Umberto D, neorealism

Movies compliment and critique the 20th century in such a way that one can almost trace world history through the aesthetic development of the cinema alone. One of the most pivotal movements in film, for example, was Italian neorealism, a style predicated on engaging the realities of postwar European life.

Born in antagonistic response to the polished “white telephone” films of upper class fantasy promoted by the Fascist Italian government of the ’30s and ’40s, neorealism exhibited eviscerated street locations, nonprofessional actors, natural lighting, and an intense social awareness. Its greatest successes (Open City, Shoeshine, Paisan, La Terra

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Globalization, Pilger, Life and Debt

One of the pleasures of the Internet is getting access to companies and voices which one might otherwise have difficulty finding–in the electronic world, all websites are created equal. For those seeking documentary options (particularly films which address social, political, or environmental issues), Bullfrog Films offers an extensive catalogue at the click of a button. Never heard of them? Checkout their website and browse their hefty collection. Although many of their titles are sold or rented at institutional prices, they offer special discounts to nonprofit and activist groups.

Bullfrog was a major supplier of the titles I saw at the …

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Underground filmfest

What will they think of next?

Giving new meaning to the phrase “an underground film festival,” Interfilm organizers in Berlin have come up with a genuinely new idea: exhibit a series of short films on monitors in Berlin subway trains and allow the passengers to be the jury.

The festival will run from January 29 to February 4, 2004. All the films will be no longer than 90 seconds and must be “free of extreme violence or obscene content.”

As exhibitors around the globe continue to think of ways of integrating artistically-minded films within the general populace, this idea sounds …

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Under the Skin of the City, Screening clubs

I work at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and last night was the second week of our film club’s summer series. The night air cooled with a comfortable breeze and the screening was held outdoors in a small amphitheatre with a simple setup comprised of a video projector, a projection screen, and the ubiquitous popcorn machine.

The film screened was Under the Skin of the City (2001), a powerful Iranian feature by Rakhshan Bani-Eternad about a working class family and its travails in contemporary Tehran, which only recently acquired theatrical distribution in the US. Like many films of the …

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Woody Allen, Looney Tunes

After what seems like an eternity of hand-wringing and navel-gazing, Woody Allen‘s protagonist in Stardust Memories (1980), a burned-out movie director, suddenly finds himself face-to-face with a descending spacecraft. As super-intelligent extraterrestrials greet the human race for the first time, the filmmaker blurts out his abiding angst: “If nothing lasts, why am I bothering to make films, or do anything, for that matter?” “We like your films,” the aliens intone, “Particularly the early funny ones.”

As has often been noted, there is a marked difference between Allen’s pre- and post-Annie Hall (1977) career. The former delights in absurd, …

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Nicholas Ray, Cinematography

Although I’ve long included classical Hollywood in my realm of cinephilia, I’m somewhat new to the films of Nicholas Ray (1911-1979), the director of such classics as Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger Than Life. An intensely personal filmmaker who worked within the studio system, Ray is known for his attention to setting, architecture, colors, and investigations of psychological torment. His work initially attracted critical attention with the early Cahiers du CinÈma writers, as can be seen by FranÁois Truffaut’s 1955 remarks:

“We discovered Nicholas Ray about seven or eight years ago with Knock on Any Door. Then,

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