Realist cinema as world cinema : non-cinema, intermedial passages, total cinema
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This book is about films and filmmakers committed to reality. For them, the world is not a mere construct or discourse, but made of people, animals, plants and objects that physically exist, thrive, suffer and die. They feel part of, and responsible for, this material world and want to change it for the better. ‘Realism’, this book argues, is what defines these films’ mode of production and binds them together across world cinema history and geography. The idea that ‘realism’ could serve as the common denominator across the vast range of productions usually labelled as ‘world cinema’ is widespread and seemingly uncontroversial. Thomas Elsaesser (2009: 3), for example, starts his insightful essay ‘World Cinema: Realism, Evidence, Presence’ by declaring: ‘European art/auteur cinema (and by extension, world cinema) has always defined itself against Hollywood on the basis of its greater realism’. The potted history contained in this formula suggests that world cinema started in Europe, more precisely with Italian neorealism in the 1940s, which, on the basis of a documentary approach to the real, offered fertile ground for the development of art and auteur cinema. Turning its back on the Nazi-fascist propaganda machine as much as on Hollywood fantasy, this new realist strand unveiled on screen the gritty reality of a poverty-stricken, devastated Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. As we know, the raw aesthetics and revelatory power of this foundational movement inspired a flurry of subsequent (social-)realist schools in the world, such as Indian independent cinema in the 1950s, Brazilian Cinema Novo in the 1960s, African post-independence cinemas in the 1970s, the New Iranian Cinema in the 1980s, Danish Dogme 95 in the 1990s and many other new waves and new cinemas, remaining influential up to today. Neorealism was moreover the touchstone of André Bazin’s concept of cinematic realism, the world’s most foundational and enduring film theory ever written, albeit in the form of short magazine articles – 2,600 of them, in the count of Bazin specialist Dudley Andrew (2010: 13) – left behind after his death at a mere 40 years of age.
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