Sunday, March 22, 2009

Return to realismo

"Chinatown," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Neo-Neo Realism by film critic A.O. Scott in today's NY Times Magazine is a fine piece about filmmaking, if you can get past the title, which sounds like a joke. It celebrates "...young American directors ... making clear-eyed movies for hard times." Though I haven't heard of most of the movies Scott writes about (I did manage to catch the excellent Half Nelson by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & hope to see Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy before it disappears), I'm hopeful about the trend.

I fell in love with Italian neo-realismo movies in college, particularly DaSica's Bicycle Thief -- a beautiful movie, somehow hard-edged & lyrical at the same time. The idea of neo-realismo was to tell stories about ordinary people, using mostly non-actors playing parts close to their actual experience & shooting on the streets. After graduating, I tried my hand at this for a couple of years before turning to still photography. I ended up with a 16mm sound film about a hitchhiker, called "Step It Up & Go" -- now mouldering in a canister in my basement.

To be clear: It's not because I don't like big movies that I'm hopeful about a return to realism (which of course never really went away) . In fact, I love escape & I'm a huge fan of the best of Hollywood-style big-budget movies. But I'm easily convinced that it's time for something different as well. Here's Scott:

"...what if, at least some of the time, we feel an urge to escape from escapism? For most of the past decade, magical thinking has been elevated from a diversion to an ideological principle. The benign faith that dreams will come true can be hard to distinguish from the more sinister seduction of believing in lies. To counter the tyranny of fantasy entrenched on Wall Street and in Washington as well as in Hollywood, it seems possible that engagement with the world as it is might reassert itself as an aesthetic strategy. Perhaps it would be worth considering that what we need from movies, in the face of a dismaying and confusing real world, is realism."

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