood pictures was increasing, audiences were steadily losing interest in the alternative fare offered in little cinemas. In the midst of devastating economic distress that had brought about severe social problems, intellectualism was much less valued. In addition, little cinema operators had little or no experience in dealing with economic and other pressures and, thus, the decline of their exhibition sites was also the result of unfortunate business practices. Between 1939 and 1945, when cinematic production in war-torn Europe had fallen to minimum, European film exhibition in the United States would be limited to private venues and ethnic theatres in large urban areas.

During the years 1930-1946 five studios - also known as the ‘Big Five' or the ‘majors' - Paramount, MGM, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and RKO, dominated the motion picture industry through the overall control of the production, distribution, and exhibition sectors and a series of practices that guaranteed their oligopoly in the business. If not the most crucial, the exhibition sector was a key area for the operations of the Big Five. As Gomery notes, by controlling “the vast majority of all first-run movie palace theatres in the ninety-two largest cities in the United States”, the Big Five were in a position “to dictate the terms of the marketplace for movie exhibition in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s”.10

Indicative of this control were the practices of ‘block booking' and ‘blind bidding' that these studios employed in their negotiations with theatre operators in the years before and during the World War II. Block booking was the theatrical rental of a package of films that could include high- and low-budget Hollywood productions, while blind bidding meant rental without prior viewing of the film product. Both practices guaranteed that the majors would rent all their films regardless of quality and thus achieve regular profits. With the vast majority of first-run theatres controlled by the Big Five and the second-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-run theatres waiting their turn to rent Hollywood features, very few independent or foreign films could find an outlet in mainstream exhibition sites. If any profit was to be made in the film-business, it had to be through the affiliation with one of the majors.11

With the outbreak of the World War II, Hollywood films enjoyed unprecedented popularity. Anti-war films, melodramas, and musicals attracted Americans to the movie-theatres in record numbers. The year 1946 witnessed a peak in movie-attendance in the United States and confirmed the power of the studio system. Under such conditions, a wide distribution and exhibition of European films seemed increasingly unattainable. In addition, American audiences were not likely to respond positively to these films, as European cinema connoted ‘art' and this connotation discouraged spectators accustomed to Hollywood spectacle. According to Sklar,

The word ‘art' was fraught with meanings that could not be accommodated with Hollywood's reality: the factory system of production, mass audiences, enormous profits, producers' domination of movie workers, collaborative creation - or with the lingering skepticism about the ability of Americans to produce art.12

At this point, cultural transformations that would change this mentality were required for a more positive reception of non-mainstream films in the United States.

Hollywood in the Shadow of the Paramount Decision and the ‘Red Scare'

In the immediate aftermath of the World War II, an unexpected audience decline followed the impressive box-office numbers of 1946 and signalled the first threat to Hollywood hegemony. The phenomenon was attributed to suburbanisation and the subsequent emergence of new forms of leisure.

The settling of the suburbs had serious repercussions on film exhibition. The population shift away from the city had triggered a shift away from the movie-theatres situated in the city-centre. In addition, suburbanites had now adopted a new lifestyle, dictated by both the new environment they lived in and the extraordinary affluence the country experienced in the late 1940s. Consumer goods and new forms of leisure were gradually replacing cinema-going. As Davies observes:

The change in cinema-going habits is closely related to the more general changes in American family lifestyle in the postwar era. By 1965, takings at the nation's cinema box offices were down to just over one thousand million dollars, representing a fall of 37 per cent since the high point of 1946, whilst the 1950s and 1960s saw an increase in expenditure on every other form of recreation monitored by the US Bureau of the Census.By the mid-1960s the American public were spending more on their gardens than on going to the movies.13

Before the American film industry had the time to re-organise its marketing strategies and deal with the 1947 decrease in box-office admissions, the Paramount decision called for industrial changes that would bring about the end of the studio era. Following a series of anti-trust decrees enforced by the Supreme Court against the majors with the purpose of limiting their monopolistic strategies, the Paramount decision was a radical legal act, which put an end to Hollywood hegemony by ordering the vertical disintegration of the majors.14 Accordingly, the Supreme Court gave the studios a deadline to sell off their theatres to newly founded exhibition circuits and thus divorce their exhibition from the production/distribution sectors, a fact that terminated the monopoly of the vertically integrated studios that had spanned over two decades.

From 1948 onwards, independent exhibitors, distributors and producers in the United States had the opportunity of entering the marketplace and competing with Hollywood on equal terms. With the parallel ban on long established practices, including block booking and blind bidding, profit was no longer guaranteed for the majors. Seeing that exhibitors were not willing to rent B-movies (low-budget and more often than not low-quality films), the studios began to invest on expensive spectacles that seemed likely to have a wide public appeal, while the overall production was cut back.15

The years 1946-1956 saw an overall decline in domestic production by 28 percent, while, during the same period, the importation of foreign films increased by 132 percent.16 These numbers make sense if one considers the following chain of events. With the decrease in domestic production, exhibitors were soon confronted with the lack of film product. As Hollywood studios could no longer meet the increased demands of theatre operators, the latter sought alternative sources of supply to fill the marquee void and avoid bankruptcy. At this point, American distributors approached the European market and, as a result, a wave of European films - products of a re­invented film industry, appeared on American screens, even in first-run theatres.

Within this new industrial context, Litman suggests, “films would have to compete according to their intrinsic quality [and] this naturally opened up the market for independent producers and distributors whose products would now be judged according to merit rather than parentage”.17 In an attempt to face the challenge of competition, the majors focused on quality rather than quantity and announced an increase in rental costs. However, the opening of the marketplace had also allowed alternative exhibition sites to emerge, no longer as marginal theatres but as sites that catered for the demands of a specialised audience. The “art theatre” or “art house” was the most important alternative exhibition site of the post-war period and a significant outlet for European films in the United States.18

While still coping with the repercussions of the Paramount decision, Hollywood became the next victim of the frenetic anti-communism that had seized the country in the wake of the Cold War. In an attempt to trace subversive activities and ‘purge' the film industry, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) orchestrated a series of hearings, during which directors, screenwriters, and actors were called to testify. The witnesses were asked to ‘name names' of associates who were known to be involved in the Communist Party, while, depending on their testimony, they were either ‘friendly' or ‘unfriendly' witnesses. As Diggins notes, “when HUAC called for a purge of the film industry, the communist actor or writer had two options: change politics or change professions”.19

The ‘unfriendly witnesses' who refused to testify, invoking the protection offered by the Fifth Amendment, were originally nineteen and later ten; these became known as the ‘Hollywood Ten'. The conviction of the Hollywood Ten prompted Hollywood producers to establish a blacklist “prohibiting the employment of anyone who refused to testify or was cited for contempt”.20 Within a few years, hundreds of careers had been destroyed and many native talents had fled the country, unable to create within an industry imbued with fear.

The ‘red scare' set back creativity and had a profound impact on the content of Hollywood films until the late 1950s. In these essentially conservative films, political issues were consistently avoided, while in science-fiction features, aliens and monsters could be interpreted as symbols of the communist ‘threat'. Meanwhile, studios increased the production of ‘innocent' genre films such as musicals and family melodramas. However, the profound rupture in the continuity of the Hollywood tradition could hardly be concealed. As Sklar points out,

The damage to Hollywood was very nearly fatal.. .Movies were always less courageous than some organs of information and entertainment, but they were more iconoclastic than most, offering a version of American behavior and values more risqué, violent, comic and fantastic than the standard interpretation of traditional cultural elites. It was this trait that gave movies their popularity and their mythmaking power. And it was this trait that the anti-Communist crusade destroyed. Creative work at its best could indeed not be carried on in an atmosphere of fear, and Hollywood was suffused with fear. It dared not make any movie that might arouse the ire of anyone.In the Cold War atmosphere of the late 1940s and 1950s.the studios tried to avoid making movies that would offend any vocal minority. As a result they lost touch both with their own past styles and with the changes and movements in the dominant culture at large.21

While conformism was permeating Hollywood films due to the ‘red scare', aesthetically and thematically daring European films were entering the country. Despite the fact that they still occupied a relatively small part of the schedule in mainstream theatres, these films were gradually growing in popularity among American audiences who had become keen on adult and sophisticated features. In other words, the same conditions that had a profoundly damaging impact on Hollywood, had allowed European films to thrive in American movie-theatres.

The ‘Juvenilisation' of Hollywood Films and the Challenge of Television

The increasing popularity of television in post-war America was an additional factor involved in the creation of a more favourable context for the distribution, exhibition, and reception of European films. Its advent had “reorganized American entertainment and its central genres”22 and had further contributed to the demise of the cultural domination of Hollywood. However, television also assisted non-mainstream cinema, including European films, by not making available material that lay outside the sphere of family entertainment. As a mass audience-oriented medium, television assumed a role that cinema had played for decades.

In the early 1950s, a series of studio-funded surveys demonstrated that the composition of the film-going public had altered significantly. The presence of specialised audiences indicated that the financial survival of Hollywood depended to a great deal upon the acknowledgement and fulfillment of these audiences' needs. The production of films aimed at a homogeneous audience was no longer an option for the studios; this task had been passed on to television executives. According to Davies and Neve, “if Hollywood's market aim had been too generalised before, now there began a discovery of specialized, commercially viable markets within the movie-going audience”.23 An organised strategy to cater for specialised tastes seemed to be the key to bring audiences back to the theatres.

At this point, Hollywood studios decided to pay more attention to the biggest segment of the film-going public, teenagers. The prioritisation of adolescent needs was soon reflected in more films aimed at juveniles - a process, which Doherty refers to in Teenagers and Teenpics as the “juvenilisation of American movies”.24 This does not mean that all Hollywood output suddenly became juvenile in the mid to late 1950s; in fact, this period saw several sophisticated films produced in Hollywood. Nonetheless, these films were not enough to cater for the needs of adult audiences, who eventually turned to art theatres and film societies for more ‘mature', and intellectually demanding pictures. “Because of their adult themes,” Pells points out, “their greater openness about sex, and their unconventional stories and stars, European movies seemed more ‘contemporary', more realistic, and more emotionally challenging than the family shows on television or the typical Hollywood film”.25 In the following years, European cinema would become more popular than ever before among American audiences.

The Emergence of the Art House Movement

As opposed to the socio-historical and industrial context of the 1930s that had not allowed the financial and cultural survival of art theatres, the post-war American reality demonstrated that the time was ripe for a revival of the little cinema movement. Under the increasing demand for films that were intellectually more challenging and aesthetically innovative, the art house movement emerged in the 1950s.

As its name suggests, the art house movement promoted the idea of ‘film as art' and was aiming to introduce specialised American audiences to non-mainstream films that appealed to the spectator's intellect and challenged their notions of what constitutes the ‘norm' in cinema.

Loosely referring to material screened in art theatres, the term ‘art film' is a rather problematic one and the subject matter of numerous critical debates over the last three decades. During this period, a variety of definitions have been provided and, despite the fact that each of them claims a degree of validity, it is in the combination of elements from all definitions that the precise meaning of the term ‘art film' lies.

In his analysis of the term, Lev argues that ‘art film' “refers specifically to feature films made in the post-World War II period (and continuing to the present) which display new ideas of form and content and which are aimed at a high-culture audience,” while most of these films are of European origin.26 Other scholars, such as Bordwell, attempt a definition of the ‘art film' by juxtaposing it with ‘Hollywood film'; they, therefore, identify ‘mainstream' with ‘Hollywood film' and ‘non-mainstream' with ‘art film'. Accordingly, contrary to mainstream/classical films, which are generally based on repetition, conventionality, clarity, and authorial absence, non-mainstream/art films are based on variety, sophistication, originality, symbolism, and the artistry of an individual (according to the auteur theory, the director). In his essentially formalist analysis of the term, Bordwell argues that art cinema is a distinct mode of film practice defined against classical cinema and characterised, above all, by realism, authorial expressivity, ambiguity, and a break away from conventional narrative structures (such as the cause-effect linkage of events).27 For Neale, art cinema is an “institution”, whose major goals are to “counter American domination” and claim for itself a cultural and economic niche within the international film industry, through the establishment of powerful national cinemas; a list of the textual characteristics of art cinema, according to Neale, would include a focus on visual style rather than action and character over plot, as well as an “interiorisation of dramatic conflict”.28

A discussion of all the definitions of ‘art film' that have appeared in scholarly works would require a separate study. For the purposes of the present study, the term ‘art film' will be employed to refer to non-mainstream/non-classical films that may include documentaries, avant-garde, and foreign films - cinematic material that was screened in art theatres in post-war America. These are films characterised by a set of traits that distinguish them from Hollywood pictures: social and/or psychological realism, a focus on character, visual power, a conscious violation of narrative conventions, fragmentation, stylistic experimentation, and authorial expressivity. Art films invite active thinking, pose more questions than they provide answers and challenge the spectators' expectations. It is noteworthy that the terms ‘European film' and ‘art film' are often used interchangeably, yet in reality an art film does not necessarily have to be European.

During the early 1950s, while mainstream theatres were facing serious financial problems, which undermined their survival, the number of art theatres and film societies founded within university campuses around the country was steadily increasing. A further look at the philosophy and mode of operation of these exhibition sites is noteworthy as it provides insight into the most important agents for the promotion of European films in the 1950s and 1960s.

Heavily reliant upon a regular audience, art theatres and film societies offered ‘adult' features in a sophisticated and intimate environment that differed from the atmosphere of mainstream cinemas. Special attention was paid to the décor of the interiors and the service, while its admission price was usually higher than that of the mainstream theatre. The latter was a rather risky business strategy considering that during the same period, the general decline of movie-attendance had urged exhibitors at large to resort to any means possible for the financial recovery of their theatres, including wide-screen and 3-D films, special offers, even popcorn concessions. As it would turn out, the art theatre operators' confidence that a specialised audience would be willing to pay any price in order to participate in a unique film-viewing experience was accurate.

By the late 1950s in the United States, long queues outside central art theatres were a common phenomenon. The art house distinguished itself from mainstream theatres not merely in terms of fare and environment, but also in terms of mode of operation. According to Sklar, “the art houses marked an important break with Hollywood's way of doing business”.29 By acknowledging the heterogeneity of the American audience and by catering for the needs of a specific segment, before Hollywood considered the change in audience composition and adjusted its policies accordingly, art house circuits had established themselves in the marketplace and in the cultural life of the American public. In 1956, a total of 624 theatres operating on a full- or a part-time basis were officially registered, while the number was gradually increasing.

At this point it is useful to consider the cases of two exhibition sites which exhibited and occasionally distributed European films during the 1950s and 1960s in the United States: “Cinema 16” and the “Brattle Theatre”.

Founded in New York by Amos Vogel, shortly after the end of the World War II, “Cinema 16” was the first official film society in the United States. A few years later it was also an important distributor of art films. “Cinema 16” operated on a fundamental principle: cinema can educate and stir to action. For this reason, its schedule included a variety of features, with a focus on documentaries and avant-garde films - most of them of European origin, which at times disturbed or even shocked the audience.

In his study of the historical background of “Cinema 16”, MacDonald notes that these films “were meant to function as critiques of the conventional cinema and of conventional relationships between filmmakers, exhibitors, and audiences. Instead of accepting movie-going as an entertaining escape from real life, Vogel and his colleagues saw themselves as a special breed of educator”.30 31 Vogel had defined the purposes of his film society in the Certificate of Incorporation, issued in 1947, when “Cinema 16” was founded.

In order to guarantee a regular income that would allow his film society to survive, Vogel decided to operate “Cinema 16” on a membership system. This proved to be a wise strategy not merely for financial reasons but also in terms of censorship. According to 1950s censorship rules, membership private venues were exempt from censorship boards and thus faced little or no reaction from officials when screening a ‘provocative' film. Shortly after the transformation of “Cinema 16” into a membership film society, extremely unconventional and controversial films such as Kenneth Anger's Fireworks (1947) appeared on screen.

The audience of “Cinema 16” consisted primarily of intellectuals and college students keen on films that, rather than offering mere spectacle, were imbued with ideas. In 1953, a survey among the patrons of “Cinema 16” provided invaluable insight into the composition of the art house audience in general. The survey showed that 55 percent of the “Cinema 16” audience belonged to the 21-30 age group, while 75 percent of the audience were college graduates.32

By the mid-1950s, “Cinema 16” had also become a distributor of alternative films, including European features, and an inspiration for other film societies across the country. Furthermore, at a time when university film courses were not yet available, “Cinema 16” organised seminars and provided its patrons with material that encouraged them to develop a critical perspective on films.

An additional significant exhibition site that contributed to the promotion of European cinema in post-war America was the “Brattle Theatre” in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The “Brattle Theatre” and “Cinema 16” had much in common. Both theatres grew out of the initiative of entrepreneurs sharing a genuine devotion to the cinematic medium, both challenged commercial exhibition circuits, both eventually became involved in the distribution sector, and both raised awareness in alternative (mainly European) films. As Lane notes, the “Brattle Theatre” “sank its economic and cultural roots into the cracks and fissures of the fragmented distribution market,”33 taking advantage of the new state of affairs in the American marketplace after the collapse of the studio system.

Founded in the heart of the Harvard community in 1953, the “Brattle Theatre” initially attracted the interest of students, with stylistically sophisticated and thought-provoking films; its advertising slogan was “New England's Finest Showcase for Foreign Films”. Its appeal became broader when other groups were included in its patronage: professionals and people of an older age. In 1955 the owners of the Brattle Theatre founded Janus Film, a distribution company whose activities centered on the importation of foreign films. During the heyday of art cinema, the “Brattle” screened key European films, while Janus Film imported and distributed a series of films directed by Ingmar Bergman. Because of Janus Film, a segment of the American audience was exposed in the late 1950s to the allegorical world of the Swedish filmmaker, who would eventually inspire a new generation of American filmmakers. The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), and The Magician (1958) brought audiences to art theatres and film societies in record numbers. In the early 1960s, Bergman's popularity was a phenomenon; his films were the regular topic of intellectual discussions among cinephile circles.34

In the meantime, Americans had been cultivating a renewed interest in European culture, which prompted them to become regular patrons of theatres that screened European features. For one thing, their travel habits had changed; travelling abroad was easier and, as a result, an increasing number of people travelled to Europe and came into direct contact with its culture. Furthermore, the waves of American soldiers who had returned from Europe after participating in the Second World War had brought with them the experience of the Old World and its culture. This interest in all things European was both a step away from the traditional isolationism of the United States and a significant factor for the increase in popularity of European films. Films such as Roberto Rossellini's Roma, Citta Aperta (1945) and Paisa (1946) had a profound emotional impact on former soldiers who had been in Europe, while their exoticism and elements of the rich European culture appealed to audiences interested in Europe. It is noteworthy that the vast majority of European films released in the United States during this period were not dubbed. Despite the initial reluctance of American audiences to read subtitles, it was eventually accepted that subtitling protected the authenticity of the foreign film and the sense of ‘exoticism' it conveyed.

CHAPTER TWO

The Italian and French New Waves and Their Impact on American Cinema

In the wake of World War II, European film industries were confronted with severe adversities: major and minor production studios had been destroyed, native talents had fled the continent, and Hollywood had dominated the world market. For people involved in European film circuits the challenge was both financial and cultural. Vociferous advocates for the re-emergence of prominent national cinemas called for novelty and appealed for governmental subsidies that would encourage and support cinematic projects. In this artistic ‘crusade', Italy led the way, closely followed by France, Germany, Britain, and Sweden. By 1960, a surge of cinematic new waves had taken over the continent; the cultural prestige of European cinema was restored and the idea of film as a form of art was legitimised.

Some of these new waves crossed the boundaries of Europe and reached the United States. Thematically and aesthetically daring films appeared on American screens and challenged conventional notions related to filmmaking and film-viewing. The films that generated the most profound cultural, aesthetic, and institutional impact in the United States came from Italy and France. In the late 1940s, Italian neorealist films attracted international attention with their devastating realism and disarming humanism. A decade later, following the demise of the neorealist movement, Italian cinema re-invented itself and a new wave of art films found their way into American movie theatres. Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Luchino Visconti, representatives of the New Italian cinema, stirred intense critical interest with their innovative films, which became very popular among art theatre circles and occasionally appealed to more mainstream American audiences.

In the early 1960s, the French New Wave or Nouvelle Vague had a very similar impact in the United States. Films made by Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and other critics-turned-directors brought about extensive debates among American critical circles and some of them proved fairly profitable in terms of box­office. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, American directors attempted to emulate French New Wave films, which made an innovative use of traditional cinematic devices, creatively challenged traditional narrative patterns, and prioritised character over plot. Among the movement's fundamental premises was a firm belief in the primary importance of the director in the filmmaking process - a theoretical position which became known as the “politique des auteurs”.35 The “auteur theory”, as it came to be known in the United States, inspired several American directors of the Hollywood Renaissance, who strove to achieve the ‘auteur' status.

The current chapter will investigate the aesthetic and ideological principles of the above European new waves, as well as the critical and audience responses they received upon their release in the United States. This analysis will also include evidence pointing to the aesthetic influence these new waves had on American films, primarily those produced between the years 1967 and 1976. Representative films of each movement will be discussed in terms of content, style, and production practices. However, the central focus of this chapter will be European features that generated the most intense critical responses and/or the highest degree of popularity among audiences in the United States.

Documenting the Social Reality of Post-War Europe: Italian Neorealism

Neorealism was the natural way in Italy in 1945. There was no possibility of anything else. With Cinecittä in shambles, you had to shoot at the real location, with natural light, if you were lucky enough to have film.

It was an art form invented by necessity.

Federico Fellini36

Shortly after the subversion of the fascist status quo and the liberation of the capital Rome, Italian directors and screenwriters found a fertile ground for artistic creation and sought to record the socio-political reality of the post-war period using innovative cinematic techniques. According to the influential Cinema journal in Italy, the time was ripe for a new approach to filmmaking and a greater degree of realism in Italian films. The cinematic medium, as Cinema critics contended, could be used for recording the harshness of the immediate post-war reality and the individual's plight in the face of serious problems such as unemployment and poverty. When the first neorealist films were released, the war was still raging in some parts of Italy and the filming conditions were adverse. In 1943 Luchino Visconti's Ossessione marked the official beginning of the movement, while Roberto Rossellini's Roma, Cittä Aperta (1945) epitomised its ideological and aesthetic principles. When the first neorealist films reached the United States, they were met with unprecedented critical and audience enthusiasm.

An attempt to provide a strict definition of the term ‘neorealism' would be fairly problematic, as the outlook of two neorealist films from the same period may be to a great extent different in terms of style, and occasionally, of content. As Rossellini admitted, “there are many kinds of neorealism; everyone has his own. Mine was a moral position, an effort to understand myself inside a phenomenon”.37 Regarding the linguistic roots of the term, Sorlin notes:

The word ‘Neorealism' was initially used at the beginning of the century by philosophers who maintained that there exist facts independent of human thoughts. It was then forgotten and resurfaced, at the end of the 1920s, chiefly in literary criticism.When foreign critics saw, in various festivals, Open City, they tried to find a way of defining that skillful blend of traditional, melodramatic stories and a new manner of filming and acting. Neorealism was a vacant signifier and they adopted it.38

Despite the differences in outlook, all neorealist films shared some key aesthetic traits and were founded on the same ideological basis, that is, to put it in Bondanella's words, “they [were] united by a common moral purpose and a deep-seated faith in the dignity of their subject-matter”.39 Notwithstanding their cynical outlook, neorealist films were essentially optimistic and advocated the Christian values of love, compassion, altruism, and understanding as the key to a better society. A renewed belief in democratic values was also expressed and promoted, as well as a desire to re-evaluate the past and learn from mistakes.

In neorealist films, the everyday experience of ordinary people who survived the agony of a world war was recorded through the use of basic cinematic devices, spare lighting, and minimum editing. Complex narratives were generally avoided, the structure could be episodic, while the director's desire to achieve a maximum degree of authenticity and naturalism was communicated throughout. The use of hand-held camera and jump cuts enhanced this effect, as it invested the neorealist film with a documentary quality. Dialogues were easy to follow, as conversational speech was used, and the viewer's identification with the characters was promoted. The presence of non-professional actors, even in leading roles, contributed to the establishment of the feeling that what was being screened was thoroughly authentic.

As opposed to Hollywood practices, the use of studio sites was avoided in the production of neorealist films in favour of location shooting; low-key lighting was rejected in favour of overexposure, while dialogue was usually dubbed after the completion of the filming process. Interestingly, some of the devices responsible for a visual style that promoted the ideological principles of the movement and constituted a response to Hollywood's escapism had been dictated to begin with by the extremely low budget available for film production.40 For Cesare Zavattini, the author of the neorealist manifesto, the movement was “a clear rejection of classical, contrived Hollywood staging, which superimposed an artificial pattern over the multiplicity of complex social reality”.41

American art house audiences were first introduced to the aesthetics of neorealist cinema with Rossellini's Roma, Cittä Aperta (1945), the story of a group of Partisans fighting the final battle against the Nazis in Rome. The realism of the film is crude and often disturbing. A little boy witnesses his mother's execution, a partisan is tortured to death in order to reveal names of comrades, and in the last sequence, a priest is shot dead by the enemy because of his participation in the activities of the resistance movement. Nonetheless, despite its sombre images, Roma, Cittä Aperta is imbued with humanism and hope; within this context of utter distress, Romans display solidarity and are willing to make sacrifices for one another. On several occasions, they express their faith in peace and in a benevolent society, which is possible once peace is restored. In addition, the presence of children adds a note of purity and innocence, which contrasts sharply with the starkness of the environment they live in.

The financial resources for the production of Roma, Citta Aperta had been scarce and Rossellini was forced to keep expenses down by any means possible, including the use of cheap film stock and the casting of several non-professional actors. As luck would have it, these drawbacks were eventually turned into virtues, as they were responsible for the rough, documentary style that distinguished the film from more mainstream pictures and attracted the interest of audience and critics in the United States.

The last scene of the film affirms the director's belief in the power of Christian values and in the possibility of a better future. Having witnessed an execution, a group of children run down a hill towards the city, whistling and shouting; death is omnipresent but their life carries on. No matter what the present is like, the director implies, children stand for the future and the promise for a better society - Rossellini concludes his film with a symbolic image of hope. According to Hanson, “the film is ultimately a hopeful vision of the future of Italy and indeed of mankind in general, and while it establishes techniques that would subsequently evolve into filmmaking codes, it reflects more the personality of its director and his belief in innate goodness than it does a rigid ideology of realistic representation”.42

Roma, Citta Aperta opened in New York on February 26, 1946. Since it had been a box-office failure in Italy, its American distributors, Arthur Mayer and Joseph Burstyn had modest ambitions. It is noteworthy that the film had reached them by pure coincidence. Brunette gives the account of an incident that took place at the shooting location of Roma, Citta Aperta, whereby an American soldier stumbled into the filming area and, claiming that he was a famous film producer, asked to buy the film. Rossellini believed him and sold him a few copies for twenty thousand dollars. As it turned out, the soldier was not a producer but managed to sell the rights of the film to a real distributor and Roma Citta Aperta opened at World Theatre in Manhattan, where it was screened uninterrupted for over a year.43 Fellini cites the same event in his autobiography, where he also adds that, after the success of the film in the United States, the same American soldier contacted Rossellini and promised to finance his next production, as well as arrange the casting of American stars for it.44

Despite its radical visual style, which shocked part of the American audience, Roma Citta Aperta employed certain conventional narrative techniques, which helped viewers empathise with characters and story. It seems very likely that this combination of innovative techniques and familiar narrative patterns was responsible for the critical and commercial success of the film in the United States. In other words, Roma, Citta Aperta in many respects distinguished itself from mainstream Hollywood pictures but was not too different to receive a favourable response from American audiences. In fact, within a few weeks of exhibition, the film had already begun to pave the way for a positive audience and critical reception of subsequent European films.

Rossellini's popularity in the United States increased two years later with Paisa (1946) . The film is composed of six episodes, all of which depict the activities of the Liberation forces movement and the allies' interaction with the locals. Rossellini addresses the social implications of the liberation through the use of the same devices he had employed in his previous film. However, the visual power of his images set against a harsh, menacing background is even more haunting here. Contrary to mainstream war films of the time, Paisa focuses more on emotion and less on the actual warfare. Rossellini explores the human condition amid socio-political instability and re­confirms his belief in the innate goodness of the individual, which, once peace is restored, may contribute to the creation of a better society.

The two Rossellini films were a phenomenal commercial and critical success in the United States. By 1947, Roma, Citta Aperta had earned its distributors half a million dollars and was still making profit.45 In 1951, Richard Griffith of the Saturday Review of Literature stated: “Old molds were broken, new ones formed. The camera loves actual life, and Rossellini's ‘Open City' and ‘Paisan'.. .seemed to bring us closer to actuality than films had done in years”.46 In the same article, Griffith addressed Rossellini's unexpected popularity among both intellectual and mainstream audiences, concluding: “the only foreign-language pictures that have a chance of reaching beyond the ‘art' theatres to the big American audience are honest films that talk in terms everybody can understand about things that matter to everybody”.47 In the same spirit, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, referred to Roma, Cittä Aperta as one of the “strongest dramatic films yet made about the war” and to Paisä as a “milestone in the expression of the screen.a film to be seen and seen again”; while Arthur Knight of the Saturday Review termed Paisä “one of the greatest of all sound films”.48

The positive critical reception of Rossellini's films was also reflected in American film awards. In 1947, Roma, Cittä Aperta was nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Screenplay, and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, as well as the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (Anna Magnani). Two years later, Paisä was nominated by the Academy for Best Screenplay, and won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, as well as the National Board of Review Award for Best Director and Best Picture.49

Meanwhile, other fervent critical responses to Rossellini's films appeared in the American press. In his review of Roma, Cittä Aperta, John McCarten of the New Yorker referred to the film as “the best that has ever come from Italy” and hailed the freshness of its characters that were strikingly contrasted to those offered by Hollywood.50 In 1946, Life magazine praised its “earthly verisimilitude” and its depiction of “a feeling of desperate and dangerous struggle”.51 Yet, the most dramatic American response to the film came from James Agee of the Nation. In his March 23, 1946 review, the critic stated: “Recently I saw a moving picture so much worth talking about that I am still unable to review it.I will probably be unable to report on the film in detail for the next three or four weeks.” When Agee finally wrote about the film, he pointed to its immediacy and extraordinary realism.52

Two years later, another neorealist film repeated the success of Rossellini's pictures in the United States. Directed by Vittorio De Sica, Ladri di Biciclette (1947) was a study of social and political problems pertinent to post-war Italy, as well as their emotional impact on the individual. As opposed to the severe criticism it received in Italy, when the film was released in the United States, it won over art house and mainstream audiences and was hailed by the critics.

Stemming from the same ideological context that had generated Roma, Citta Aperta and Paisa, Ladri di Biciclette is the story of an impoverished family man, whose only hope to keep his newly found job is to recover his stolen bicycle. Like many other neorealist characters, Antonio Ricci is fighting for his family's financial survival with dignity and courage but all his efforts are to no avail. In the final sequence of the film, following a failed desperate attempt to steal a bicycle, Ricci is humiliated by a group of people on the street, in the presence of his son. It is interesting to note that for the part of Antonio Ricci, De Sica cast Lamberto Maggiorani, a worker in real life, with no previous acting experience until his participation in this film.

Invested with the qualities of a tragedy, Ladri di Biciclette was intended to be a poignant commentary on the ineffectuality of Italian institutions, including the church and the government. While father and son walk in the streets of Rome in the hope of getting the father's stolen bicycle back, an overwhelming sense of despair is conveyed, as well as mounting skepticism over the future of the Italian society. As Armes suggests, “for De Sica.the unavailing search for a lost bicycle can become a symbol of the tragic necessities of human existence”.53 The two characters' walk has the qualities of a journey into Rome's dark side. During this journey, Ricci and his son encounter people of all kinds but none of them offers any viable solution to their problem. Alienation, is implied, enhances the already severe social problems - poverty and unemployment. In this respect, De Sica defies Rossellini's belief in a better society. The film's ending offers neither a conclusion nor a resolution to the situation presented. In other words, Ladri di Biciclettte merely exposes a problem rather than investigates its causes and its possible solutions. The field is thus left open for a variety of spectatorial interpretations.

The film was distributed in the United States in 1949 by Mayer-Burstyn, Inc. - the same company that had distributed Roma, Citta Aperta three years earlier. It is noteworthy that the commercial success of Rossellini's film permitted the distributors of Ladri di Biciclette to release the film without the MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America) seal of approval, following Burstyn's decision not to scissor out certain scenes that had been deemed “inappropriate” by American censor boards.54 The film was very profitable at the American box-office, in both art and mainstream movie-theatres. Life magazine termed it “a masterpiece of pathos”, Howard Thompson of the New York Times referred to it as “brilliant and unforgettable”, and John Mason Brown of the Saturday Review commented that it was “a picture high and bleak in its beauty and irresistible in its force”.55

In 1950, the film was voted by the Academy Board of Governors as “the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1949” and won an honorary award, while it was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Screenplay (Cesare Zavattini).56 Ladri di Biciclette was also awarded the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, and won the National Board of Review Award for Best Director and Best Picture, as well as the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film.57 Word of mouth and the above-mentioned reviews and awards increased the film's publicity, as they became its most effective form of advertisement. Ironically, even the attempts of several censorship groups to ban the film or severely censor it when it reached the country58, far from preventing its critical and financial success, to a great extent, contributed to it.

Despite the popularity of neorealist films abroad, the late 1940s saw the Italian government launching an organised propaganda against the movement on grounds of its “lack of commercial potential” and “political overtones”.59 As a result, state subsidies were curtailed and production and international distribution of neorealist films were discouraged. Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. (1952) is considered the last film of the movement. By this time, communist voices had weakened, the church had grown massively critical of the ideological content of neorealism, Italian audiences had shown a preference for Hollywood features, while the pioneers of neorealism themselves had sought new artistic directions. In the movement's final cinematic expression, Umberto D., the hope for a more benevolent society has been altogether abandoned and the film is permeated by a sense of frustration and disillusionment.

Sensing the end of his life, Umberto D. makes a last desperate attempt to communicate with people around him but he fails. In this film, the failure of human communication is a concern as important as poverty and social injustice. The film points to the failings of human nature, which, in De Sica's opinion, are liable for all social evils. Umberto D. can be viewed as a transitional work in the history of Italian cinema. The film moves away from neorealist aesthetic principles by employing more complex cinematic devices, elaborate settings, symbolism, and stylised performances. In the United States it failed to attract audiences in the numbers of Roma, Cittä Aperta and Ladri di Biciclette, but was critically praised, won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

“An art form invented by necessity,” as Fellini noted, neorealism inspired American directors and screenwriters from Elia Kazan to Martin Scorsese, with its improvisational style and commitment to a realistic representation of social issues. The aesthetic influence of neorealism is evident in American films such as The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Viva Zapata (1952), and On the Waterfront (1954). Even Bonnie and Clyde, which will be discussed in detail in Chapters Three and Four, demonstrates evidence that neorealist patterns are likely to have shaped some of the film's aesthetic and thematic concerns. An indicative example is the sequence in which Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow come across a farmer who mourns over the loss of his house because of debts to the bank. Both visually and ideologically at this point Bonnie and Clyde is reminiscent of films such as De Sica's Ladri di Biciclette.60 According to Monaco, “while neorealism as a movement lasted only until the early fifties, the effects of its aesthetics are still being felt. In fact, Zavattini, Rossellini, De Sica, and Visconti defined the ground rules that would operate for nearly thirty years. Aesthetically, Hollywood never quite recovered”.61

The ‘Personal' Cinemas of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Luchino Visconti

With neorealism in decline and socio-historical and political conditions rapidly changing in Italy, a wide debate surfaced over the direction that its national cinema should take in order to regain its grip on audiences in the 1950s. As the country prospered, social problems that had overwhelmed the country in previous years were gradually being resolved and replaced by other issues, such as the impact of urbanisation and industrialisation on the human psyche. Out of this context, new cinematic waves emerged in order to respond to a new reality. The first expression of a “New Italian Cinema” was Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954), closely followed by Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954).

On a national level the two films created controversy among Leftist circles and proponents of the neorealist tradition on the one hand, and cineastes who supported the idea of a new cinematic wave, on the other. Negative responses focused on two basic issues: the films' lack of social commitment and their break with neorealist aesthetics.62

As opposed to their neorealist predecessors who focused on social and political problems, La Strada and Senso were primarily concerned with existential issues, including emotional alienation, the meaning of life, the vicissitudes of love, and the finality of death. By moving away from problems particular to the Italian society, these films achieved a wide appeal to audiences abroad, while their originality of style was welcomed by critics. Among the admirers of Fellini's “exploration of interiority” in La Strada was the French theorist André Bazin, who responded to harsh reviews of the two films by suggesting, as quoted in Dalle Vacche, that “The soul is a landscape as documentable as Roberto Rossellini's Rome in Open City”.63

The debate over the direction that national cinema should take, which was accentuated by La Strada and Senso, took even bigger dimensions in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Within the context of this debate, a plea was officially expressed at a film convention in Milan for a new wave that would follow the theoretical and aesthetic principles of the Nouvelle Vague, which had recently emerged in France. Indeed, during the years 1951-1961, following the example of their French counterparts, an unprecedented number of Italian directors made their debut with feature films, while directors of an older generation re-emerged vigorously with aesthetically innovative pictures. Among them were Fellini's La Dolce Vita, Antonioni's L'Avventura, and Visconti's Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli - all of them films that would become aesthetic models for American directors of the Hollywood Renaissance a few years later.

At this historical point, Italian cinema was a by-product of a new state of affairs in the country in social, cultural, and industrial terms. Industry-wise, censorship rules were more lenient than ever, producers invested in experimentation and ‘fresh' talent, and directors were allowed what previously would have been considered an ‘inconceivable' degree of freedom.64 The cinema of the 1960s displayed an altogether new approach to the cinematic medium, a desire to revolutionise traditional ways of filmmaking, and above all, a refusal to compromise with what the studio dictated. The figure of the director as auteur in the spirit of the Nouvelle Vague, which will be examined shortly, was emerging prominently in Italy.

In 1956, seven years after the American release of Ladri di Biciclette, Federico Fellini's La Strada reached the United States, claiming the interest of audience and critics. To a certain degree, the film pointed to its roots in the neorealist tradition; however, for those familiar with the works of Rossellini and De Sica, La Strada also displayed a tendency to break away from the conventions of the movement, as well as the presence of a director with a strong personal vision. The same idea applied to I Vitelloni (1953), another Fellini film released in the United States later that year.

Since Fellini had worked as an assistant director to Rossellini, the aesthetic and ideological principles of neorealism had inevitably influenced his artistic thought and this was evident in his early films. One of the elements that, according to Budgen, Fellini owed to neorealism was “the physical immediacy of his images, by which he [could] excite in a spectator a feeling of great intimacy and closeness to what is happening on the screen”65 - a quality that remained a basic feature of the entire body of his work and one emulated later by American filmmakers. Fellini himself would readily acknowledge the neorealist dimension of his work and Rossellini as “the ancestor from whom we were all descended”.66 It is interesting to note, however, that his use of neorealist conventions was highly personal and creative. In practice, both La Strada and I Vitelloni were amalgams of neorealist influences and Fellini's own stylistic and thematic preoccupations that would soon evolve into a distinctive cinematic style.

Fellini's tendency to deviate from the premises of neorealism towards a more personal cinema took the form of a decisive break with the neorealist tradition in La Dolce Vita (1960). Fellini's new artistic orientation provoked the immediate reaction of some of his former collaborators, who accused Fellini of betrayal.67 However, the director himself saw his new direction as a necessary step towards his artistic ‘liberation', as he felt that neorealism limited his creativity.68 Released from what he considered to be a stifling set of rules, Fellini set out to write and direct according to his personal criteria. By the time La Dolce Vita was released, the director had fought for and achieved a considerable degree of artistic independence from studio constraints.69

When La Strada was exhibited in American movie theatres in July 1956, it stirred immediate critical responses and respectable box-office figures. The tragicomic story of Gelsomina and Zampanó, two fundamentally different characters who have to live and work together as troupe performers, frequently under the most adverse of circumstances, moved American audiences with its honesty and offered an alternative to the Hollywood blockbusters of the time, such as The Ten Commandments (1956). In 1956, enthusiastic reviews appeared in the American press, such as Time magazine, which wrote:

Fellini sees his people straight and whole, most warmly and naturally loves them and hates them, and takes them as they are. It is one measure of Fellini's superiority to most of his neo-realist colleagues in the Italian film industry that he does not trouble his head or his audiences, with social problems as such; on the reactionary assumption (which horrifies his communist critics) that societies are made up of people, Fellini simply makes pictures about people's problems...And in Fellini's hands, people sometimes seem more important than the screen has made them appear in years.70

Like other European films of its time, La Strada sets its main characters on a journey, both literal and metaphorical. Gelsomina and Zampanó travel from town to town to act out their numbers, and on the way, they come across people and situations that dramatically affect their worldview. One of Fellini's thematic preoccupations is the strength and insight in what is generally considered ‘weakness'. Gelsomina appears to be mentally unsound and her character is studied in depth. At the same time, other philosophical issues and moral dilemmas are ambitiously approached; yet, the director's main concern remains the loneliness of modern man; the entire film is in fact built around an attempt to explore the ways in which this loneliness can be broken.

The end of the story finds Gelsomina dead and Zampanó alone and cut off from the rest of the world. Still, Zampanó's realisation in the final sequence that Gelsomina was the source of his happiness reveals the human side of his character and allows a glimpse of hope and faith in the essential goodness of the individual. The ending could also be viewed as a vehicle of a moral message: “only between man and man.. .can solitude be broken”.71 According to Budgen, “La Strada is an enactment of the concept that love and gentleness will, against all appearance, defeat indifference and force”.72

In 1957, La Strada won an Academy Award as well as the New York Film Critics Circle Award - both in the category of Best Foreign Language film, two events that attracted international attention to Fellini. The Italian filmmaker was subsequently invited to the United States and his status as a cultural icon began to form. In his autobiography, Fellini gives an interesting account of one of his visits to the United States, following the success of La Strada:

When I went to the United States, I was given a public relations man to look after me during the month I was there. When he met me at the airport, the first thing he told me was that he had ‘laid on' a television interview for that evening. ‘Twenty million people will be watching you,' he told me proudly. I looked in the paper and saw it was already announced that at a certain hour, somebody would be telling the American public how to cook spaghetti alla napoletana and the famous Italian film director Federico Fellini would show gentlemen how to kiss a lady's hand!73

For Fellini, this was an unfamiliar and, to some extent, amusing situation. Yet, it was also indicative of the extent of his cultural impact in the United States, an impact which had transcended the limits of art house circles and had passed into the realm of popular culture.

The critical and commercial success of La Strada, however, seemed insignificant compared to that of La Dolce Vita, which was released in the United States in April 1961, alongside Hollywood's West Side Story and One Hundred and One Dalmatians. La Dolce Vita attracted American audiences in record numbers. The film grossed 19.5 million dollars at the American box-office and was the third most successful film in the United States in 1961, following the two Hollywood pictures mentioned above.74 La Dolce Vita was also more profitable than Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, which was released during the same period.75

Lacking a consistent plot and a straightforward narrative, La Dolce Vita is a series of episodes, in which Marcello, a self-indulgent gossip columnist, wanders in the streets of Rome looking for a story. Similar to the life of the people who surround him, his life is one based on hedonism - an endless party, wherein alcohol (ab)use, sexual experimentation, and meaningless conversations are meant to make up for emotional dissatisfaction. Fellini presents a society in decay but he does not comment on it nor does he offer any solutions. His attitude echoes that of De Sica; Fellini exposes a situation but avoids moral judgments or speculations, allowing the viewer to provide his or her own.

Despite its almost three-hour duration, La Dolce Vita is an engaging film, for it deals with various situations and emotional states, ranging from ecstatic joy to tragedy and death. In many respects, the film is a panorama of the manifold aspects of human existence and the emotions an individual can experience - from grief to ecstasy. It is also a document of the social mores of the early 1960s. In addition, according to Bondanella, La Dolce Vita is an introduction to Fellini's “highly idiosyncratic and surrealist world of images and dream fantasies which leave behind forever any connection to traditional cinematic ‘realism'”.76 Within this context, opposite elements, such as paradox and logic, comedy and drama, moral decay and beauty, co-exist in perfect balance.

Following the pattern of La Strada, the film ends on an ambiguous note that allows, however, a glimpse of hope for a better future and a healthier society. Marcello and his friends take a stroll to a peaceful beach. An innocent girl waves at him and tries to tell him something but he cannot hear and turns back to his friends. The scene could be ‘read' as symbolic: The girl is the incarnation of purity and hope; Marcello was not able to reach out for her this time, but she exists - all the possibilities are open.

It is noteworthy that, while La Dolce Vita generated unprecedented controversy in Italy and was accused of being a malign critique of the Italian society, American audiences and critics invariably responded to it with enthusiasm. Interestingly, the title of the film itself became a commodity in the United States, as “exhibitors were encouraged to persuade local stores to use the idea of ‘the sweet life' to sell chocolates, air fresheners or Italian products”.77 The expression ‘la dolce vita' had been used ironically by Fellini in the film to describe the Italian society of the 1960s - the director attempted to demonstrate that what this society experienced during that period was far from ‘a sweet life'. As Gundle notes, ‘la dolce vita' eventually became a ‘seductive cliché'.78 The film's cultural impact was also manifest in American literature and cinema. Authors of fiction were inspired to set their story in Rome, such as Tennessee Williams and his The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (later made into a film), while directors and screenwriters decided to shoot their films in Italy, in an attempt to recapture the spirit of La Dolce Vita - Vincente Minelli's Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) and John Schlesinger's Darling (1965).79

Two years after the release of La Dolce Vita in the United States, Fellini's 8 % appeared on American screens and immediately set in motion a barrage of intense critical responses, while, in a short period of time, establishing itself as a “masterpiece”, a “must-see” among intellectual circles. Less accessible than La Dolce Vita, as reality and fantasy mingle in it to the extent that it is extremely difficult for the viewer to separate them, 8 % dominated the intellectual discussions of films after its American release. Earlier that year, 8 % had been exhibited out of competition at Cannes, where it had attracted the attention of Joseph Levine, an American financier, who bought its rights and brought the film to the United States, where it was distributed by Columbia.

The first American reactions to the “new Fellini fare” were characterized by controversy. Levine himself admitted that he could hardly understand its content, but the fact was that the film had stirred a strong interest among art house patrons and scholars; it was therefore successful, at least in this respect. As Levine notes, “I showed it to every ‘egghead' professor that I could find and it became what I call a cocktail picture. ‘Have you seen 8 you know. I don't think half of them understood it. Now it's become a picture you teach from . A classic”.80

Starring Marcello Mastroianni, who had previously played the part of the columnist in La Dolce Vita, 8 % is an account of a filmmaker's troubled life when he loses all inspiration and retreats in fantasy and dreams to escape from external pressures. All the people who surround Guido Anselmi seem to be asking for something; each of them has a demand but none of them understands Guido's predicament. Guido essentially suffers from both a ‘writer's block' and existential alienation. His fantasy world is his only consolation and in the course of the film it becomes a source of inspiration.

The most striking feature of the film is its visual and narrative style. Style and content are in fact intrinsically connected and complement each other. Whatever takes place in Guido's mind is translated in visual terms; dreams, fantasies, nightmares are all depicted on the screen and it is for this reason that the film is overall difficult to follow. Narrative structure also reflects Guido's consciousness and is thus far from straightforward.

Many of the film's stylistic and thematic motifs form part of the pattern of the entire body of Fellini's work and make up his distinctive cinematic style. In terms of style, these include: symbolism, an extensive use of tracking shots and long takes, as well as abrupt shifts from reality to fantasy marked by dramatic changes in lighting. In terms of content, there is a fundamental concern with the freedom of the individual, the supernatural and the absurd, the corruption of social institutions - most notably the church, “the crippling effects of guilt, the longing for purity, the grotesque decadence of modern lifestyles, the oppression of women in Italy, [and] the archetypal similarities between life and the circus”.81

Following the example of I Vitelloni, La Strada, La Dolce Vita and other earlier Fellini films, 8 % examines the response of the individual to crisis situations and reflects on the possibility of redemption, an issue that could arguably be viewed as the cornerstone of Fellini's oeuvre. It is noteworthy that the director himself defined one of his motives for making films as “an instinctive wish to do good to those who know only evil, to make them catch a glimpse of hope, of the chance of a better life, and to find in everyone, even the worst intentioned, a core of goodness and love”.82

Fellini's aesthetic influence on American directors was extensive. In 1970, Alex Mazurski made an American version of 8 ¥2, Alex in Wonderland, which contained a part for a film director, “not any film director”, as Mazurski notes, “but Fellini”83 - the Italian director indeed appeared in Mazurski's film. In 1975 Robert Altman informed Nashville with ‘Felliniesque' qualities and so did Woody Allen in 1980 with Stardust Memories, which paid homage to 8 ¥2. According to Pells, both Nashville and Stardust Memories demonstrate “the influence of Fellini's charisma and especially his style - eclectic, bizarre, improvisational, autobiographical”.84

In his documentary film, Il Mio Viaggio in Italia, Scorsese acknowledges that Fellini had an extensive aesthetic influence on his films. The American director's admiration for Fellini's cinema began when the former watched I Vitelloni as a young person and strongly identified with the film's characters. In 1973, Scorsese addressed very similar issues in Mean Streets, wherein a group of young men are torn between the desire to flee their small community in order to experience a new life somewhere else and the fear of losing the sense of comfort and security this community offers them.85 While still a film student at New York University, Scorsese watched 8 ¥2; “the impact was overwhelming”, he notes, “because of the camerawork and the beauty of the black and white.I paid homage to [it] with my second short [film]”.86 Scorsese's second short, It's Not Just You, Murray! (1964) is indeed imbued with allusions to 8 ¥ culminating in the film's ending. As Grist observes, “in the film's coda cyclicity is underscored graphically, while characters dance around Murray's convertible in a circle, in a way very reminiscent of 8 ¥; Murray even wears a brimmed hat like that of Guido”.87

It is interesting to note that Fellini's extraordinary appeal in the United States coincided with what Burke refers to as an “ideological climate of heightened individualism, in which artists were marketed as cultural heroes and film was elevated to the status of artform”.88 As mentioned earlier, following the success of La Strada and La Dolce Vita, Fellini was elevated to the status of a cultural icon. Burke reasons that as soon as the climate of the 1950s and 1960s - favourable for the artist - was replaced by a theoretical and cultural climate that denied the autonomy of the individual and opposed the idea of the “artist-as-romantic hero”, Fellini came to be considered “an egoist anachronism” and his appeal began to wane.89 This argument could apply to other European directors discussed in the present chapter, and its implications could be the subject matter of a separate study. Nonetheless, it should be taken into consideration that other factors contributed to the decline of the popularity of European directors and films in late 1960s America, including the emergence of the Hollywood Renaissance, which offered an American version of European new waves in cinema.

At the premiere of the Cannes Film Festival in 1960, an Italian film attracted international attention by receiving at once harsh criticism from the audience and the Special Jury Prize of the French critics. The film was L'Avventura and its director, Michelangelo Antonioni. The plot line was seemingly simple and straightforward: the extravagant boat trip to a series of islands of a group of friends is suddenly disrupted when one of them disappears for no apparent reason. The missing woman's partner and one of her girlfriends decide to go after her traces but, on the way, the two of them become romantically involved, the quest is made more complicated and eventually never resolved.

L'Avventura was the first part of a trilogy, including La Notte and L'Eclisse, which was released in the United States during the period 1961-1962, when other key European films also appeared on American screens: Fellini's La Dolce Vita, Godard's A bout de souffle, Resnais' L'année dernière a Marienbad, Visconti's Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli, and Truffaut's Jules et Jim. Antonioni's films constituted another testimony to the emergence of a new Italian cinema, characterised by a tendency to experiment with innovative narrative and visual forms.

Antonioni's involvement with cinema began when he was employed as a critic for Cinema magazine. In the mid-1940s, while Italian cinema was gradually assuming a social outlook, Antonioni expressed the conviction that “the cinema has its own specific values and these need to be thought of independently of the war, of social distress, of political necessities”.90 For this reason, he was accused of being indifferent to urgent social agendas of the time, a fact that did not discourage him, however, from keeping his focus on “matters of form [and] questions of experiment”.91 When Cinema expressed its open support for the cause of the Italian Resistance and its commitment to the neorealist movement, the rupture between Antonioni and the magazine he worked for was inevitable.

From then on, Antonioni put his theoretical viewpoints into practice and directed a series of documentaries, which pointed to his obsessive interest with form and style. Nonetheless, none of his first cinematic projects reflected his stylistic and thematic preoccupations more consistently than the films of his trilogy.

Antonioni's basic concerns are the failure of human communication, which results in emotional bankruptcy and existential alienation, the hypocrisy of modern society, and the ‘emptiness' of human existence within the context of atomic age. More often than not, his characters are members of the upper class, who spend their days striving to escape utter boredom and meaninglessness through flamboyant parties, extravagant purchases, and sexual intercourse.

A consistent thematic motif in Antonioni's cinema is the journey. One way or another, his characters undertake a journey but in the course of events they become disorientated and lose track of their goals. Another prominent feature of his films is a concern with character over plot. Like De Sica and Fellini, Antonioni presents a problem/situation but does not succumb to judgments; instead, he maintains a distance from his subject matter and remains a mere observer. To put it in Liehm's words, Antonioni “renounces any stated thesis, any intervention in the flow of events, and any interpretation of the facts”.92

In terms of style, Antonioni's films are characterised by an extensive use of real as opposed to dramatic time, a device which is directly related to the director's commitment to ‘reality and truth'. Accordingly, the length of several scenes is determined by the time it would take for them to happen in real life; in other words, Antonioni “subjects his audiences to real time as his characters would experience it”.93 A further device which serves the director's purpose to observe the flow of events in his films as objectively as possible is the long take, which enhances the sense of unity and continuity, and allows the spectator to concentrate on the character with an investigative attitude.

By and large, acting in Antonioni's cinema is stylised and austere. The director himself discourages his actors from emoting according to the extrovert traditions of Italian acting, since he is interested in conveying a sense of silent despair and frustration.94 As a result, the process of identification is undermined and the viewer distances himself from the characters. It is also noteworthy that Antonioni's films resist a resolution and often follow a circular pattern, ending where they began. By the end of the film, characters have usually undergone an emotional transformation but the problems exposed at the beginning persist. This is the case for L'Avventura, La Notte, and L'Eclisse, which defy a conclusion and end on an ambiguous note. In L'Avventura, for example, the missing woman is never discovered nor do we ever learn the reasons for her disappearance.

L'Avventura was released in the United States in March 1961, two months after the release of La Notte. The new Antonioni fare was seen as another version of La Dolce Vita and interest was stimulated following Pauline Kael's statement that it was the best film of the year.95 In her review of the film in the New Yorker, Kael wrote: “There is something great here - a new mood, a new emotional rhythm, extraordinary”, while Leonard Maltin referred to it as a “subtle, incisive allegory of spiritual and moral decay”.96 The Saturday Review of Literature encouraged its readers to watch the film, suggesting that “it all takes time, much time, but if you are willing to allow Antonioni his own way, you may find yourself fascinated”; nonetheless, as Mayer points out, “reactions . run from utter boredom and disgust to the highest critical praise”.97

Shortly after its release, L ' Avventura was added to the “Condemned” list of the Legion of Decency, along with La Notte. Some critics attacked the film on grounds of its gritty, pessimistic outlook and overt rejection of the neorealist belief in Christian values.98 At the same time, other negative reviews appeared in the American press. Films in Review described the film as follows: “Amateurish motion picture [in which] absolutely nothing happens.The simple truth is that Antonioni had no script, is not fertile in improvisation and having produced a quantity of meaningless footage, has been so conscienceless as to go along with his producer's efforts to palm it all off as art”.99

Despite harsh criticism, L'Avventura, and to a lesser extent La Notte and L'Eclisse, managed to appeal to a relatively wide spectrum of the American audience, a fact attributable, according to Roger Ebert, to the socio-political climate of the time. As he notes, Antonioni's trilogy reached the United States “at a time when beatniks cultivated detachment, when modern jazz kept an ironic distance from melody, when it was hip to be cool. That whole time came crashing down later in the 1960s, but while it lasted, L'Avventura was its anthem”.100

Antonioni's experiments with form and attack on generic conventions, as well as his subversion of viewer expectations of what a film should look like and his dark philosophy have all been emulated by Hollywood directors. Following his trilogy, Antonioni went on to direct Il Deserto Rosso (1964) and Blowup (1966), which stretched even more the limits of the cinematic medium and provided new material for inspiration to American filmmakers.

Two of them were Francis Coppola and Brian De Palma; the former emulated Blowup in The Conversation (1974), while the latter attempted a remake of the same Antonioni film with Blow Out (1981). In his discussion of The Conversation, Cowie notes: “Antonioni comes to mind as the film unwinds. Like the Italian director, Coppola lets his characters leave the frame before following them with the camera, shaping an awareness of psychological space - as well as tension - beyond the immediate image”.101

Luchino Visconti was another Italian director whose distinctive cinematic style appealed to American art house audiences and critics in the 1960s. Evidence also demonstrates that Visconti's cinema influenced - albeit to a lesser extent - the Hollywood Renaissance.

Beginning with Senso (1954), Visconti displayed signs of an idiosyncratic approach to the cinematic medium that would receive controversial responses in the United States. Interestingly, despite the fact that Senso was a turning point in the history of Italian cinema, as it signalled the end of neorealism and the beginning of a new era, it did not reach the United States until 1968, that is, fourteen years after its European release. However, Visconti's cinema had been introduced to American audiences eight years earlier, with Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli (1960).

Since he came from a wealthy background and was familiar with the values of the old aristocracy, which was gradually becoming a relic of the past, Visconti's main concern was the conflict between past and present, old values and a new state of affairs generated by prosperity and progress. His films expressed an ambivalent attitude, “a constant tension . between an intellectual belief in the cause of progress and an emotional nostalgia for the past world that is being destroyed”.102 Industrialisation and urbanisation were gradually transforming the Italian society - Visconti was interested in the moral impact of such transformations on the individual.

In his films, Visconti attempted to show that new problems - this time of an existential and moral nature, new forms of human tragedy had replaced the social problems that had been delineated by the neorealists a few years earlier. Visconti's idiosyncratic style and thematic preoccupations would find their finest expression in landmark films, such as Morte a Venezia (1971), which established his status as a ‘cult' director in the United States.

Despite the fact that it did not address problems related to the upper class, Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli contained some of Visconti's primary concerns, namely the clash between old and modern values and the impact of industrialisation on the human psyche. In this film, old values, such as loyalty, dignity, and perseverance, are represented by Rocco's peasant family and they are juxtaposed with a new morality dictated by modernity.

Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli opened in the United States in June 1961 to mixed responses. Time magazine described the film as an “interminable, sprawling, jerkily cut and overpraised melodrama”, while Films in Review accused Visconti of having created “a jumble of preconception, misconception, delusion, rationalization and public deception”. Other critics hailed the film and praised its honesty and visual power - Paul Beckley of the Herald Tribune wrote that Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli was “in the best tradition of modern Italian cinematic expression . [A] major work [with] no taint of exploitation of sex and violence”. One of the most enthusiastic responses to the film came from Bosley Crowther who referred to it as “a fine Italian film to stand alongside the American classic ‘The Grapes of Wrath'”; as the critic explained, “in this strong and surging drama of an Italian peasant family's shattering faith in the face of the brutalizing forces of unfamiliar city life, [there is] a kind of emotional fullness and revelation that one finds in the great tragedies of the Greeks”.103

According to Liehm, Visconti's greatest achievement with Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli was that he had managed to “elevate Rocco's story to one of the mythical symbols of contemporary Italy”.104 Having been released in the United States two months after La Dolce Vita, in many respects the film complemented Fellini's feature by examining more fragments of modern Italian society.

Visconti's artistic legacy lies not only in his symbolic use of elements of the mise-en-scene and his extravagant cinematography, but also in his creative interpretation of the literary texts he usually adopted to transform into highly personal films. Coppola's The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are strikingly reminiscent of Visconti's films, not merely in that they are personal films developed out of a literary text but most notably because of their visual style, which is frequently expressionistic. Visconti has also been a life-long influence on Martin Scorsese; in Il Mio Viaggio in Italia, the American director suggests that he was first impressed by Visconti's films while a student at New York University and acknowledges that his desire to emulate the Italian filmmaker was not fulfilled until 1993, when he made The Age of Innocence, a film inspired by Senso.105

A “Viscontian” approach to filmmaking, including his emphasis on the visuals rather than the plot, was also adopted by George Lucas in the nostalgia film American Graffiti. In it, Lucas employs expressionistic lighting and makes a symbolic use of colours in order to convey the spirit of the early 1960s. As in Visconti's Senso, the visuals in American Graffiti are primarily responsible for the portrayal of an era long gone.

[...]


1 Biskind, P., Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex ‘n' Drugs ‘n' Rock ‘n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (London: Bloomsbury, 1998)

2 Horsley, J., The Blood Poets: A Cinema of Savagery 1958-1999 (London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1999)

3 Cook, D.A., History of the American Cinema: 1970-1979 (New York: Scribner, 2000)

4 Friedman, L. (ed.), Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000)

5 Wilinsky, B., Sure Seaters: The Emergence of Art House Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001)

6 Some film historians locate the emergence of the little cinema movement in 1921, when Michael Mindlin, president of the Fifth Avenue Playhouse Group in New York at the time, organised the first commercial screening of a foreign film in the United States; according to other sources, the movement became active around 1925, when Cameo Theatre in New York began screening art films. Bawden, L. (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Film (London: Oxford UP, 1976), 38; Wilinsky, B., Sure Seaters: The Emergence of Art House Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001)

7 Budd, M. (ed.), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Texts, Contexts, Histories (New Brunswick: Rutgers U P, 1990) is a good source of information about the film.

8 During the pre-Production Code era censorship was still relatively lenient. For more details see: Couvares, F.G. (ed.), Movie Censorship & American Culture (London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996)

9 Internet Movie Database, 23/10/02

10 Gomery, D., Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States (London: BFI, 1992), 60

11 Balio, T., “A Mature Oligopoly, 1930-1948”, in T. Balio (ed.), The American Film Industry (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1985), 253-84

12 Sklar, R., Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York: Random House, 1975), 292

13 Davies, P., “A Growing Independence”, in P. Davies and B. Neve (eds.), Cinema, Politics and Society in America (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1981), 121-122

14 The full name of the governmental anti-trust suit, known as the Paramount case, was United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., et.al.

15 One could argue that production was cut back for the additional reason that the general rise in costs after World War II had increased production costs as well.

16 Austin, B.A., “Portrait of an Art Film Audience”, Journal of Communication 34.1 (Winter 1984), 75

17 Litman, B.R., The Motion Picture Mega-Industry (Boston: Ally & Bacon, 1998), 15

18 Because of its importance, the art theatre and its modes of operation will be discussed in more detail later.

19 Diggins, J.P., The Proud Decades: America in War and in Peace, 1941-1960 (New York: WW Norton & Company, 1988), 161

20 ibid.,, 61-62

21 Sklar, R., Movie-Made America, 267-268

22 Leibman, N.C., Living Room Lectures: The Fifties Family in Film and Television (U of Texas P, 1995), 1

23 Davies, P. & B. Neve, “Introduction”, in P. Davies & B. Neve (eds.), Cinema, Politics and Society in America (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1981), 13

24 Doherty, T., Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1988)

25 Pells, R.H., Not Like Us: How Europeans Have Loved, Hated, and Transformed American Culture Since World War II (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 222

26 Lev, P., The Euro-American Cinema (Austin: U of Texas P, 1993), 4

27 Bordwell, D., “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice”, Film Criticism 4.1 (Fall 1979), 56-64

28 Neale, S., “Art Cinema as Institution”, Screen 22 (1981), 11-39

29 Sklar, R., Movie-Made America, 293

30 Twomey, J., “Some Considerations on the Rise of the Art Film Theater”, Quarterly of Film, Radio, and Television 10 (Spring 1956), 240

31 MacDonald, S., “Cinema 16: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society”, Wide Angle 19 (1997), 5

32 MacDonald, S., “Cinema 16”, 22

33 Lane, J., “Critical and Cultural Reception of the European Art Film in 1950s America: A Case Study of the Brattle Theatre”, Film and History 24 (1994), 52

34 Steene, B., “ ‘Manhattan Surrounded by Ingmar Bergman': The American Reception of a Swedish Filmmaker”, in R.W. Oliver (ed.), Ingmar Bergman: an Artist 's Journey - On Stage, on Screen, in Print (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1995), 137-154

35 Truffaut, F., “Une Certaine Tendance du Cinèma Francais”, Cahiers du Cinema 31 (Jan. 1954)

36 Chandler, C., I, Fellini (London: Bloomsbury, 1995), 60

37 Liehm, M., Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present (Berkeley: U of California P), 129

38 Sorlin, P., Italian National Cinema, 1896-1996 (London: Routledge, 1996), 89

39 Bondanella, P., Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present (New York: Continuum, 1983), 74

40 Information on the visual style of neorealist films was drawn from: Bondanella, P., Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present (New York: Continuum, 1983), Brunetta, G.P. (ed.), La Cittä del Cinema. I Primi Cento Anni del Cinema Italiano (Milan: Skira Editore, 1995), and Liehm, M., Passion and Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present (Berkeley: U of California P)

41 Gronemeyer, A., Film: A Concise History (London: Laurence King, 1999), 96

42 Hanson, S., “Roma, Citta Aperta”, in Lyon, C. (ed.), The International Dictionary of Films (London: St. James Press, 1984), 400

43 Brunette, P., Roberto Rossellini (Berkeley: U of California P, 1996), 363-364

44 Chandler, C., I, Fellini, 61-62

45 Christine Ogan notes that the total gross of the film in the United States reached the $1m. Ogan, C., “The Audience for Foreign Films in the United States”, Journal of Communication, Autumn 1990, 60

46 Griffith, R., “European Films and American Audiences”, Saturday Review of Literature, 13 January 1951, 52

47 ibid., 85-86

48 Mayer, M., Foreign Films on American Screens (New York: Arco, 1965), 24

49 Information obtained from Internet Movie Database

50 Brunette, P., Roberto Rossellini, 53

51 ibid., 53

52 ibid., 53

53 Armes, R., Patterns of Realism (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1986), 150

54 Walker, B. and L. Klady, “Cinema Sanctuaries”, Film Comment 22 (May-June 1986), 62

55 Mayer, M., Foreign Films, 24

56 Internet Movie Database

57 ibid.

58 In her article, titled " 'A Thinly Disguised Art Veneer Covering a Filthy Sex Picture': Discourses on Art Houses in the 1950s", Film History 8 (1996), B. Wilinsky discusses the activities of industrial and extra­industrial censorship boards, with the focus on art films that were common targets of censorship. According to the author, the attempt to ban Ladri di Biciclette was motivated by a desire on behalf of industrial circles to discourage the production of films outside Hollywood.

59 Neale, S., “Art Cinema as Institution”, 27

60 This sequence will be discussed in further detail in Chapter Three.

61 Cited in M. Liehm, Passion and Defiance, 130

62 Dalle Vacche, A., Body in the Mirror: Shapes of History in Italian Cinema (Princeton: Princeton U P 1992), 123

63 ibid., 123-124

64 Brunetta, G.P. (ed.), La Citta del Cinema, 163-166

65 Budgen, S., Fellini (London: BFI, 1966), 7

66 Fellini, F., Fellini on Fellini (ed. Anna Keel and Christian Stritch, trans. Isabel Quigly, London: Eyre Methuen, 1976), 100

67 Budgen, S., Fellini, 29

68 Fellini, F., Fellini on Fellini, 63

69 ibid., 109

70 Budgen, S., Fellini, 25

71 Fellini, F., Fellini on Fellini, 62

72 Budgen, S., Fellini, 20

73 Fellini, F., Fellini on Fellini, 90

74 West Side Story had grossed $43.7m., while One Hundred and One Dalmatians had reached the soaring amount of $144 m.

75 Gundle, S., “La Dolce Vita (Review)”, History Today, 50, January 2000, 29-35

76 Bondanella, P., Italian Cinema, 229

77 Gundle, S., “La Dolce Vita (Review)”, 30

78 ibid, 30

79 ibid., 35

80 Hamilton, N., 8 % (London: York Press, 2000), 76-77

81 Benderson, A. E., Critical Approaches to Federico Fellini's 8 (PhD Thesis, Buffalo: State University of New York, 1973), 166

82 Fellini, F., Fellini on Fellini, 64

83 Mazurski, cited in Chandler, 353

84 Pells, R.H., Not Like Us, 224

85 Scorsese, M., Il Mio Viaggio in Italia (1999)

86 Christie, I. and D. Thompson (eds), Scorsese on Scorsese (London: Faber and Faber, 1990), 15

87 Grist, L., The Films of Martin Scorsese: 1963-77, Authorship and Context (Hampshire: Macmillan Press Ltd, 2000), 20

88 Burke, F., Fellini's Films: From Postwar to Postmodern (New York: Macmillan/Twayne, 1996), 42

89 ibid., 42

90 Rohdie, S., Antonioni (London: BFI Publishing, 1990), 20

91 ibid., 8

92 Liehm, M., Passion and Defiance, 178

93 Cameron, I. and R. Wood, Antonioni (London: Studio Vista, 1968), 9

94 Cameron, I., Michelangelo Antonioni (Movie Magazine Ltd, 1963), 3

95 Ebert, R., “L'Avventura”, internet

96 “L'Avventura”, internet

97 Mayer, M., Foreign Films, 25

98 Rohdie, S., Antonioni, 47-48

99 Mayer, M., Foreign Films, 25

100 Ebert, R., “L'Avventura

101 Cowie, P., Coppola (London: Faber, 1989), 84

102 Nowell-Smith, cited in P. Bondanella,, Italian Cinema, 198

103 All the quotes were obtained from M. Mayer, Foreign Films, 32

104 Liehm, M., Passion and Defiance, 174

105 Il Mio Viaggio in Italia (1999)

Excerpt out of 141 pages

Details

Title
American Cinema at a Crossroads: The European Dimension of the Hollywood Renaissance through a Reading of "Bonnie and Clyde"
College
Liverpool John Moores University
Grade
3
Author
Year
2004
Pages
141
Catalog Number
V1143531
ISBN (eBook)
9783346521514
Language
English
Tags
american, cinema, crossroads, european, dimension, hollywood, renaissance, reading, bonnie, clyde
Quote paper
Anastasia Spyrou (Author), 2004, American Cinema at a Crossroads: The European Dimension of the Hollywood Renaissance through a Reading of "Bonnie and Clyde", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1143531

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Title: American Cinema at a Crossroads: The European Dimension of the Hollywood Renaissance through a Reading of "Bonnie and Clyde"



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