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An evocative and unique exploration of the most important era in international filmmaking
In film history, the sixties are commonly known as the golden age of international cinema. The period from 1958 to 1969 saw a brilliant explosion of talent not just in Europe but throughout the world. From Sweden and Poland to India and Japan, from Brazil and Hungary to Spain and Czechoslovakia, young filmmakers seemingly sprang out of nowhere, challenging the stale conservativism of fifties cinema. With films like Jules et Jim, 8 1/2, and Breathless, to name but a few, they flouted taboos both sexual and political while bringing sharper, fresher, franker, more violent, and more personal visions to the screen than ever before.
In Revolution!, Peter Cowie discusses the themes, trends, and creative filmmakers of the period-including Antonioni, Bergman, Cassavetes, Fellini, Godard, Kurosawa, and Truffaut-while focusing on those whose voices still evoke the struggles and achievements of the sixties and set the creative and intellectual standard by which today's finest films are still held.
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Peter Cowie is the author of more than twenty books on film. He served as international publishing director for Variety for many years.
Excerpt from Revolution! The Explosion of World Cinema in the Sixties by Peter Cowie. Copyright © 2004 by Peter Cowie. To be published in June, 2004 by Faber and Faber, Inc., an affiliate of Farrar Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved.
1 Once Upon a Time in the Fifties
It's almost as if the earth had been visited by some strange force, but a positive force—-in the period from somewhere in the fifties up to the late sixties, when you had this explosion of cinema.
The dramatic changes in world cinema during the sixties were not accomplished at a stroke; nor did the rising generation of directors want for inspiration from those who had gone before them. Throughout the previous dozen years, some mighty talents had been at work in Europe, and many of them would continue making films well into the period discussed in this book.
Although a vanquished nation in the aftermath of Mussolini, Italy recovered its passion for cinema almost immediately. In fact, Italian film production had not been interrupted to a demoralizing degree, and De Sica and Visconti had produced such masterworks as The Children Are Watching Us and Ossessione long before the Russians entered Berlin and World War II was brought to a close. Within a few months, Rossellini was shooting Rome Open City and, the following year, Paisan. Visconti trekked to Sicily in 1947 to make La terra trema, just after De Sica had directed Sciuscià in the suburbs of Rome.
Born in Pisa in 1919, Gillo Pontecorvo had joined the Italian Communist Party in 1941 and became a leader of the Italian resistance during the war. Afterwards, he became an assistant to a number of film directors and began making his own documentaries. He can well recall the profound impact of neo-realism at the time.
PONTECORVO: My youth in Mussolini's Italy and the outbreak of war was influenced by the need to survive, and from this arose a love of social commitment. In film, the form for that commitment was of course neo-realism, which in turn reflected Italian political life. It was above all the affection for human faces that made neo-realism so special. My two favourite films of that period are Paisan and Umberto D. I was very friendly with both directors, Rossellini and De Sica. They encouraged me to make my first feature while I was still doing documentaries. I loved Eisenstein, also Nikolai Ekk, but it was the Italians who influenced me above all. And this is not just nationalism, I assure you!
Italian audiences did not respond to the roughshod reality of the neo-realist films, and even Italian critics remained somewhat aloof. Abroad, however, neo-realism inspired directors in many countries (as the interviews in these pages will attest). The man who gave neo-realism a new surge of life in the late fifties and early sixties was Francesco Rosi. He had served his apprenticeship with Visconti on La terra trema (1948), and during the fifties, like Antonioni, he set the foundations of his career in place with La sfida (1958) and I magliari (1959).
ROSI: The Zeitgeist of the explosion in world cinema was in large measure affected by what my generation had experienced in the post-war period. Italy was a country destroyed by war, and one that was emerging from a dictatorship; the nation had to be rebuilt, physically, materially and morally. We learned this through the visual expression provided by Rossellini, Visconti and De Sica. Through this incomparable medium that is the cinema, they gave Italians the chance to recognize themselves, and through the characters on screen the opportunity to live out their hopes, their dreams and their defeat.
Of course, neo-realism did not immediately have an enormous success at the box-office, so it was only a certain portion of the public that was touched by the movement. But I believe that our observing of this cinema, in its depiction of the entire complexity of Italian reality and Italian society, made us aware of the need to participate in this reconstruction—and of course of the importance of the cinema as such. I think we were convinced that, through the cinema, we had the means to show something that belonged to everyone, not just as spectators but also as citizens. So to make people reflect, to share in emotions that concerned their society-that was a conscious motivation on our part.
The American cinema, too, was in some degree revolutionized by neo-realism: directors like Dassin and Kazan were influenced by its major works. Kazan used to tell me that he considered me as his younger brother!
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