photo manipulation by nacrowe
authenticity is one of those weird things in life, especially with regards to art. a pet peeve of mine is when a person criticizes a piece of art for not being "realistic" enough, as if portraying reality (which reality? your reality?) is a goal of value or perhaps even approachable. film, along with any piece of art originating in the human consciousness, is a construction. even documentary films are pieced together to create a viewpoint and in that sense are as "fake" as any narrative film. it is just the nature of art.
i'll give an example. QUENTIN TARANTINO chose in his western DJANGO UNCHAINED (A BAND APART/COLUMBIA PICTURES, 2012) to feature a song by florida rapper RICK ROSS in the opening credits, which numerous critics took umbrage for, you guessed it, not being realistic to the genre or time period. TARANTINO responded that the lilting orchestrations common to classic JOHN FORD, HOWARD HAWKS, SERGIO LEONE and SAM PECKINPAH films were constructions in of themselves, in fact the only music that would be native to the time period would be fiddle music from appalachia given that many of these frontiersmen were of scotch-irish origin.
what interests me more than the vapid chase for "realness" in film, which is completely quixotic in nature, is what actual choices directors and their production teams made and what are the consequences of those decisions. this brings me to ITALIAN NEO-REALISM, which was an aesthetic of the post-WWII period (popularized by ROBERTO ROSSELLINI, VITTORIO DE SICA, LUCHINO VISCONTI, FEDERICO FELLINI and others) meant to convey the physical, psychological and spiritual toll inflicted by the destruction and personal hardship of the period.
enter director PIER PAOLO PASOLINI and his deeply religious film THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATHEW (ARCO FILM 1964). his fidelity to the Bible made people question whether he was taking aim at the catholic church, who famously sided with the fascist BENITO MUSSOLINI government during the war (in fact, this pact is how the vatican gained independent nationhood). a famous choice PASOLINI made included depicting the Madonna as a preteen, which is historically accurate given the culture and life expectancy of the period and region.
this predictably cause an uproar, which is unfortunate. orthodoxies are meant to be challenged in a healthy debate over what constitutes faith, belief and the boundaries of interpretation. people look to confirm their own biases and viewpoints and it is the power of art to hold a mirror to such and examine, probe and question their validity. obviously religion is one of those settled areas of inquiry for some, which is ridiculous given that faith requires doubt, otherwise it is mindless blind faith.
PASOLINI made a career of questioning basic precepts of italian society and paid the price by being murdered for it. his example is one of courage, the kind that doesn't get caught up in jingoistic pursuits of dominating an "other," rather his sights were set on himself and his people and culture. to examine and cobble together their true essence on screen. to provide a new cultural identity in the wake of the fascism and compliance to church and state the defined the previous generation of italians.