There are many significant film movements in history. It is undeniable that each of these movements would become the inspiration and foundation for the critical filmmaking styles that would follow. One preeminent movement was Italian Neorealism. Some of the greatest actors and directors to come on the scene worldwide, including Hollywood, would be influenced by this early film movement.
Italian Neorealism was a critical movement in post-World War II Italy, the key years being 1942-1951. Many people were unemployed, and poverty was rampant. The escape for the poor would be to watch these realistic films to pass the time and relate to these desperate people and their impoverished lives on screen. The world was a big violent mess, and these films would reveal the governments as the perpetrators of war. Italian Neorealism was just that, a reflection of the real world. The cinematographers improvised with camera angles, black and white coloring, and slow-motion camera-work to capture real moments of the human condition. Many directors are influenced by Italian Neorealism, most notably Martin Scorsese.
Martin Scorsese has directed some of the most memorable and well-known films in cinematic history. He is a very successful and famous director, noteworthy for films such as Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Hugo, and The Wolf of Wall Street, to name a few. Because Scorsese is Italian-American, many of his films have to do with the mafia, murder, and sin.
Scorsese’s work is very complex and beyond many other filmmakers. The neorealist attributes are relatively easy to identify: these films mainly focus on the tragic lower-class life and present reality with a plot and basic narrative. Italian Neorealism was as realistic as it could be by not showing the exciting, happy part of life because ‘real’ life is often not glamorous. Scorsese was strongly influenced by this tradition and discussed it in his 1999 Documentary Il Mio Viaggio in Italia (My Voyage to Italy). The first line in the film is Scorsese saying, “I saw these movies. They had a powerful effect on me. You should see them.”
His Film Mean Streets (1973) has many neorealist characteristics and is undoubtedly influenced by Rossellini’s Rome Open City, which takes place during the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1944. Both films have non-professional actors and are filmed on actual streets. Mean Streets stars Robert De Niro as Johnny, a young man belonging to a small hood, who has to pay a large loan that he cannot afford. Because of this, he asks another criminal friend of his to help out. The film has characters such as mafiosos, punks, gangsters, and criminals, showing the reality of life for people on the nitty-gritty streets of New York. Both movies were filmed in 35mm celluloid film to reveal these people’s starkness and raw energy.
Taxi Driver is about child prostitutes and angry displaced people. Raging Bull deals with the brutal realities of the boxing world and is based on a true story. Talking about realism in film, Robert De Niro goes all the way to achieve the illusion of reality required to play an accurate figure. In preparation for Raging Bull, he lost weight, physically changed his body, and lived and breathed the character to express who Jake LaMotta was. This approach is why Scorsese has continued to collaborate with the same actor repeatedly; Together, they create realism at its most brilliant.
Part of the reason that the Italian filmmakers filmed on the local streets was because of money. Before the fall of Mussolini, the cinema of Italy was almost entirely funded by the government. After the war, the film industry would change simply due to this lack of government support. The actors would be the locals who would get paid with food at times, and the cityscape was free. Once the government fell, the filmmakers could now tell the stories of authentic Italy with all its ugly revelations. The most important and successful directors that would tell these stories are Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni.
Italian Neorealism would see a sudden death between 1951 and 1953, primarily due to the Italian government and some of its citizens being weary of the image that these realistic films were portraying the harsh lives of the ordinary Italian person. Italy declared that the new movies are to be made with optimism and happy endings. Out of this change, directors like Federico Fellini would arrive with different filmmaking styles, blending fantasy and reality and blurring pessimism with optimism.
Martin Scorsese has not slowed down and has multiple film projects on his slate, in one stage of production or another. We can expect to see that Italian Neorealism did not die in the 1950s, and much interest is still there. Otherwise, this director known for his realistic portrayals of the human condition would not still be a significant filmmaker.
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