A New Season: Reality, Realism, and pre-Neorealism


Jules-Bastien Lepage, Les Foins (1878), one of the paintings in the exhibition Illusions of Reality.

Despite heavy cuts in the education sector, students are swarming to our department. Partly this is because of the start of our new, English spoken Master’s specialization in Design and Fashion, called Design Cultures. The first one on a university Master’s level in the Netherlands. It has also attracted several foreign students. Plus many pre-Master students doing one year of Bachelor‘s courses before they are admitted at the Master, so our Bachelor’s courses have vastly grown too. Our first year’s group in the BA has considerably increased because of a new double major combination with Communication & Information Studies. My second year’s BA course in film history is also much bigger than last year, making it quite warm in class sometimes. And my own Master class in Art and Cinema (The Art of Comparison) has doubled, compared to last year, and consists of several foreign students, making our Master a real international master now. This is partly due to a unique high number of grants given to our foreign students; unfortunately, next year less financial possibilities, I was told (as if we are afraid of success). Students come from various countries, in particular Eastern Europe, but also Greece, Turkey, Mexico and Taiwan. Exciting, but also causing some logistic problems, work overloads, etc. Let’s hope our Faculty Board and University Board also realizes what is happening, and prosperity is just around the corner, because we just lost one valuable colleague and one teaching assistant because of the financial cuts… I’d say that student numbers should stand for something.

Indeed, a very busy time, for myself too; with intensive courses now in September-October and preparations for an extra Master’s course on fascism, film & architecture in October (partly in Rome). And in November a special Master’s course on cross-medial exhibitions, this time on the exhibition Illusions of Reality. Naturalism in painting, photography and cinema, 1875-1918, at the Van Gogh Museum, with partner programmes at Eye (the former Filmmuseum) and the Foam photography museum. Professionals involved in the exhibition (funding, curatorship & design, p.r., reviewers) will do guest lectures/talks with us, while I’ll participate in a symposium in November and do a guest lecture in January. The only problem we still need to solve is: where do we draw a line between Naturalism and Realism? And is Naturalism in Cinema something completely different from Naturalism in Painting, just like with Impressionist and Expressionist Cinema? Is Naturalism only content-wise, focusing on the ‘low life’ or does it also have stylistic components? Is Germinal (Pathe 1913) a Naturalist film and if so, is Eisenstein’s Strike then too? And what about films like Le Fils/The Son by the Dardenne brothers, or the films by Mike Leigh and Ken Loach? Does Naturalism only exist within the fictional version, or can we call Depardon’s analysis of farmer’s life Naturalism (Profils Paysans, La Vie Moderne etc.) too? Is it about restrained acting? About gritty surroundings (Brit Grit)? Or just Zola adaptations? Finally, does Naturalism only exist as an indirect form, gazing at landscape and cityscape through the glasses of pictorial quotation, and literary pessimism and determinism? Food for discussion, surely, at the symposium, during our course and in other fora.

Finally, if my Visconti book develops slower than intended because of my workload, offsprings galore: this Summer two articles on Visconti, one publicly on framing (see my blog post of June, 30th, and Publications, for a link to the online version of it), one privately on mirrors. This autumn an article on Tosca, the film made by Carl Koch and Jean Renoir around 1939-1941; Visconti was assistant-director for this film, together with Lotte Reiniger. I found some interesting materials at the Reiniger archive, a photo archive in Milan, Italian weeklies of the early 1940s, and of course I analysed the film itself – which, by the way, is closer to Visconti and Renoir than the two wanted to believe. I will also lecture on this topic at the next Cinegraph conference Deutsch-Italienische Filmbeziehungen in Hamburg, 18-20 November.


La Terre (André Antoine 1921), will be shown 12 December at Eye (Filmmuseum), accompanied by live music.

~ by Ivo Blom on September 17, 2010.

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