American Neorealism

On Film / The Daily — Jan 9, 2020
Ted Heimerdinger and Larue Hall in J. L. Anderson’s Spring Night Summer Night (1967)

Back in the summer of 2004, as Thom Andersen’s landmark essay film Los Angeles Plays Itself was opening in New York, the filmmaker, who teaches at CalArts, spoke with Scott Foundas in the New York Times about what he was calling “American neorealism.” The term consciously echoes the name of the Italian movement that sprang up in the wake of the Second World War. Led by filmmakers such as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, the Italian neorealists worked with constrained budgets and shot on location in order to give, as J. Hoberman wrote recently in the London Review of Books, “a voice to the voiceless: the poor, the dispossessed, the unemployed, peasants, children, and ordinary people subjugated by circumstances, political or social, they could not control.” Suggesting that the “most significant effect of the blacklist was to cut off the possibilities of neorealism in Hollywood studio movies,” Andersen told Foundas that the films addressed in Red Hollywood, the film he’d made in 1996 with Noël Burch about leftist screenwriters and directors working from the 1930s through the 1950s, “represent a beginning of neorealism in the United States.”


From tomorrow through February 8, the UCLA Film & Television Archive will present American Neorealism, Part One: 1948–1984, a series curated by Ross Lipman, a senior film preservationist at the Archive for seventeen years until 2015, and programmer Paul Malcolm. Lipman may be best known for overseeing the restoration of Film (1965), directed by Alan Schneider, written by Samuel Beckett, and starring Buster Keaton, and for directing a companion “kino-essay,” Notfilm (2015). American Neorealism will open with J. L. Anderson’s underseen first feature Spring Night Summer Night (1967), followed by Lipman’s new essay film, In the Middle of the Nights: From Arthouse to Grindhouse and Back Again. In fourteen minutes, Lipman will track the making of Anderson’s tale of an illicit affair, shot on location in rural southeastern Ohio, its bastardization by exploitation distributor Joseph Brenner, and the restoration of Anderson’s original cut.

Lipman has won a good number of awards for his work as a preservationist, and Angelenos can look forward to seeing several of the titles he’s worked on in the American Neorealism program, including John Cassavetes’s Shadows (1959), which “documents a New York that could afford the luxury of nihilistic posing,” as Gary Giddins writes in the essay accompanying our release. Both Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles (1961), which follows a group of marginalized Native Americans in Los Angeles over the course of a single night, and Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977), a portrait of an African American community that the NYT’s Manohla Dargis has called “an American masterpiece, independent to the bone,” are featured in Los Angeles Plays Itself. Billy Woodberry’s Bless Their Little Hearts (1984), widely regarded as a key work of the L.A. Rebellion, is a “rare gem that finds both magic and pathos in the small events of everyday life,” Lipman tells Donald Liebenson in the Los Angeles Times. And last year, Lipman wrote here in the Current about working on the restoration of Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970), a process that was like seeing “a lost masterpiece arise from a fog.”

This summer, the Archive will present the second part of the series, which will track the evolution of a distinctly American neorealism from 1985 through to the present.

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