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Non-Professional Actors in Neorealism

Italian neorealism is a film movement that emerged in Italy towards the end of World War II. The first Neorealist film is often said to be Luchino Visconti's Ossessione (1943). However, it only achieved international attention with Roberto Rossellini's Roma, città aperta (1945). Important neorealist directors include Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and Giuseppe De Santis.

Italian Neorealist films are a product of the economic and social crisis that Italy was undergoing at the end of World War II. They focus on everyday life against the backdrop of political and social issues in post-war Italy.

Italian Neorealism can be contrasted stylistically both with the Classic Hollywood Narrative as well as contemporary Italian genres such as the 'White Telephone' melodramas and romantic films. In technical areas, Neorealism tried to reduce the role of editing. Shooting usually took place on location, rather than in a studio as was common. Long and medium shots were used extensively, with fewer close-ups. Natural lighting was preferred. While some of these were stylistic choices, they were sometimes forced upon directors by budgetary constraints, studios damaged during the war and the lack of film stock.

In terms of plots, Neorealism films focused on contemporary social issues. They focused on the poor, working class in Italy, rather than the rich, as was common in White Telephone films. They often had strong political undertones that were highlighted in the plot. Instead of contrived, 'Hollywood' endings that were so prevalent, Neorealist films had realistic endings that did not present facile solutions to deeper issues.

At the same time, Neorealism does not imply an absolute dedication to replicating the real world.

Rossellini. and even musicals. Piasan makes use of professional actors. family or loved ones. At the end of the film. rather than the 'American Dream'. capable of no wrong and a symbol of the patriarchy. 18-19) We are meant to strongly identify with this male protagonist. Complete realism is sacrificed so that the essential details can be focused upon. Bicycle Thieves has intricate editing patterns mixed in with neorealist long-takes. The male protagonist confronts the world to solve this problem and save his community. He is usually a model of virtue. In general. which is disturbed. As a result no single neorealist film will have every characteristic mentioned.Instead. The Classic Hollywood Narrative is based on the actions of the (usually male) protagonist. most neorealist films borrow heavily from Hollywood genre films such as the melodrama. in Marcus 22). It should be noted that neorealism was a term given to a group of films with similar characteristics after they were made.'” (qutd. In other words. without overemphasizing the mundane. it seeks to represent the essence of life. As De Sica says “It is not that one day we sat down at a a table on Via Veneto. In fact. although they act against type. the plot structure is as follows: there is an initial state of equilibrium. It may be argued that a more defining character of neorealism might be the common moral statement to . Central to this is the lack of a 'hero' and the use of non-professional actors throughout neorealist films. rather than an individual. Italian Neorealism goes completely against this. For example. the action film. The entire focus of the film is on this hero. traditional Italy. (Bordwell et al. Film Noir. He is the 'hero' of our film and all other characters are merely 'supporting roles'. the initial state of equilibrium is restored. myself and the others and said: 'now let's create neorealism. Visconti. It focuses on community.

with all the ethical responsibility that such a vision entails. Movies would be marketed.' be they persons or things. both in films and in public. This gave audiences a sense of continuity from film to film. with actors such as Florence Lawrence and Mary Pickford. It involved big studios taking young actors and turning them into 'stars'.” (Marcus 23). One of the key contrasts between Neorealism and the Classic Hollywood Narative is the importance of actors. These young actors would be given new names. Publicity was the main tool of the studios. The star system thrived for the next few decades and said to have died only with the end of the studio system in the early 1960s. backgrounds. The stars would often play a similar type of character in most of their movies. The Hollywood Star System started in the early 1920s. between the Star system of Hollywood and and the non-professional actors so prevalent in Neorealism. when producer Carl Laemmle realized that audiencees went to films mainly based on the actors in them. The Hollywood Star system was at the very heart of the Classic Hollywood Narrative. (Cook 36-40) The Star system was often quite limiting to actors. unless it might negatively impact the public's perception. who were never allowed to play roles outside their . In short. No detail of a stars life was too unimportant or too private. almost as if they knew them personally. and funding gained based on the stars in the film. personalities etc. This allowed audiences to be able to relate to the stars.“promote a true objectivity – one that would force viewers to abandon the limitations of a strictly personal perspective and to embrace the reality of the 'others. they were given a character and would constantly be playing this character. rather than based upon the plot or anything else.

rather than crude stereotypes. in Alfred Hitchcock' Supsicion (1941). There is no place for a Hollywood style hero in the world of neorealism. However RKO. they removed any trace of stars from the films by casting non-professional actors or by casting against type. . the studio. Don Pietro Pellegrini represents the church. The focus is taken away from the problems of an individual and is placed on the broader social issues of an entire class class. Thus the use of non-professional actors in neorealism allowed character to be well rounded. Cary Grant's character was originally the villain – the unfaithful husband who finally poisons his wife. on the other hand went in the completely opposite direction. in Rome. Thus the star system could force directors to alter their vision. Open City. Protagonists in noerealist films often have many faults. intervened for fear that audiences would not accept Grant in such a negative role and the ending of the film was altered (Spoto 243-44). this means that characters often represented entire social groups or classes. as will be seen. Hollywood or Italian stars would be a distraction in Neorealist films. One important aspect of these films is that they allow us to sympathize with characters that are neither heroic nor honorable. For example. It also hampered directors who were often forced to adjust plots of films based on the star that was performing in it. Paradoxically. Characters often represent not extraordinary individuals but everyday humans. Pina the ordinary woman and Marina the collaborator. For example. multifaceted and morally ambiguous human beings. There are many different reason for this.designated character. Producers or even the actors themselves might demand that changes be made so that audiences would not feel alienated. Neorealist films. based upon the whims of audiences. and the harshness of the world around them. We can identify with their ordinariness. Instead of building movies around stars.

was played by a journalist. . Maria. Although Cary Grant had excelled at playing roles similar to that of Ricci. the labor unions. a steel mill worker who De Sica found when the former's son was auditioning for the role of Bruno. De Sica had to sometimes use unusual methods to get the desired response from an actor. De Sica hid cigarette stubs in the boys jacket and then accused him of smoking (Bertellini 44). De Sica received an offer from David O.The use of non-professional actors is quite common in neorealist films. Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948) is a story of Antonio Ricci. In the end. Selznick. on an ultimately fruitless search for the stolen bicycle. The protagonist Antonio Ricci is played by a Lamberto Maggiorani. This is especially the case of Enzo Staiola. he would not have been able to portray the character as effectively as Lamberto Maggiorani for a number of reasons. the church . Politically. To make him cry in a particular scene. When his bicycle is stolen. the importance of non-professional actors to neorealism is best illustrated in Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) and La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles). Lianella Carell. His wife. However. De Sica turned down the offer and produced the film himself. the actor who played Bruno. (Bertellini 43-44). De Sica shows how Ricci is not helped by any figure of authority – the police. Bicycle Thieves made extensive use of non-professional actors. Because of the lack of acting experience from most of the cast. While seeking a producer for the film. he spends the day wandering around Rome with his son Bruno. who needs his bicycle for his job. Bicycle Thieves is best described as antiestablishment. Selznick's only condition was that Cary Grant should play the role of Ricci (Bertellini 43).

Antonio Ricci behaves in many ways that we would not accept from a 'heroic' character. for no reason. he is able to represent an entire class of ordinary. The film has strong communist undertones. He generally bullies every character who does not hold power over him. instead of helping her. as an outsider. Luchino Visconti uses the inhabitants of the real Aci Trezza throughout the movie. Furthermore. His venture fails when his boat is sunk in a storm. Cary Grant. Maggiorani's obscure background and his common look allowed him to be Ricci. Bruno. For example. He has to mortgage his family house in order to finance this. Antonio Valastro is a young but ambitious fisherman who decides to buy his own boat and sell his fish directly in the markets. who are exploited by wholesalers. He later hits his son. he wished to “find the element of drama in daily situations” (Marcus p 55). Antonio is played . Even more than this. could never have done this. rather than just play him as a character. by his very presence. Luchino Visconti's The Earth Trembles (1948) tells the story of a poor community of fishermen in a town called Aci Trezza. According to De Sica. Bicycle Thieves is an ordinary story about ordinary people. that truly represent Italy of that time because he is one of them. Cary Grant. early on in the film he allows his wife to struggle. as she tries to carry water back to their house. The film chronicles the breaking up of the family and Antonio's eventual return to the wholesalers. regardless of his performance. He is an irresponsible father. neither heroic nor villainous. Audiences would have struggled to reconcile Ricci's anti-heroic behavior with the kind of character that Cary Grant usually plays. would not allow Bicycle Thieves to achieve this. who gives his son alcohol instead of apologizing. working-class men. showing the exploitation of the working class at the hands of the boat owners.

with real problems and poverty help Visconti advance his political stance. was often written based on the suggestions of the locals about the next logical a real fisherman. More generally. in The Earth Trembles. but a local dialect. In both films. Neorealism is at it's heart the film of the common man. The camera never leaves this small town. however. Antonio Arcidiacono. the hard-working poor were not treated fairly by those in power. we can see that Italian neorealist movies made extensive use of non-professional actors . In conclusion. are natives of Aci Trezza. The only way this was achievable was to show the town as it really was. The use of non-professional actors is in direct contrast with this. In The Earth Trembles. their role is not limited to acting. De Sica's anti-establishment stance is highlighted by the use of non-professional actors. The use of a real community. The exact political principles may vary depending on the political affiliation of the director. but the sympathy for the working class is a common theme. Visconti also based much of the script on interviews with the locals. The story too. the working class. The individualist 'hero' of Hollywood ties in with the 'American Dream'. The inhabitants of Aci Trezza did not speak Italian. so the dialogue in the movie is exclusively in the local dialect. Unlike Bicycle Thieves. This dialect was nearly incomprehensible to anyone outside the town. In Bicycle Thieves. as was common in poor Sicilian towns. as if The Earth Trembles was a documentary. The entire town could not be taught to speak in standard Italian. Aci Trezza is reality. The audience understands the plot through a narrative voice-over and subtitles (Nowell-Smith 40). The entire film takes place in Aci Trezza. The rest of the cast too. about their hopes and dreams. Thus non-professional actors play an active part in creating the film (Visconti 36-38). Visonti's pro-communism stance is clear. Neorealism was against Americanization of Italy. For the duration of the film.

which adds a sense of realism to the film. This is a stark contrast from the Hollywood films of the time. In The Earth Trembles. where the 'star' was one of the main parts of a a variety of different ways. this is taken to almost a documentary level. these actors can also have significance politically. Thus non-professional actors were an essential and defining part of Italian Neorealism. In Bicycle Thieves it is a stylistic device. with a large portion of the film actively created by the inhabitants of Aci Trezza. As we have seen. .

2004. Print.Works Cited Bordwell. Tonetti. 1983. Nowell-Smith. Print. London: Wallflower. David. New York: Viking. Print. Geoffrey. . Princeton. A History of Narrative Film. 1999. Claretta. Cook. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960. 1973. Donald (1999). Janet Staiger. London: Routledge. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. David A. 1986. Marcus. Norton. Luchino Visconti. NJ: Princeton UP. New York: W. 2006.W. The Cinema of Italy. Print Bertellini. Da Capo. Print. Millicent Joy. Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. Print. Print. Luchino Visconti. Giorgio. Spoto. Boston: Twayne. 2004. and Kristin Thompson.

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