Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Some notes on box-office

Neo-realist films had mixed fortunes at the Italian box-office. Rome Open City was the most successful film of 1945, with takings of 25,476,250,000 lire in 1998 terms. However its uncompromising follow-up, Paisan ranked only seventh in 1946. This was behind Alberto Lattauda's more populist Il Bandito, in third place with takings of 37,501,040,000 lire, but ahead of Scuiscia in 22nd place. The most successful film of 1947 was Riccardo Freda's adaptation of Les Miserables; Freda had also directed the second most popular film of 1946, The Black Eagle. 1948 presents a similarly mixed picture: If Bicycle Thieves was 5th most successful, with takings of 32,160,240,00, Germany Year Zero and La terra trema were only 34th and 38th respectively. No significant neo-realist films were released in 1949, although Pietro Germi's In the Name of the Law and Giuseppe De Santis's Bitter Rice, both featuring neo-realist elements alongside more conventional genre aspects, ranked 6th and 7th respectively. Tellingly, however, both were behind the Toto vehicle Toto cerca casa, in 3rd.;; the previous year the comedian's Toto al giro d'italia was in fourth place at the box-office. Even at the height of neo-realism, Italian audiences were clearly selective in the neo-realist films they saw and frequently preferred more traditional fare. This was again evident in 1950, where Marcel L'Herbier and Paola Moffa's version of the oft-filmed Last Days of Pompeii was the highest grossing film of the year, with receipts of 89,082,084,000, whereas Rossellini's Stromboli ranked only 17th; Antonioni's debut feature, Story of a Love Affair, ranked 46th. In 1952, meanwhile, Europa '51 ranked 55th, Umberto D 98th. Finally, in 1957, by which time neo-realism was over, the relative success of Nights of Cabiria, in 12th place, must be considered alongside the 46th and 72nd places achieved by White Nights and Il grido respectively.

Relating figures like these back to most studies of Italian cinema a discrepancy is evident. A minority of neo-realist and modernist films have received a disproportionate amount of critical attention compared to their actual success with Italian audiences. Although many films that were more commercially successful may be dismissed as aesthetically uninteresting, it seems wrong to reject them in toto. It is true that neo-realist and modernist films were more likely to be amongst the ten to fifteen percent of Italian productions that received international distribution. However, so were many filone films.

[All figures come from Maurizio Baroni's Platea in piedi, 1945-58]

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