Archive for the ‘Rossellini’ Category

Cinema And Urbanism: Rome Open City, Subjectification, Homophobia, The Third Man. raw class notes for 1.10.2011

Rome Open City: an “open” city not to be used as a transfer point for troops or materials, excluded from military operations, not to house a military government (Forgacs, 31;)

an open city whose designation became ironic (Forgacs, 32;)

a city of “occupied allies” (Forgacs, 33;)

a city where Catholic priests and communists conspire against a common enemy;

a city where partisans escape the occupiers on roof tops;

a city where fascists march with difficulty, but partisans suddenly appear (Forgacs, 40;)

a city where women loot bakeries; a city where drug addicts who shelter and betray communists depend on occupiers for cocaine;

a city where little boys sabotage train yards; a city where a pregnant woman gets shot running after her arrested fiancé;

a city where, under the allied occupation, when Rome Open City was made, the economy “collapsed and inflation and the black market were rife” (Forgacs, 28.)

a city of memorials and bitter economic miracles.

We study film and urbanism because, as Guy Debord says “Of all the affairs we participate in, with or without interest, the groping search for a new way of life is the only aspect still impassioning. Aesthetic and other disciplines have proved blatantly inadequate in this regard and merit the greatest detachment.” (Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography.) This also explains my attempt to develop an anaesthetic approach to film, which despite the insistence of film theorists in the first half of the 20th century that it is an art.

In June1943, after the allied invasion of Sicily, the Grand Fascist Counsel passed a motion of no confidence and Benito Mussolini was deposed and arrested. The titular head of state, King Victor Emmanuel II continued in his role. Germany, fearing that Italy would dessert the Axis in the face of an Allied invasion that had started in Sicily and was working it’s way north occupied the central and northern parts of the country. In September 1943, after the new Italian state had surrendered to the Allies, German troops liberated Mussolini. Adolf Hitler installed Mussolini as dictator if the new Italian Social Republic (known as the RSI) with Sàlo as it’s capital. After an allied bombing , Rome was declared an open city on August 14 by Victor Emmanuel’s government and then again in the terms of the surrender  and then again  on September 10, by an agreement between the German military command and the allies.   On September 23, 1943, German paratroopers occupied the center of Rome. In the period when Rome was officially an “open city” it was supposedly under the control of the RSI, but in fact under German military rule and was bombed repeated by the allies. For the resistance, the importance of the city’s designation as “open” marked the illegality of the German occupation (Forgacs, 32.) The underground sought to attack German lines of communication, to prevent them from marching with impunity through the city (32-3)

After the “liberation” of Rome,” “U.S. Rear Admiral Emory W. Stone expropriated Cinecittà as a refuge camp and tried to suppress the “so called Italian film industry” on the grounds that it had been “invented by the fascists” (Gallagherr 116.) Under German occupation, Cinecittà has been used to store munitions (Forgacs, 30.) (Note that the name “Cinecittà’ suggests a city of cinema or a city of film production.) circumstances  forced Rossellini and his crew into the streets and a rented 60 by 180 foot basement at 30 via degli Avignonesi used as a studio (136.) The basement was a semi-crypt, reminiscent of the torture chamber in the film. The interiors were shot on sets at night because electricity was more reliable than in the day. When necessary the production stole current from the offices of the US Army newspaper The Stars And Stripes (136.) This basement was just south east of Piazza de Spagna. Outside, the city’s memory of the war intervened in the production. During the shoot of the scene where Pina sees her man taken to prison, chases the truck and gets gunned down, a crowd came to watch the shoot on Via Ramondo Montecuccoli. They reacted to the sight of the German Army, or those playing the German army, by spitting, throwing stones and yelling “go make a movie somewhere else” (115-6) Marina Teresa Gullace, the woman whose death formed the basis for this episode was actually shot outside of the barracks where her fiancé was held prisoner as he leaned out of the window to killer her, but the film moves the murder to the same street as the roundup (Forgacs, 15.) During another shoot in which the Gestapo arrest Don Pietro and Manfredi, the DP, Ubaldo Arata, was shooting from a hidden vantage point in a door way and a trolley conductor stopped his train and attempted to intervene (156.)  At this point the war was still going on in the north of Italy. Rossellini’s goals in making Rome Open City emerged from the circumstances. He wanted to  “break the industrial structures of those years, to be able to conquer the liberty to experiment without conditions … when to kill the industrial structures of cinema you leave the sound stage … and shoot on the street, like someone who lives there, you discover as a result that you possess a style” (Gallagher, 138.)

Rome Open City depicts a geography of resistant Italians and evil Germans. Even the fascists among Rossellini’s Italians seem to act against their wills. “The New Italian cinema would make the Germans scapegoats for everything” (Gallagher, 117.) Rossellini shows the city of occupiers from above and the city of citizens and the resistance, the underground,  from below (Forgacs, 35.) He breaks Rome up into a center and peripheries. In the center we find the Gestapo headquarters along with Don Pietro’s church. In the peripheries, a working class district for Pina and Marcello and, less distant from the center, a bourgeois district for Marina. (35.) (The division of cities into center and periphery will be crucial through out our project this term.) In the period immediately following the Allied capture of Rome from the Nazi’s, Rossellini considered a film in episodes to be the only production possibility because of industrial conditions. (Gallagher, 120.) The episodes he had in mind were confined to specific areas in Rome. Rossellini’s concern for the specificity of each area can be felt in accounts of the first discussions between Rossellini, Sergio Amidei and Alberto Consiglio, the inititial moment of Rome Open City’s development. Rossellini rejected a story (originally for another film) from Amidei about story about a black marketer who lived in the Piazza de Spagna because such a man would not live in that neighborhood. The conversation lead to the idea of a priest sought by the Germans. The Piazza de Spagna, in the northwest corner of the map in Forgac’s monograph, served as the location where the soldiers march at the beginning and Amidi’s in the neighborhood which had been the site of actual communist meetings was used as Manfredi’s (Forgacs, 16.) The producer, Countess Chiara Politi apparently insisted on the combination of the episodes into a more or less continuous narrative (Forgacs, 14.)

Though the occupiers see the city from above, as Tom Conley points out in Cartographic Cinema, they seem to know nothing about the city. When the soldiers ask an old woman where they are, and she tells them it’s the Spanish embassy, near the famous Spanish stairs (71.) The city seen from above functions as a kind of map, and we see the occupiers in scenes with maps. For example, in Bergmann’s office in the Gestapo headquarters, an office with a door that leads to the salon and beyond it to the torture chamber. a map of Rome divided into 14 zones according to the Schröder plan, a map of the region around Rome and a map of the world hang on the wall (Conley, 69-73.)

Views of the city from below show us how it is used. (Here, Forgacs paraphrases Michel Decertau’s “Walking In The City” (From The Practice Of Everyday Life,)(Forgacs, 36.) The same map of the Roman region seen in Bergmann’s office hangs in Francesco’s apartment where Pina and Manfredi talk, but the context changes it. Instead of looking at the map and talking about the plan to end the resistance, Manfredi tells an a love story about Marina while the camera shoots him almost like part of the map and Pina tells him she is pregnant. The characters here seem to become the map rather than using it in a hunt (Conley, 76.)

Forgacs cites Italo Calvion and Marina Corti’s claim that Neo-realist  films about the resistance work with “already shaped” (22) expressions of events rather than directly transcribing real world events. The films, paintings, fictions, sculptures, newspaper reports etc listed by Forgacs can be seen as elements of material culture immanent the filmmakers’ consciousness of events at the time the movies were made. Their mediation takes the formed of a material trace of the memory of what happened in the city of Rome. They were virtual features of the cityscape, as real, if not as actual, as the locations that Forgacs cites as a “documentary” feature (22.) Perhaps the many maps in the mise-en-scene of Rome Open City point to this.

Forgacs calls Rossellini’s Rome a simulacrum (35.) The simulacrum works by expressing various zones, divided into into views from above and below as well as into center and periphery. Each division produces a different affect and supporting a specific mode of consciousness, as Debord suggests in his “Introduction.” Formally, the film associates views from below with characters from the periphery and views from above with characters from the center — Gestapo headquarters is in the center and in a sense all occupiers come from there in the film. The Germans started the occupation of Rome in fall of 1943 by landing paratroops in the middle of the city. Yet, the film combines the terms in every possible ways. Don Pietro’s church is in the center and he uses the city to work with the underground, seeing it from below. The articulation of center and periphery with views from above and below in various ways becomes a formal machine for producing character subjectivity — a combinatorial scheme for subjectification.

At the center, one form of power, the Gestapo, embodied by Bergmann, polices maps (Forgacs, 36.) They have divided the city into 14 zones within which they hunt down resistors. “Every Day I take a long walk around the streets of Rome without leaving my office,” says the Nazi.

In the decentralized space of the peripheries, seen from below, the power of resistance uses the city to hide from Nazi surveillance and fights the occupiers (Forgacs, 38.)  In our last session, someone noted the intensive, hidden spaces of the Rome in this film. The underground burrows —improvises furtive movements. “Public transportation was reduced to a trickle and the use of bicycles was first restricted to daylight hours and then banned altogether” ((Forgacs, 40.) Even the ambulances carry German soldiers instead of medics (Conley, 72.)  Very few who saw the city from below could afford cars and the Nazi’s restricted driving. Here we see the other face of the utilitarian concern with traffic flows Debord criticizes in his “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography.”

The zigzagging horizontal movements below map a social geography: Manfredi’s moves away from his Piazza di Spagna to working class Rione Presrino near the city’s edge where Francesco lives (note the urban organization in which the center is rich but the periphery poor, so characteristic of European cities;) the vertical networks allow secret activity in Franceso’s building; the attack on the convoy bearing the prisoners happens the new E42 suburbs southwest of the city; Marina betrays Manfredi in her  apartment in the bourgeois Parioli just northwest of the city center. (Forgacs, 41-2.) These movements shape give the film’s narrative the form of an anatomy: a catalogue of knowledge that can take the an episodic that errs through a variety of spaces inhabited and used by various social types favored by Federico Fellini throughout his career. (Remember, Fellini contributed to Rome Open City’s screenplay.)

The staircases with apartments off of it in the 7 story tenement built around a courtyard where Pina lives in Via Montecuccoli typifies the then new peripheral working class Italian neighborhods. As I mentioned last time, the tenement in M (Lang, 1931) shares certain features with this one. We will see more of the Italian version in the Pasolini Films, where they play a string role as they spring up pushing Rome’s periphery further and further out.

The zones simulated by Rome Open City depict the very opposite of those imagine by Chtcheglov in his “Formulary for a New Urbanism” and add to  Rome’s tragedy. After the war the Roman’s got the marshal plan and a city of memorials (as Forgac points out.) Instead of the potential to create their own spaces where “roots think of the child and where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac” (Chtcheglov,,) Romans accepted economic miracles (a name as ironic and boring as the names of streets and business listed in the formulary) and the necropoleis of mourning and heritage.

Perhaps we can understand Forgac’s “simulacrum” as meaning a map of subjectification; perhaps Rossellini invents a cinematic cartography that shows not just events and their mediation but also how Romans became themselves in a given historical period. What happens if we understand Rome Open City as an attemptted psychogeography, defined as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals” (Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography?) Perhaps the selection of districts can be understood as similar to the cut up procedure used in the Situationist International’s psychogeographic maps; perhaps the lines of flight and escape followed by the characters in the films can be seen as related to, but not identical with derives. To speak like Debord’s “Exercise In Psychogeography” (,) we might say that at this stage in his career, “Rossellini is brutally psychogeographical in cinema.” The zones he marks in Italian cities have nothing to do with the famously overwhelming beauty others see in them. Nothing to do with descriptions like the following from André Bazin’s essay on Neoralism:

The Italian city, ancient or modern, is prodigiously photogenic. From antiquity, Italian city planning has remained theatrical and decorative. City life is a spectacle, a comedia del arte that the Italians stage for their won pleasure. And even in the poorest quarter of the town the coral like grouping of the houses, thanks to the terraces and balconies offer outstanding possibilities for spectacle. The courtyard is an Elizabethan set in which the show is seen from below, the spectators in the gallery being actors in the comedy. A poetic documentary was shown at Venice consisting only of shots of courtyards. What more can you say when the theatrical facades of the palazzi combine their operatic effects the stage-like architecture with the stage like architecture of the houses of the poor? Add to this the sunshine and the absence of clouds (chief enemy of shooting exteriors) and you have explained why the urban exteriors of Italian films are superior to all others (Bazin, 28-9)

By contrast Rossellini’s Rome looks like concentration camp from our contemporary perspective. The film’s opening pan looks left (west) from Viale Trinità over the Tiber River, The last looks right from the opposite side of the river and shows the boys going home with St Peters Basilica and other famous buildings behind them (Forgacs, 35.) For Gallagher, the last shot implies the coming of spring and the end of the war. As I argued last time, form our twenty first century vantage point the last pan can be understood as showing us that cities have become death camps, areas that subject life to complete control. When seen as the boarders or enclosure of the Rome Open City’s map or simulacrum of Rome, the first and last pan support my understanding. When seen as a progress between two views, it might support Gallagher’s.

Psychogeography seems full of political potentials, but of course, it can easily go awry. Any psychogeographic approach to Rome Open City must take into account The films homophobia. Perhaps in a city, sexualities, the hatred of sexualities, and the feeling that sexualities need to controlled take an especially urgent form — a form produced by the chronotopes (space /time) of  (imagined) cities.  As Forgacs points out, the anatomy of social types, what he calls “the “opposition of social worlds” (47,) and political identities in the film creates an opposition of sexual identities. The film values that opposition in terms of good and bad in as simplified a way as it does the opposition between liberation seeking Italians and vicious totalitarian Germans.

The heterosexual pregnant and martyred Pina figures the good feminine and the drug addicted, treasonous lesbian Marina the bad feminine. While we could take many approaches to thinking out the film’s homophobia, in the context of urbanism we might start by looking at the way the film’s presentation of homophobia works with its simulation of Rome. Rome Open City associates Marina’s bad lesbianism, and Bergmann’s more vaguely suggested male gayness (Forgacs, 48)  with the city seen from above. While Marina, as an Italian sees the city from below, her lover pulls her up. German Ingrid, provides her with the cocaine that gets her high and she temporarily raises Marina’s class status. Rome Open City consistently associates homosexuality with a decadent bourgeoisie and Nazi power. As Forgacs points out, the film associates some locations with corruption, decadence and “feminine weakness” (49.) Her tirade explaining that she takes lovers in exchange for material comfort exemplifies the “blind fury so many unprivileged people are ready to defend their mediocre advantages” that Debord points out (“Introduction To a Critique of Urban Geography.”) Amusingly enough, the idea of happiness Debord attributes to such people also involves coke, though in the form of  the US’s favorite beverage. While there are many factors (the patriarchal character of the Italian resistance movement, catholic ideology, etc.) contributing to the movie’s homophobia, perhaps one way to imagine another urban politics of sexuality might be to imagine poor gay people in working class neighborhoods. Perhaps some of the political work of the films and poems by Pierre Palo Pasolini we will engage with soon consistz in precisely that simple shift along a map of Rome. Perhaps we might wonder how tonight’s film, The Third Man (Reed, 1949,) figures relationship between Holly Martins and Harry Lime — a relationship that Ray White points out can easily be, and has been, understood as a love affair between the two men (White, 19.) Unlike Rome Open City, The Third Man famously presents a city and a world without a moral center and never subjects the friendship in question to a system of judgment. Though of course the film does encourage its viewers to feel attraction and repulsion for Lime and Martins.

In addition to zones occupied by the allies, The Third Man maps and perhaps simulates Vienna with close ups of faces, rendering a fatigued cartography of a city hollowed out by World War 2 (White, 43.) Like Rossellini’s Rome, Reed’s Vienna also divides vertically and horizontally and correlates the difference to forms of power. When Lime tells Martins about his crimes, they are at the top of the great wheels arc. Welle’s famous speech refers to the “dots” in the ruins bellow. At the end Harry flees and dies below the city in the sewers through which he seeks a line of flight. Unlike Rome Open City’s division of views from above and from below, The Third Man divides the horizontal from the vertical via intensive movements, like the vibrations of the zither that the films opening titles appear over, ech shift in level bring about a variation in intensity.


Bazin, André. What Is Cinema? V 2. Hugh Gray, Trans. Berkeley. University of California Press. 1967.

Conley, Tom. Cartographic Cinema. Minneapolis. 2007. University Of Minnesota Press.

Chtcheglov, Ivan. “Formulary for a New Urbanism”

Debord, Guy. “Introduction to A critique of Urban Geography.”

— “Exercise in Psychogeography”

Forgacs, David. Rome Open City (Roma Città Aperta. London BFI. 2000

Gallagherr, Tag. The Adventures Of Roberto Rossellini. New York. Da Capo Press. 1998

White, Ray. The Third Man. London. BFI. 2003.