The Philosophy of Italian Neorealism

Different areas of my life have been coming together and aligning themselves with a strangely pointed symmetry lately. I feel like three of the eight courses I’m taking this semester could mix together for an interesting exploration of reality. In my film history course, 1946 to present, we were assigned to read an article written by the pivotal Italian Neorealist filmmaker, Cesare Zavattini, whose work jump-started the transition from glamorous melodramas to gritty realism in film narratives and techniques. Of course, I had my Rhetorical Criticisms class on the brain while I read this article, so my mind was tuned in to the moving rhetorical choices Zavattini made. To top it all off, he spoke about an approach to filmmaking that mirrored the materialist approach I had just studied in my Language and Ideology course. But I’ll try to wrap this all up in a neat box for you.

Bottom line, here’s the inspiration for my rhetorical criticism topic. Zavattini advocated a form of filmmaking that draws narratives out of the woodwork of every day life, using a materialist approach to creating powerful messages: look at what’s there, find a way to creatively piece together all the naturally occurring elements, and see what ideals and overarching messages can be concluded from the story that develops. Such a process differs from the post-WWI staple of glossy, escapist films about wealthy people and fabulous lives that were artificially constructed to fit the desired message. This inductive method of story telling, Zavattini argues, shows the beauty of common things and common people. Furthermore, Italian Neorealism rebels against the big names and big budgets of the “white telephone” dramas that Mussolini cranked out–Zavattini and director Vittorio de Sica shot on real locations, hired people that weren’t trained actors, used natural light, and favored static, simple camera movements so the emphasis remained on the people and events taking place in the world of the film. In the particular article that drew my interest to this film movement, Zavattini challenges filmmakers to put their work to good use and be conscious of the global impact film has on the ever-increasing audience of moviegoers. Social responsibility trumps entertainment value, he says, and all filmmakers should aim to show the flaws in the world around them and join the rhetorical conversation.

Now I come to the crux of the matter, or one potential crux to analyze. Zavattini believes that only Italian Neorealism films are capable of showing “real reality.” if you will, and that every other type of filmmaking is false. The statement brings to mind the fluid nature of language, as discussed in my L&E course, the idea that there is nothing intrinsic in the material nature of the world around us that ties objects to their given name. Example: we call rocks “rocks,” but that is simply the arrangement of sounds that people of one language have given to that physical object. Therefore, we’ve created a reality for ourselves that exists because we’ve come up with a series of verbal and written symbols to describe what our senses experience. Now just trying to explain this concept makes me feel like I’m in the matrix (Nothing is real! It’s all in our minds!), but stick with me!

Zavattini’s stance that Italian Neorealism shows the real world in all its gritty, truthful reality does not go in line with the idea that reality is created by the choices we make. De Sica chooses where to put the camera, what even to focus on, who to cast, how to direct extras, and in that heĀ creates a reality that the film shows to audiences. It may not be as bright-white-picket-fence as Old Hollywood’s style, but it doesn’t show The Truth. Even documentaries, which lies even further down the Reality Spectrum than Neorealism, only show one construct of reality.

Zavattini had a bias, he was making films in the poor, persecuted reality of common life in post-WWII Italy and the Occupation; he and his contemporaries were trying to show the rest of the world how downtrodden the masses were in Italy. It would be interesting to explore the impact that Neorealist film had on the global stage, in politics, art, and entertainment, and what techniques the rhetors of the movement utilized.


More Words on the Issue of Marriage

More Words on the Issue of Marriage

The battle between pro- and anti-gay marriage supporters continues, just as strong today as last winter, when Pope Benedict XVI made another unsuccessful attempt to derail the civil rights campaign. His speech last Christmas drove hundreds of bloggers back into the Blog-o-sphere. One Huffington Post blogger, Wayne Besen, calls upon readers to look at the Pope’s latest rant as one piece in a jigsaw puzzle of “out-of-touch pronouncements” made during his reign.

Besen begins his article by quoting a traditional marriage supporter’s doomsday prediction in 2004 and follows it with the Pope’s strikingly similar, and equally melodramatic, assertion that gay marriage threatens the “future of humanity.” After undermining the Pope’s credibility, Besen aims for our hearts by moving the conversation into his private life: that of a happily married gay man. Now we see the situation from his point of view. Despite many predictions, it seems that life does, in fact, keep on turnin’ even after the legalization of gay marriage. Not only is the Pope wrong, Besen argues, but he is also a “joke” and an “abject failure.” Besen’s entertaining sarcasm and passionate speechifying strikes the Pathos Bulls-eye, but our demand for factual corroboration is, as of yet, unsatisfied. Were he to end the post there, or continue in the same vein, I would be inclined to write the entry off as a biased rant and it would, therefore, have been an unsuccessful piece of rhetoric where this reader is concerned.

But he doesn’t.

Instead, he widens the camera lens to look at the whole of the Pope’s career, and starts with European resistance to and disapproval of Pope Benedict’s reign in Spain and Ireland. Next comes evidence of socially unaccepted (for the most part) gay bashing by the Pope’s archbishops: comparison of the gay community to the KKK and an infusion of anti-gay marriage prayer into Catholic Mass. Finally, he calls upon all tolerant people by highlighting three other examples of Pope Benedict’s “notable gaffes,” namely his vocal and negative opinion regarding other religious factions and his tendency to reward Catholic extremists who believe the Holocaust was a hoax.

The gist of Besen’s post can be summed up as such: Stubbornly, old-school religious people have been saying for eight years that same-sex marriage will destroy the Earth. It has not; it will not. Please, Religious Communities, look at how ridiculous and tragically outdated your supposed leader is; I’ll show you through choosing the most socially unaccepted instances of intolerance, ignorance, and uncleanliness: child molestation, insensitive criticism of Muslims, mentions of the KKK, and denial of the Holocaust.

The examples he uses has an obvious and direct targeting system: all people with a semblance of humanity, Muslims, African Americans or anyone with white guilt, and Jewish people or anyone with WWII guilt. It’s a wonderfully composed, intelligently and occasionally humorous piece that weaves in all the injustices that we as the People of a worldwide community find unacceptable. More than criticizing just one piece of rhetoric, he uses one inflammatory sentence of that relevant speech to pull the rhetor’s entire career under the microscope and break down the speaker’s credibility with specific examples of related occurrences. It would be a stronger piece of rhetoric if there were more people on the other side of the issue, but when the Pope faces opposition from world leaders and members of his own Church, you know he’s on his way out of the conversation, even if it takes many more years to reach complete resolution on the issue in question.