How Cinema Became More Realistic
Italian neorealistic cinema that rose from the destructive ashes of Mussolini's regime and the devastation of World War Two, lead to a wave of realistic cinema across the world, a stark contrast from the escapist cinema made earlier by Hollywood
Italian neorealistic cinema that rose from the destructive ashes of Mussolini's regime and the devastation of World War Two, lead to a wave of realistic cinema across the world, a stark contrast from the escapist cinema made earlier by Hollywood.
Cinema has taken multiple forms of storytelling across the globe, it began as a tool of storytelling of classic ancient works or religious works (like that of Raja Harischandra in India or Ben-Hur or the Ten Commandments of Hollywood.). But soon evolved into a form of melodramatic entertainment in Hollywood, with films like Gone with the Wind (released in 1939), a melodramatic romance.
Cinema that represented real life and its struggles were a rarity in all the film industries across the world. And why would it be? Films in their early forms were seen as a form of magic, and Hollywood and European cinema evolved during the Roaring 1920s, an era of opulence and wealth and parities.
Once the Great Depression hit the United States and the Western world in the 1930s, particularly the United States and Hollywood. An era of economical depression, struggle, hardship and ill-effects of decisions taken during World War One (the hyperinflation of Germany's economy and the political turmoil before Hitler's rise in Germany, and the rise of fascism in Italy) all in tandem begin creating a very desolate period for society. But ironically, instead of neo-realistic films, that portrayed the hardships of life. Hollywood begin churning out more and more films with fantasy and escapist scripts (King Kong released in 1933 is one fine example, though a monster horror in the genre, so is the Prisoner of Zenda released in 1937 four years later, a classic adventure film with rich houses, pretty faces, and detached away from the whims of normal lives.) Perhaps the audience too was getting used to the big Hollywood studios logic, that people want to have a good time watching films, ensuring cinema isn't realistic so as to not remind people of already the dark times they're going through.
The real push for realistic cinema came only from the Italian cinema. One of the first films to shoot in realistic locations out of sheer accident albeit was Open City directed by Robert Russolini, made in 1945. It was a film about Nazi oppression and occupation in a war-torn Italy and the Italian rebellion against it. By the time, the film was shot after the end of the war, most of Rome was bombed and all the studios were destroyed. Unable to shoot in an artificial studio, the makers of the film were forced to use the chaotic and half-destroyed buildings across the city for the film. Shooting in a studio, was a symbol of an unrealistic, artificial film. Shooting in real locations, directly gave a look of realistic cinema, and that was enough for a stream of enlightened Italian revolutionaries, youngsters, who participated in the struggle to liberate Italy, who saw the glory in war, who saw the glory in real-life problems, those who didn't shy away from blood, sweat, and tears to begin making a stream of realistic films, with stories and conflicts laced around everyday problems in a war-torn nation.
The revolutionary spirit and an accidental necessity to shoot in real locations and many troupes and cinematic styles of realism we know today in world cinema. That was the sole reason for the emergence of realism in cinema.
1. Cahiers Du Cinema – The 1950s Neo Realism Hollywood New Wave V 1 (Paper) (Harvard Film Studies)