Cinematic Experiment: What Happens When The Bicycle Thief’s Director and Gone With the Wind’s Producer Edit the Same Film

When we get deep enough into our enthu­si­asm for film, cinephiles start spec­u­lat­ing in ways that might strike non-cinephiles as, well, unusu­al. The video essay­ist kogana­da, for exam­ple, states in the video above his desire to “build a time machine and trav­el to Italy cir­ca 1952” and “ask Vit­to­rio de Sica to make a film using Hol­ly­wood actors like Mont­gomery Clift and Jen­nifer Jones, and then team de Sica up with a Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­er, the kind that likes to impose his will and sen­si­bil­i­ty onto a film — some­one like David O. Selznick. In bring­ing these two worlds of cin­e­ma togeth­er, I’d hope for a clash in cin­e­ma so great that it would result in two cuts of the same film, one by de Sica and the oth­er by Selznick.”

This may sound like the spec­u­la­tion of a fan­boy, albeit a high­brow fan­boy, but you can hard­ly call it idle spec­u­la­tion. This video essay, as you can see, actu­al­ly man­ages to screen, side-by-side, scenes from what real­ly do look like two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the same ear­ly-1950s film, one cut in the clas­sic Hol­ly­wood style, and one cut in the Ital­ian neo­re­al­ist style. This “exper­i­ment” in cin­e­ma illu­mi­nates the rhythms, emphases, and val­ues of both kinds of film­mak­ing, adding nuance to the con­cep­tion of one as clear-eyed, method­i­cal, and uncom­pro­mis­ing, and the oth­er as ide­al­ized, flam­boy­ant, and crowd-pleas­ing.

So has kog­o­na­da actu­al­ly built this time machine and com­mis­sioned two cuts of the same pic­ture from the direc­tor of Bicy­cle Thieves and the pro­duc­er of Gone with the Wind? Not quite, but film his­to­ry has pro­vid­ed him with the next best thing: 1954’s Ter­mi­nal Sta­tion and The Indis­cre­tion of an Amer­i­can Wife. De Sica “was one of the world’s most cel­e­brat­ed film­mak­ers when David O. Selznick com­mis­sioned Ter­mi­nal Sta­tion from him and his screen­writ­ing part­ner, Cesare Zavat­ti­ni,” writes crit­ic Dave Kehr in a Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion essay. But the pro­duc­tion soon hit some seri­ous snags. Cri­te­ri­on goes on to add:

The trou­bled col­lab­o­ra­tion between direc­tor Vit­to­rio De Sica and pro­duc­er David O. Selznick result­ed in two cuts of the same film. De Sica’s ver­sion, Ter­mi­nal Sta­tion, was screened at a length of one-and-a-half hours, but after dis­ap­point­ing pre­views, Selznick severe­ly re-edit­ed it and changed the title to Indis­cre­tion of an Amer­i­can Wife with­out De Sica’s per­mis­sion.

Though Kehr finds de Sica’s take on the mate­r­i­al “immea­sur­ably supe­ri­or” to Selznick­’s, he adds that “both have quite dis­tinct emo­tion­al and dra­mat­ic qual­i­ties, and it is fas­ci­nat­ing to see how iden­ti­cal mate­r­i­al can be pushed and pulled, whol­ly through the post­pro­duc­tion process, in two rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent direc­tions.” Even casu­al cinephiles stand to learn a lot from a back-to-back view­ing of Ter­mi­nal Sta­tion and The Indis­cre­tion of an Amer­i­can Wife, but only in this video essay’s five min­utes can we see them so care­ful­ly com­pared and con­trast­ed side-by-side. Briefly but dense­ly, it reveals to us the nature of both clas­sic Hol­ly­wood and Ital­ian neo­re­al­ism — no time trav­el required.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Eyes of Hitch­cock: A Mes­mer­iz­ing Video Essay on the Expres­sive Pow­er of Eyes in Hitchcock’s Films

The Per­fect Sym­me­try of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Crit­ics Pick the Top 100 Movies of All Time in the Pages of Cahiers du Ciné­ma

Sig­na­ture Shots from the Films of Stan­ley Kubrick: One-Point Per­spec­tive

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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