Notes on Bazin: An Aesthetic of Reality – Neorealism

March 31, 2014 — Leave a comment

The key elements of neorealism / Revolutionary Humanism /

Bazin aligns the Italian school of realism with Soviet montage (Eisenstein). It is to the other end of the aesthetic spectrum from German expressionism and Hollywood star system structures. The opposition is described as ‘aestheticism’ vs ‘realism’

The Italian cinema prior to WW2, during the fascist regime:

“a taste – and a poor taste at that – for sets, idealization of the principle actors, childish emphasis on acting, atrophy of mise-en-scene, the dragging in of the traditional paraphernalia of bel canto and opera, conventional scripts influenced by the theatre, the romantic melodrama, and the chanson de geste reduced to an adventure story.” (Bazin, p 14)

chanson de geste – a medieval narrative, a type of epic poem – appears at the dawn of French literature.

It is worth noting that some of the key Italian purporters of neorealism had careers going back to the pre-war era (Vittorio De Sica). It is worth investigating these films and their tone and aesthetic approach. Realism was taking root in opposition to the ‘fakery’ of the Italian mainstream exports before the war arrived on Italian soil. Bazin states that it was the Liberation that never-the-less ‘sets these aesthetic trends [..] free’.

The key elements to the inner structures of neo realist aesthetics:

Social circumstances and movements (post-Fascist Italy, spread of communism, socialism, post-war poverty and social upheaval).

Historical context (Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, WW2, the character of Italian society)

Economic context (poverty, rebuilding and reparations)

Because of the slow and extended nature of the Liberation for Italy, which came with years of Allied occupation and other circumstantial upheavals in the steps towards rebuilding, the films of the immediate post war period were current – they spoke to very real concerns and very real experiences of the average person, and the collective psyche – day to day events.

What does Bazin mean by “revolutionary Humanism’ ??

The zeitgeist of the time, at an international level, is the fear of, and obsession over, terror and hate:

“reality is scarcely any longer favoured for its own sake but rather is rejected or excluded as a political symbol […]” (p16)

Italian films of this period “reject implicitly or explicitly, with humour, satire, or poetry, the reality they are using, but they know better, no matter how clear the stand taken, than to treat this reality as a medium or a means to an end.” (p17) I take this to mean that the films do not aim affect the audience. If one was to argue that the so-called realism of the Soviet cinema was induced to affect the audience – to convert them into revolutionaries – then reality is being used as a medium. The purpose of the Italian cinema might be closer in this regard to the impressionism of Epstein and his photogenie. That is, the goal of the ‘reality machine’ is to reveal unknowns about reality. The revelation takes place at the hands of the spectator himself, rather than at the direction of the message blasted from the screen to the eye.

In regards to a character (any character) to be found in an Italian film: “Nobody is reduced to the condition of an object or a symbol that would allow one to hate them in comfort without having first to leap the hurdle of their humanity.” (p17) This is the humanism suggested by Bazin.

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