Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I seem to be in a stupor. At the last minute, remembered that there was a press screening for the Giuseppe De Santis series coming up at MoMA, so pretty much last minute, rushed up and saw "Bitter Rice". I know i'd seen it once a long, long time ago, but it isn't a film that's been around much (though the stills have been: Silvana Mangano's wading in those shorts and torn stockings is difficult to forget). And it proved very interesting, because it's a reminder that any "movement" (Neorealism, in this case) is not as linear as we think.

The "classics" of Neorealism ("Open City", "Shoeshine", "Paisa", "Bicycle Thief") all emphasize the documentary look, and are noted for the usage of (mostly) nonprofessionals in the cast (though Anna Magnani and Maria Michi were hardly nonprofessionals in "Open City"). But in "Bitter Rice", not only are Vittorio Gassman and Doris Dowling so obviously "actors", the way they're shot, it's obvious they're being given the glamour treatment. Watching "Bitter Rice", it reminded me of the stories of how Vittorio De Sica had been approached by Hollywood to make "Bicycle Thief"... with Cary Grant in the lead. Of course, in the case of De Sica, this story is supposed to show how Hollywood misunderstood De Sica's intentions. But that doesn't mean that it was the end-all and be-all of Neorealism.

In De Santis's case, Neorealism is simply a way of including some documentary elements (as well as some rather obvious workers-community propaganda) in a very melodramatic framework.

And i'm glad i saw De Santis's movie, because this issue of "documentary" is really getting a bit out of hand. There's the usual outcry about the "shortlist" of the Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary: there are 15 listed, and many of the people who have not been included are claiming that the Academy isn't up with the changes in documentary, etc. Well: what are these people, nuts? The Motion Picture Academy? Documentary? Don't people realize there is (really) a contradiction in terms? That the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the real name of the organization) is a branch of the old studio system, which really had no regard for documentary (though in those days, there were a lot of shorts created by the studios, including things like The March of Time, which is why the category of Documentary Short Subject was introduced... but it wasn't introduced for "independent" filmmakers... and since when would really independent filmmakers look to the Oscars?), seems to have escaped these people working now, who really want to be recognized by "the industry".

I'm sorry, it's just too ridiculous! That would be like Stan Brakhage or Bruce Baillie or Jordan Belson wanting to get nominated for an Academy Award. What are you, nuts?


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