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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