At approximately the same time that Roberto Rossellini was shooting Germania anno zero on location in the rubble of Berlin, Billy Wilder and Carol Reed were also making films in the former capitals of the Third Reich. Wilder’s A Foreign Affair and Reed’s The Third Man employ a dramatically different cinematic idiom from Rossellini’s neorealist work. Despite their profound differences, however, these three almost simultaneous films share some important preoccupations. A central concern of the Wilder and Reed films, one that echoes Rossellini’s ambivalent dialogue with the ghosts of Italian fascist cinema, is how to navigate the landscape of past cinematic representation. The literal rubble of Berlin and Vienna corresponds to the epistemological ruin of a post-Nazi world in the cities most identified with that regime. Both Wilder and Reed, like Rossellini, bring us characters who circulate obsessively through the rubble, traversing the traces of the past. All three directors repeatedly confront us with a visual summary of what has been lost and of the ad hoc quality of new constructions in these landscapes of destruction. Like Rossellini, Wilder and Reed focus their films on a confrontation between the fascist culture that now lies in physical and symbolic ruin and the postfascist world as offered by Allied “liberators.” In all three films, Americans and American popular culture are placed in ambivalent opposition to the preexisting structures of subjectivity and representation.
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- The Ghost in the Rubble
- Chapter 2