A Documentary Review of PBS: America’s War on Poverty

Paul Fischer
1.25.2015
Felicia Kornbluh

 

A Documentary Review of PBS: America’s War on Poverty

 

               The Public Broadcasting Service takes on the War Against Poverty, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s brainchild in a television series. The series shows how poverty touches the entire American political and economic system. As racial divides are thickly drawn with a black marker, a massive redistribution of wealth is found to be necessary. This is in contrast to the prosperity victory in World War II brought to the United States.
               The director uses political footage, interviews from authors, citizens, and politicians alike to show the dramatic widespread effect of poverty, as well as the machinations that made change possible and the vehicles for effecting that change in operation. Combining black and white footage, with modern colour film drives home that this film is part of American history, as much as it is the present. Sadly, the American history of poverty, and Native American struggles are ignored. Racial divides are not absent, but are set aside to the second half of the film, as the film has a dialectic focus on the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and the Civil Rights Act. However, this is appropriate because the War Against Poverty is a specific time-place referring to the 1960’s, though those unacquainted with this, will be confused by the title and content.
             “The very things that made America great its inventions… were causing some Americans to be left behind.” The joint continuous miner brought the story of John Henry, in which a man labours to death against a machine, to reality on a societal level. Coal miners found steady work and good wages evaporating to the hypnotizing diligence of the mechanical workers. By 1960 nearly half of residents in some counties in coal-mining Virginia relied on government aid. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “automation did it.” An exodus of former coal miners seeking work and african-americans fleeing racism arrived in the North and changed the country. In the capital as well, a march on Washington signalled a substantive movement towards change in the country. Poverty was geographical, and with the help of unions and politicians like Kennedy, racial lines became shattered.
             Violence broke out. Homes and bridges were bombed. A decade before the race riots became bloody, and years before the Vietnam war, destitution was driving Americans to fight for their right to live, or death by starvation. Before the political promises of Kennedy could be carried out, he was assassinated. Carrying out his promises was a medical necessity. In states such as Mississippi, poverty and lack of healthcare caused parasites, lethargy, and severe anemia in children. Nowhere was poverty greater.
But all was not lost. There was no initial confidence in Lyndon B. Johnson, but using a variety of political and legislative means, he was able to “continue” both domestically and abroad, the goals of the administration and American people. The African-American movement was growing in the public conscious, but the backlash against it would have killed what chances there were had it not been for Head Start and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By ensuring the poor could vote, and that race did not factor into this, the end of segregation was in sight. More importantly, this minority, which had a lower population growth than the Jewish population in Germany due to economic impoverishment, was given opportunity to become full partners in the make-up of this nation.
            Surviving the depression, Johnson made significant inroads to Americans, enacting the first anti-poverty legislation since the Great Depression giving needed alleviation to Americans, to “replace their despair with opportunity.” He created a task force, and began a movement to change the country. In some states, it was a matter of saving lives. The idea that black Mississippians could control anything was considered to be ludicrous, and this was seen in their oppression, and reversed by their first true liberation, with economic and political equality. Before they could lose their job, their welfare when they voted.
Sargent Shriver was appointed head of the War Against Poverty, and with what some would call blind optimism, energetically took on the job. He had expertise setting up the Peace Corp, and was able to use this domestically with efficiency. Unable to levy higher taxes, and without a comprehensive job program the questions existing are problematic. Investigating voting problems made enemies, but it was a political sacrifice that had to be made. As workers protested discrimination and were incarcerated, the CDGP made allocations of federal money to post bail for these workers under the auspices of work salary advances.
The mixing of the Civil Rights movement with the War Against Poverty created humiliation for Shriver, and was seized upon. Yet these were two movements intertwined, and impossible to separate. As the opposition insisted “don’t you ever give up that gun, that is all you’ve got to protect that little baby in that crib” the documentary shows the backlash was not one which could be stood up against without great courage. Klansmen were marching unhooded and unafraid of retribution, despite their violent message, and African-American protestors needed the same protection, though without the threat of violence.
As planes began to fly in the South Asian peninsula, Johnson signed the Equal Employment Opportunity Bill into law. Suddenly the education programs and hand-up (not hand out) the federal government had offered America’s poor looked smart; the country was going to send a conscript army into war. Racial equality would also figure in importantly towards preventing this war from tearing the nation apart at the seams. This would seem to be an appropriate direction for the documentary, but for better or for worse the film begins discussion in the last section of reorganization and scandal in anti-poverty movements.

Apocalypse Now: Horrors of a Heart of Darkness

Paul Fischer
1.24.2015
Felicia Kornbluh


Apocalypse Now: Horrors of a Heart of Darkness


Apocalypse Now opens to destruction in the jungle of Vietnam, as Jim Morrison’s smooth definitive psychedelic rock song The End plays, a Captain Willard’s smoking head and torso are superimposed, letters are strewn on the nightstand, but sleeping now the soldier has disappeared into a haze of smoke and Cordon Bleu. The soft beating of a helicopter transitions to the fan in a squalid apartment with cheap blinds..
“Saigon. Shit.” This soldier dreams of the jungle, of returning to the pain he left behind. Director Francis Coppola is put in a dirty place between anti-war sentiment that can guarantee this film popularity, and the squelching  necessity to portray the US Army in a positive light. He does neither. But this is done brilliantly. The story is based on Heart of Darkness, and the struggle to find God in war is one that resonates with the violence and prejudice of that novel. Yet the mission is not to carry out this violence, but to stem the violence. In a special operations assignment a bloodthirsty American colonel must be terminated. The captain is accustomed to death, “but this time, it was an American, and an officer.”
The target, Kurtz, represents an American dream, and this is used to bring the film home to every American. Regardless of whether they are accomplished or flunky hippies, everyone has had a moment of desire to be this man. Watching the betrayal of the American dream is as captivating as it is intriguing.  The absurdity of an expensive flame-throwing tank being utilized against a village is emblematic of the entire war for American viewers. A bombed church shows the destruction of values too many Americans identify with themselves.
The war was presented as finished, won. Yet the soldiers cannot leave their boat. The countryside crawls with Vietcong. Even on the patrol boat, riverside attacks occur, and the soldiers are helpless, inadequate or improper firearms and little shielding give them virtually no choice but to simply speed onwards, deeper, losing a crew member in the process. Suspicion is a dominant theme in this film, a paranoia looms large. Deeper in the jungle, the remnants of a post-apocalyptic war machine lie in ruin. Yet apocalypse in a temporal or legitimate sense cannot come quickly enough for the soldiers.
By showing a soldier burning alive, as chopper machine guns mow down villagers, the film depicts the horror of war. It is hard to believe that these are the same that were just shortly before seventeen year old surfers. Captain Willard cannot imagine how Colonel Kurtz can be fighting a worse war than that already sanctioned by the US Military. Soldiers and officers alike consider the Vietnamese to be natives, with only nominal respect shown for the dead and wounded. Then the Captain executes an innocent civilian. The viewer is in shock. Good and bad are wrenched in the same way the American at home was betrayed with the announcement of My Lai and illegal incursions into Cambodia.
As the war had been a sick carnival, the soundtrack and cinematography collide corrosively. Soldiers smoke marijuana, officers drink. tripping on acid, they are welcomed to the “asshole of the world.” As they arrive to the colonel, the barbarity of the actions of the soldiers he defends with the barbarity of the land he has come to. Seeing the heart of Cambodia, corrupted like this golden child of America, who now sees violence as a genius, the viewer is brought into the heart of darkness. The apocalypse now written on Kurtz’s temple is a call to arms, but one that the viewer will never answer. The jungle and quiet crickets isolate the evil completely. We can only look on with horror.
The end of the river comes as the end of the war. Awaiting an airstrike, the Captain confronts this mad, evil genius. “It smelled like slow death” and in the center, was this man’s lair. Without a timeline the entire film, urgency suddenly becomes paramount. Complete the mission and return to the boat by 2200 hours, or everyone will become engulfed in the flames of napalm. The Colonel’s slow words betray this urgency, his psychopathic nature, already aware of the Captain’s intent to terminate his command.
“He dies when it dies,” the words of the Colonel’s brainwashed civilian photojournalist indicate the paralysis and uselessness of the situation. A prisoner now, the Captain wakes up with the head of a soldier in his lap. He breaks down into tears. The Colonel lullabies him with read poetry. With the behavioural instincts and natural barbarity of a cat, Colonel Kurtz eats raw garlic as he quotes Heart of Darkness, “I’ve seen horrors, horrors you have never seen… you have no right to judge me.” He has been gripped by the barbarity of the villagers and war alike. As the film begins, it ends, Jim Morrison sings, and the Captain mows Kurtz down with savage justice, in war paint his machete against the red of fire like the sword of Gabriel. The Colonel’s last words: “The horror. The horror.”

Frances with Ha-ha, but where is the boohoo? Or goosepimples?

Paul Andreas Fischer
VTIFF
10/2013


Frances with Ha-ha, but where is the boohoo? Or goosepimples?


My expectations were surpassed in the film Frances Ha. The use of sitcom like interpersonal relations as a facade to entice the viewers into struggling with greater life phenomena regarding sexuality and human interaction was staggering. While at first impression the cast was amateur and the story tangled, the mastery of cinematic devices to captivate the audience, gave the distinct and lasting impression of an important message, if only the viewer could decrypt what that message was. Ultimately due to the exposure of intimate details of personal lives in a certain manner, the conclusion is drawn that the statement is on the society that nurtured, created and maintains the girl; that America is a materialistic society unbound by substantive difficulty.
The cast takes on an almost neorealist situative commentary on the life of a young woman who has exactly what she needs to prosper, and yet there is a tragic underpinning to her interactions with those around her and to her self-communication. The nature of this tragedy is surreal; her being “undatable” as described by her roommate forces her to re-evaluate her own sexuality and in turn the film scrutinizes the gender performance of those around her. But the vehicle has a distinctly neo-realist quality, one that extends beyond the black-and-white empirical nature of the roll and seems to seek truth in setting while imparting an urgent and necessary message of understanding in character development.
Perhaps the most memorable moment in the film is as Frances lights a cigarette against an apparently clear sky and in the unique blustering winds as the music rises in excitement, in tempo and volume. With a triumphant and yet demarked step she lurches out of the way and the Eiffel tower is revealed: she has made it to Paris! While she does not succeed in resolving her social problems at this point, a certain turning point in the film has been reached.
The completion of the film was ill conceived, while appropriately happy and still comically contemplative, this picture of her resolutely, gleeful but still troubled, stepping away from the Eiffel tower smouldering cigarette in hand would have made a classic ending, given the appropriate cinematography and character development beforehand. Where the Italian Neo-realism film movement consisted of perhaps a dozen films, and spawned many more similarly related movements since then, each showing devastation on a scale not available to any individual studio or entity, it was reality, in a similar track Frances Ha shows true beauty and strength in the setting and the characters, a sense of contentment and placidity, struggle logically met with triumph, that reflects the fundamental change in the European outlook in the times since.
Part of what makes this such a strong emotive response to the film was the use of real world settings, and more apparently of real world characters. As close as the cinematography and music came to capturing the legendary psychological effects of the neorealist cinema, though lacking the goosepimples and teary eyes that accompany the tragic suicides and deaths of protagonists in neorealism, the character development and plot progression was decentralised in a most similar manner to Soviet era films.
One in particular comes to mind, the film Daisies, in which two cohabiting girls or sisters perhaps explore their own temporal existence, stagnant lifestyles, and ultimately harsh realities in Yugoslavia, then a satellite of the Soviet Union. In both films there is an intense struggle occurring in the plot with a status quo of intolerance and with incompatibility to the social norms extant. Then in a variety of settings these norms and intolerance are torn apart without apparent consequence. While the themes of love and friendship are certainly more classically epic in Frances Ha (this is not said as a very positive statement), there is a shared dipolar structure to the films in which independent theses are tested on two protagonist characters through interaction of a number of people less important to the themes and plot.
What makes Daisies perhaps one of the most distinctive films from the region and time, and holds Frances Ha from achieving similar contemporary success is the ability to break solidly from social norms in order to prove their validity. Though both films’ decentralisation of characters make them delightfully unreachable with standard methods of evaluation seeking protagonist and antagonist, or of seeking out a definite hypothesis and proof, the neorealist stylistic choices and comedic relief speak out against a silent censor. In Daisies, this occurs in a grand finale, with the destruction of state property and final smashing of a chandelier and expensive banquet, which at the time infuriated senior Soviet officials. Without a hypothesis, the film successfully proves that, at least in the satellite states, the Soviet Union was a classless society obsessed with materialism.
In Frances Ha the silent censor is outlined, in this case the interpersonal feelings tumultuously clashing inside of a confused girl unsure of her sexuality, her datability, and at times her ability, but is not properly confronted. The picture of Frances moving away from the Eiffel tower, impatient yet hopeful could have communicated the conclusion of this confrontation classically, but that is hopping too deeply into the director’s seat. What can be said, however, is that it is clear that the problems internal to the character Frances such whether she is happy with herself, without a volatile reaction to the silent censor in everyone, and the nature of her social acceptance are neatly folded up and finished, while external ones, such as who exactly she will find, what kind of relationship she will pursue, and her credit card debt are unresolved.
Leaving these unresolved questions combined with unrequited confidence from peers and in herself proves a most intriguing posit: that the United States as this girl has known it is a materialistic society utterly unbound by substantive difficulty. A better proof for the stylistic and cinematographic nature of this film is that America is a materialistic society bound by the pressures of substantive difficulty, but freed through the token of true and open friendship or love as the case might be.

The Act of Killing review and Q and A with producer

Paul Andreas Fischer
VTIFF
10.20.2013


As someone who has virtually no experience with the mass killings in Indonesia, seeing The Act of Killing was incredibly shocking. The fabulous lives of members of the former dictatorship who had become wealthy by indiscriminately killing over 2.6 million people was shown, and then the psychologies of these murderers at the time and today was explored. Less obvious but still tangentially present was the role of the government, many of whose officials were still in power and able to purchase their elections. I was struck by just how similar to A Clockwork Orange these executioners seemed in their time, and the interviews with them now almost seemed a thought experiment into an alternative sequel to that film. They killed and played, intertwining the two into a gruesome myriad of images that to some, still alive today, is still vivid in their mind and haunts them, others managed to move on. Political interrogation under this system became synonymous with torture and perjury committed by these monsters. The act of incarceration simply fell to being pushed in a car. A guilty verdict only had to be suggested. And finally, in the execution capital punishment was carried out in a stealthy but still open matter, efficiently in a silent admission to the inherent evil of these deeds, fueled by hard drug use as well as drinking and marijuana use, in futile attempts to cope with the guilt and pain of committing these atrocities. Sometimes behind closed doors at night, other times simply running down the street and stabbing anyone with a chinese demeanor or appearance, sometimes just driving through the night with a body in the back seat waiting to be hurled out into the abyss in a weak and vague impersonation of the out of this world gangster personas of Hollywood.

After the film was finished I asked about the producer’s struggle to dance the line between presenting factual historical accuracy and representing the often conflicting memories of surviving executioners. She responded that the film was not a historical film by any means, and that she herself was not a historian, but had a stronger focus on the psychology of the executioners. She explained that the film was meant as a sort of view into this unique situation that had panned out in Indonesia. Other questions in the Q and A ranged from what levels of censorship had existed, whether hidden cameras had been used as many admissions were shocking to say the least, and what power still remained in Indonesian paramilitary organizations such as the ones headed by the anti-communist former executioners. While it is not in my place to take sides or to comment on issues outside of the scope of this film, I am completely aware of the dangers of communist purges and the ten thousand executed in China even today every year, the hundreds of millions of girls killed only because of their gender, I cannot emphasize how shocked I was as to the scope of the killings, how the executioners saw it as a lifestyle and way of life, and how the society they lived in, while it was not yet a democracy, found no way to communicate for outside help or intervention. One can only assume that the vital nature of Indonesia to international shipping, and its oil reserves and refineries had a significant amount to do with this.
Another comparison to A Clockwork Orange is the pathological nature of the killers. They would do it again. I would have liked to see survivors, and to hear their accounts. but according to them there are none, and if there were they would be killed. Some justify it by claiming that the time was one of war. Others that they had no job, no real other options. No one was brought to them unless they were going to kill them. Evidence or the reality of a nuanced political situation made positively no difference. These men acted as institutionalized and even celebrated serial killers, harboring similar perversions and drug abuse as the sort in A Clockwork Orange who raped, drugged, and ultimately killed at their leisure without apparent backlash, although a key difference is that ultimately the dystopian society portrayed in that film does take punitive action at some point. I have included a typed version of the Q and A, which I took notes on to better shed light on the motives and themes of the producer.

Question and Answer:
Q: At points of violence or struggle in the filming, how was this done?
A: In the massacre scene women and children went through an extensive casting process, and the rest were former executioners bringing their old deeds back to life. The children were surrounded by family, and the film was shot in very short segments, after crying and wailing, the children were frequently given the chance to be reassured by their mothers. As for the actors, the only actual survivor from the village burning was an accident when the cameraman was shooting on a day when the producer and director were not there. The cameraman did not speak Indonesian, so he did not have the opportunity to differentiate, and after the survivor’s death two years later before the release of the film, his family contacted the film makers and gave them posthumous permissions.
Q: Is there an actual film? Or only the documentary as we saw it?
A: There was never the intention to make an actual film, the process of helping the former executioners imagine their own representation of events was merely a psychological tool to help them recount events accurately.
Q: Were there any hidden cameras used? At one point it seems as though they really think they are off tape, or just preparing?
A: At no point were hidden cameras used, and the former executioners were always aware of when the film was rolling.
Q: What was the reception in Indonesia, especially from the complicit government?
A: We started the work with survivors, showing the film to art house critics and stuff from Jakarta. We later expanded to 500 screenings across the country and now offer free downloads of the film.
Q: How did crew stand by while these gangsters took money from street sellers and were these merchants reimbursed?
A: The crew informed the merchants beforehand and had to stand by, but it was agreed the entire time that the merchants knew they were being reimbursed.
Q: Coming from Rwanda, I am curious how the government allowed this to be filmed, as in my country such an endeavour would be futile and even a fictional film such as Hotel Rwanda was nearly impossible to pull off, did the government allow this, were there special permissions needed?
A: The regime used to be a dictatorship, but is now currently a democracy. These war criminals were unpunished and even welcomed by top politicians as seen in the film. Workers unionzed against globalization are still beaten, and intimidation of family members for union membership still occurs, so the effort had to come from outside. There is a strong fear of speaking in public.
Q: What is with the list of anonymous names?
A: Indonesian crew members took part in a film with sensitive matter and we found it best to keep their identities anonymous.
Q: The number 2.6 million killed sort of splashes out, bringing a whole new level of seriousness to the film from serial murderers psychology to the psychology of a genocide was it difficult to dance the line between historical accuracy and factual information and the fantasies and personal anecdotes of the killers?
A: The film was never intended as a historical film, I am not a historian. What we sought was a stronger investigation into the psychologies of the killers and to show how they cope and live with their crimes, and success, today.
Q: What did the subjects [executioners] think of the film?
A: Most in process [missing word?], Anwar did not want to see the film originally, but decided to at some point… looking to a fishing platform. Anwar is loyal to the film, and has backed us up, keeping his word as he felt it was an important endeavour. Hermann has a sort of ‘axis’ loyalty to the film, and glorifies what it does. The paramilitary organizations did not especially approve and saw the filmmaking process as “Anwar vs. us”.
Q: What is the power of the paramilitary organizations today in Indonesia?
A: Still very powerful. If you are not portraying them well they will shut you down, but still the film does show that the country is moving forward.

Neo-Realism as a Pericope of Cinematic Political Influence

Paul Fischer
260400220
Thain and Furuhata
FLM 279
28th March 2012


Neo-Realism as a Pericope of Cinematic Political Influence


The fusion of the documentary style supported and developed by fascist leaders before World War Two, with narrative and montage styles from America and Russia, led to the creation of the cinematic form neo-realism in post-war Italy.  In around a dozen or so films, which depict everyday life as the subject and use cinematography to influence and grip the audience, neo-realist directors found themselves in a unique place and point in history. Because Europe had been bombed flat by allied campaigns, the poverty and destitution provided stunning sets for films shot on site usually detailing the life of poor Europeans. The impact was immediate and massive, though short-lived as economic recovery sent customers to more upbeat American films in the fifties. This paper will look at the political message and success of neo-realism, and attempt to arrive at some conclusion of how the “altered reality” was able to make change in a very modern world.

The language of politics and neo-realism is complex, and it is necessary to draw some definitions before proceeding. Fundamentally, there is little that is truly unique to neo-realism; it does not rely on trick shots, comedy or cinema of attractions. From its beginning, neo-realism was a “reaction to the autobiographical lyricism and elegiac introversion of contemporary Italian letters” (Marcus 18) which was heavily repressed and censored in Italy. Instead neo-realism offered a “strenuously analytic, crude, dramatic representation of a human condition tormented between will and inclination by the anguish of the senses, the conventions of bourgeois life, the emptiness and boredom of existence; and a language founded no longer on the how but on the what, sunk as deeply as possible into ‘things,’ adhering to the ‘object’” that was also largely unique to cinema in form (Bocelli 366-7).
Political influence can be anti-establishment or reactionary in nature. Neo-realism, despite its dark nature, actually exerted an optimistic pressure on politics. This optimism is manifested in the attempt to shape political reality according to a moral idea. While this was not successful, the film were censored by the late forties, the filmmakers never lost their dignity, and managed to make a widespread impact on public opinion (Marcus 28).   The Italian political scene allowed for another type of dissident: neo-realists without strong affinity for communism, the occupying powers, or the former fascists. Once categorized, the magnitude and scale of the influence can be gauged as well, both for the time and later. In this case, a unique form of cinema, neo-realism, came about with a very specific set of conditions in post-war Italy. The original subjects of neo-realism are war and Fascism, but later resurgence of the genius in the sixties, shows that the art form is intrinsically tied to achieving political goals.
To understand how the neo-realists were able to create and produce a startlingly small number of extremely influential films, it is necessary to first look at what characterizes neo-realism. There are the developmental stages that evolved and fused before these films as well as Mussolini era “white telephone” films that provided an aesthetic and artistic wasteland that post-war directors were excited to fill. Neo-realism, as a moment in Italian cinema, occurred to fill a creative void after decades of boring documentaries and censorship left the film industry in tatters.
In the films’ content, there is depression and poverty as before the Italian Reconstruction the country was horribly depressed economically. The audience sees real devastation on-site, often filmed with non-professional actors also assembled on location. The pain is often evident in these films not only through the plot or storyline, but also in the cinematography and sound. The subject is nearly always post-war poverty and struggle, yet can vary greatly in degree, sometimes showing homicide and death or otherwise focusing on something as seemingly insignificant as a bicycle in The Bicycle Thief (1948). Even in a story that follows the search of an unemployed man for his stolen bicycle, gripping social statements and panoramas are imparted to the viewer. In Germany: Year Zero (1947) sweeping panoramic shots of the devastation and profiles of ruined blocks blend with cramped living spaces, three families struggling to fit in an old apartment, poverty and hardship to give the audience true sentiment and empathy for the subjects.
From a political standpoint, the Nazi ex-school teacher’s typecasting as a pedophile or the depictions of severe poverty or looting from potato trains show how ferociously dissident neo-realism was. At the end of one of the most destructive wars in history, many europeans were left asking questions and neo-realism offered Italians a vehicle or mechanism for these questions.  The ideological use of cinema with mixed or unclear messages is characteristic of the era. From the older brother who fought in the streets until the last day to the sister who goes out dancing at night with Americans to get a couple cigarettes to buy potatoes to finally the younger son, the monster, who poisons his father, each character is blamed by the film. Yet by the end of the film, the viewer feels more empathy and sadness. The last sequence in particular, in which the boy sort of walks around, a Frankenstein monster of sorts, searching for friends but finding none instead commits suicide, the viewer is enfolded into an understanding of the child.
This connected viewers in a new way to their world and themselves, instead of to another exotic land or uncivilized people as was the fashion with earlier pieces of cinema of attractions or documentaries. Instead of taxidermy, or preserving the moment, these new political narratives provided a compelling impetus for change. While still in narrative pattern, these films show distinct differences from the talking pictures that evolved from cinema of attraction as well. By combining and improving on older cinema the directors provide a nuanced view of the subject that is at the same time striking and incontestable. In comparison with “white telephone” films that dominated Italian cinema before neo-realism, the new films provided an infusion of creativity and political insight.
While the political impetus for this explosion was the removal of fascist censorship laws, the films were made technically feasible by advances in sound, plastic, and lighting technology that occurred. Cheap film and handheld cameras made onsite recording and filming possible. The destruction in the wake of World War Two left cheap or free elaborate sets throughout Axis Europe. As directors and filmmakers spiraled out across Europe, however, their opposition to occupying post-war forces and uneasy relations with communism made neo-realism a financially risky endeavor. The ultimate decline of neo-realism was blamed on this inability to conform to commercial and political norms (Marcus 27). Under the Andreotti Law of 1949, censors became able to cut and edit films. Toothless neo-realism soon became antiquidated  as Italy went through economic recovery, and the scenes of post-war devastation and incredible poverty started to disappear from the country.
For many, Italian neo-realism was a moment in film history that is not approachable by modern standards. Modern attempts to revisit the era are wasted because the extensive suffering and repression that occurred in Italy has not happened since then to a leading cultural nation of Italy’s caliber since World War Two. The shock value combined with intense emotional connection to the subjects cannot be recovered now, or in the near future. That the Italian cinema felt compelled to fight censorship and authority in order to realize a moral ideal in politics has given an imperative to those enjoying freedom of speech and ample resources to pay some respect to this “moment” in Italian cinema.
The legacy of the political message of neo-realists exists today, and recurs at points in cinema and political history. The success was not found in only the box-office or from immediate impact on occupying forces, but instead from the inspiration that was evident as many Italians felt compelled to finally speak out after years of hushed-up Fascism. Influence cannot directly be traced, but the genius and emotional power of these films are directly evident to a viewer even today.
Without neo-realism it would be impossible to capture the moment in post-war Italy. In this sense it is a form of taxidermy, yet it goes far beyond mere preservation of the scenes; this was not documentary, similar, but with a twist. As a fusion of multiple different forms, there is no canon or universally accepted definition, but instead only a few cinematography notes and considerable violence to plastics or lighting. Neo-realism has a direct emotional connection to the viewer that other styles of cinema simply cannot rival, but can perhaps take something from.
Bibliography: Neo-Realism as a Pericope of Cinematic Political Influence
Arnaldo Bocelli, Letteratura del ‘900. Palermo: Salvatore Sciascia, 1975. Print.
Bicycle Thief. Arthur Mayer & Jos. Burstyn, 1949.
Germany in Year Zero Germania Anno Zero. Dir. Roberto Rossellini. A Film by Roberto  Rossellini, 1947.
Marcus, Millicent Joy. Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP,  1986. Print.
Thain, Alanna, and Yuriko Furuhata. Introduction to Film History: Courspack. Montreal: McGill,  2012. Print.

A Knife in the Water: Editing

Knife in the Water: Editing
Paul Fischer
Portfolio, Cinema Studies
5/27/2010


The cuts in Knife in the Water are mostly long, and luxurious, or they seem to mix sporadically with the jazzy soundtrack to build tension. Polanski’s shots, as discussed in mis-en-scene, are carefully crafted, and the editing helps to impart the sense of sweltering heat, the lazy privileged day, and the ambitions of two rivals spiraling out of control.

As the hitchhiker wades through rushes, which cross him in sharp, interweaving lines, the jazz is fast, and distracted (5a). A fight breaks out between the sailors soon after, quick shots follow in succession, until the exasperated hitch hiker runs off, with the others following him.

When the boat slowly sails across the lake, Polanski offers long, establishing shots, accompanied by slow music and long shots of the sailors wasting time, lying around or examining a map. As the intensity of the music and action in the movie pick up, along with the tension between the characters, the cuts become shorter and more hectic. At the end of the movie, as the wife confesses her unfaithfulness, the shots relax again, slowing and focusing on establishing elements (the car, trees) instead of the actors.
A characteristic of the film is Polanski’s use of an actor or object to frame his shot, focusing the shot while still exposing the audience to all elements of the scene. This is critical to his development of the fighting men. The tensions that slowly build up are emphasized by Polanski’s flawless grasp of depth and spacing, which he uses extensively to translate the emotions of anger and competition in the film. He is able to use one actor as a sort of reflector, the surprise on the husband’s face imparts a cinematic value that the audience might perceive as coming from the back of the hitchhiker’s head.

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