This week we are going to dive in a bit deeper into Cinema than we normally would so we can explore Realism in film by analyzing Larry Clark’s 1995 film, Kids and comparing it to Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece Bicycle Thieves. The reason in which film has been able to grow as medium so much over the last hundred years is because of its ability to transport the audience away from real life and tell them a story of a far off land, time, or group of people. While most films attempt to do this by building up a fictional world, the primary goal of the Realism movement was to portray the real world on screen so the audience felt like they were watching real life. Although, the realism film movement reached its height with Italian Neorealism in the late forties, Clark’s film, Kids, keeps the idea alive by serving as a perfect modern day example of an Italian Neorealist film by using many of the conventions of the movement to tell its story. Yet, while Kids explores Realism more than any other film in the last twenty years, André Bazin, the film theorist who defined what Realism was, would not classify it as a true Realism film.
In order to understand how Kids is able to perfectly replicate an Italian Neorealism film, the conventions of the movement must also been known. Since the goal of the Neorealism movement was to present a film that mirrored real life, filmmakers of the movement wanted to make the film appear as natural as possible. The first step in doing so, was making the scene look as if it was taken straight out of real life and not shot on a sound stage with actors. In 1948 Vittorio De Sica was able to do this with his film Bicycle Thieves. Instead of hiring a real actor like most films were doing during this time De Sica hired a factory worker to play the lead role. By having a non-actor take the lead role in the film, De Sica was able to make the film feel organic and evoke a better sense of realism, yet this was not enough for De Sica. He took the idea of showing real life on film one step further and filmed the entire film on location without the use of sets or soundstages. In doing so Because of the realism De Sica was able to obtain after this film, the idea of combining non-actors and real locations became a staple of the Italian Neorealist film movement as it was seen as the best way to gain realism.
Nearly fifty years later, Larry Clark adopted De Sica’s practice while filming Kids. While Bicycle Thieves captured the life of lower class life in Italy after World War II, Kids sought to accurately display what life was like for lower class children in New York City during the nineties. In order to do so, he copied the approach of Neorealist filmmakers by filming the entire film on streets in New York and in real life apartments instead of using sound stages. In addition, he also copied De Sica by having non-actors play lead roles. By copying this style of merging real life people and real environments Kids easily mimicked the style of the Italian Neorealism movement. Although, while the film does at times conform to the Neorealism style that does not mean all of the film fits into the Realism movement.
One of the people responsible for defining Realism was film theorist André Bazin. In his book, What is Cinema? Volume II he clearly lays out the guidelines to what a realism film should be. Most of the points that he makes throughout this argument fall in line with the Italian Neorealist movement of the time. Meaning at first glance, this would make one assume that if Bazin were able to view Larry Clark’s film Kids he would classify it as a realist film. However, upon deeper evaluation one would also find that Kids is not only reminiscent of Italian Neorealism movement but also Russian Montage movement. This is present towards the end of the film during a montage sequence that connects the main characters of the film to homeless people through the juxtaposition of images. While the Russian Montage movement was influential to film, Bazin does not consider it true realism. The reason in which Bazin does not consider it true realism is because he argues in realism the director is absent and does not use editing to make the audience think a certain way. In contrast, Russian Montage Theory has been described as, “A model for political filmmaking around the world” because of how well it directs the audience’s thoughts. Therefore, because Clark’s film includes elements from the Russian Montage movement Bazin would not be able to clearly call Kids a Realism film.
In conclusion, Larry Clark’s film Kids is able to capture the concept of Italian Neorealism in a modern film for audiences to enjoy. It is able to do so through mimicking the same characteristics found in films within the Neorealism genre such as casting non-actors for lead roles as well as shooting the film on real locations. Although, while the film is able to conform to the tradition of Italian Neorealism it does also include techniques that are commonly found in the Russian Montage movement. Because of the inclusion of these techniques film theorist André Bazin would not be able to call Kids a truly Realist film since the director is present and does not present the audience with an objective view.
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