Scorsese Screens - October 2021
What exactly is a New Wave? The TCM programmers are posing the question this month with their four-part “New Waves Around the World” TCM Spotlight series. In essence, it’s a collective artistic response to a moment of dramatic change, or, in the case of Italian neorealism, a worldwide cataclysmic disaster. There were many artistic “revolutions” that preceded the beginnings of the cinema—impressionism, fauvism, cubism in painting; romanticism and chromaticism in music; realism in the novel and in theatre—but the many cinematic New Waves that have surged since the end of the Second World War have acted as lightning rods, where the artistic, the political and the ethical have converged into one powerful electrical current.
The filmmakers that comprised the heart of Italian neorealism—Rossellini, Visconti, De Sica, Fellini, Zavattini—ultimately couldn’t have been more different, but they were united in those first years after a war that had devastated their country and put an end to 20 years of fascism. The films they made were lovingly wrought messages to their countrymen and to the world. They are acts of recovery, redemption and regeneration. For reasons that I don’t understand, all but one of the six pictures programmed under the heading of Italian neorealism—Rossellini’s Rome, Open City—can be properly identified as neorealist. Fellini’s La Strada, Olmi’s Il Posto and Pasolini’s Mamma Roma are all direct offshoots of the neorealist moment (I’m puzzled by the inclusion of Antonioni’s L’Eclisse and Pietrangeli’s I Knew Her Well).
Italian neorealism led directly to the French New Wave, which burst the cinema wide open with a new, apparently unlimited artistic freedom and a deep love for and genuine pride in the cinema as an art form. It spawned New Waves in England and in Japan (the other two countries represented here) and around the whole world, this country included.
I look at the titles included in these four evenings of films and I remember so many experiences: the wild range of emotions I felt as I watched these pictures for the first time, witnessed their power and their daring, relished their freedom. I was astonished, I was awed, I was overwhelmed, sometimes I was intimidated, but I was above all inspired, along with the rest of my friends, by Il Posto, L’Eclisse, Breathless, Hiroshima mon amour, Shoot the Piano Player, Cleo from 5 to 7, The Insect Woman, The Sun’s Burial, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and many others that were not included.
Since the 70s, we’ve had New Waves in Taiwan (after the end of martial law), in Romania (after the death of Ceausescu and the fall of the Communist government), in Iran and Argentina and Mexico. Has the phenomenon come to an end? At this moment, when it’s so common to speak disparagingly of the cinema, you have to wonder. But the real answer is: of course not. New Waves are never officially sanctioned. They always come from the ground up. That’s why they’re so precious and so exciting, and they are always unexpected.