Friday, March 27, 2009

A. O. Scott on Neo-Realism

Thanks to Anne Thompson's Variety blog, I recently discovered this article by A. O. Scott of the New York Times on the re-birth of Neo-Realism in the movies today. There are also links to some back-and-forth between Scott and another critic at the bottom.

Neo-Neo Realism

It is now almost a year since Wendy and Lucy played in Cannes — not a watershed moment in the history of cinema, perhaps, but a quiet harbinger. Kelly Reichardt’s third feature, about the struggles of a young woman and her dog stranded in an Oregon town en route to Alaska, was certainly among the more admired films in a strong festival, where it showed out of competition. But by the time it opened in New York last December, the movie, a modest, quiet, 80-minute study in loneliness and desperation, seemed like something more — not so much a premonition of hard times ahead as a confirmation that they had arrived.

Wendy and Lucy, with Michelle Williams in one title role (the other belonged to Reichardt’s dog), had a successful art-house run and found its way onto many critics’ year-end best-of lists (including mine). There was some talk of an Oscar nomination for Williams, who was so believably ordinary in her look and so rigorously un-actressy in her manner that you could easily forget her celebrity. But Wendy and Lucy, released by Oscilloscope Laboratories, a small and ambitious new distributor started by Adam Yauch, a member of the Beastie Boys, would have looked a little awkward alongside the other Academy Award nominees. It’s true that the big winner, Slumdog Millionaire, concerns itself with poverty and disenfranchisement, but it also celebrates, both in its story and in its exuberant, sentimental spirit, the magical power of popular culture to conquer misery, to make dreams come true. And the major function of Oscar night is to affirm that gauzy, enchanting notion.

The world of Wendy and Lucy offers little in the way of enchantment but rather a different, more austere kind of beauty. And while Wendy, at the end of the film, is poignantly, even devastatingly alone, the film itself now seems to be in good company. This spring, as the blockbuster machinery shifts gears from Watchmen to Wolverine, a handful of small movies from relatively young directors are setting out to expand, modestly but with notable seriousness, the scope of American filmmaking.

Goodbye Solo is the third feature directed by Ramin Bahrani, a New York-based filmmaker whose previous movies, Man Push Cart and Chop Shop, explored corners of the city rarely acknowledged by Hollywood. In the weeks following its debut at the end of this month, Bahrani’s movie will be joined by — and, given the beleaguered state of distribution for noncommercial movies these days, may have to compete with — Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s Sugar and So Yong Kim’s Treeless Mountain, each a second feature. All of these films — like Wendy and Lucy and Lance Hammer’s Ballast, which came out last fall — were highlights of the 2008 film-festival calendar, showing up at Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and elsewhere.

The lives they illuminate, of fictional characters most often played by nonactors from similar backgrounds, are not commonly depicted on screen: the Senegalese cabdriver in Winston-Salem, N.C., whose friendship with a customer is at the center of Goodbye Solo; the aspiring baseball player in Sugar who is transplanted from the Dominican Republic to rural Iowa; the African-American shopkeeper in a sparsely populated stretch of the Mississippi Delta whose grief is the dominant mood of Ballast; the two very young Korean girls abandoned by their mother in an unfamiliar provincial town in Treeless Mountain. But these people and their situations are nonetheless recognizable, familiar on a basic human level even if their particular predicaments are not. And if the kind of movie they inhabit is not entirely new — the common ancestor that established their species identity is a well-known Italian bicycle thief — their unassuming arrival on a few screens nonetheless seems vital, urgent and timely.

What kind of movies do we need now? It’s a question that seems to arise almost automatically in times of crisis. It was repeatedly posed in the swirl of post-9/11 anxiety and confusion, and the consensus answer, at least among studio executives and the entertainment journalists who transcribe their insights, was that, in the wake of such unimaginable horror, we needed fantasy, comedy, heroism. In practice, the response turned out to be a little more complicated — some angry political documentaries and earnest wartime melodramas made it into movie theaters during the Bush years, and a lot of commercial spectacles arrived somber in mood and heavy with subtext— but such exceptions did little to dent the conventional wisdom.

And as a new set of worries and fears has crystallized in recent months — lost jobs and homes, corroded values and vanished credit — the dominant cultural oracles have come to pretty much the same conclusions. Remember the ’30s, when we danced through the Depression with Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley and giggled amid the gloom with Lubitsch and the Marx Brothers? (Not many of us do, of course, which makes this kind of selective memory easier to promote.) Then as now, what we wanted most was to forget our troubles. In recession, as in war — and also, conveniently, in times of peace or prosperity — the movies we evidently need are the ones that offer us the possibility, however fanciful or temporary, of escape.

Maybe so. But 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.

Read the rest of A. O. Scott's article here.


Richard Brody's version of a politically sophisticated message.Also, there was a response by Richard Brody on a blog published by the New Yorker, which was pretty harsh but lost me at this point:

What Scott praises is, in effect, granola cinema, abstemious films that are made to look good for you but are no less sweetened than mass-market products, that cut off a wide range of aesthetic possibilities and experiences on ostensible grounds of virtue. It’s not new; it’s self-consciously, fashionably old-fashioned. Many of these films have a whiff of the sermon about them. Gran Torino, in which Clint Eastwood portrays an old bastard who becomes something of a liberal despite—not in the absence of—his worst prejudices and most bilious emotions—is far more politically sophisticated and daring than any of the films Scott names.

Sorry, but Gran Torino is neither better nor politically sophisticated than Wendy and Lucy or Frozen River.

You can read Scott's counter-response here. And, finally, you can read Brody's counter-counter-response here.


Anonymous said...

I actually agree with Brody but understand Scott at the same time. I love the Indie circuit because it gives me those films.

Frozen River was a very political film while Gran Torino could be put into any time period in American history and it would completely fit well.

Michael H said...

Neo-Neo Realism and the Scott-Brody exchange - the FAQs (more than enough to get you through even the toughest cocktail party cross examination). See

Anonymous said...

China and Russia put the blame on some screwed up experiments of US for the earthquake that happened in Haiti.
Chinese and Russian Military scientists, these reports say, are concurring with Canadian researcher, and former Asia-Pacific Bureau Chief of Forbes Magazine, Benjamin Fulford, who in a very disturbing video released from his Japanese offices to the American public, details how the United States attacked China by the firing of a 90 Million Volt Shockwave from the Americans High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facilities in Alaska
If we can recollect a previous news when US blamed Russia for the earthquake in Georgio. What do you guys think? Is it really possible to create an earthquake by humans?
I came across this [url=]article about Haiti Earthquake[/url] in some blog it seems very interesting, but conspiracy theories have always been there.

Anonymous said...

Im looking at buying an ebook reader from amazon and I need somebody to tell me the differences between the apple ipad and the kindle (I know the ipad isnt available on amazon yet [img][/img])

Sorry if this is in the wrong place, I'm new to this!

Anonymous said...

loved las vegas? exploration the all pattern [url=]casino[/url] las vegas at with onto 75 up to period unstinting [url=]online casino[/url] games like slots, roulette, baccarat, craps and more and tote turned impartial coins with our $400 untied of gifted bonus.
we be affliction with undeterred by everything over twice games then the superannuated online [url=]casino[/url]!

Anonymous said...


I am new to this place. I found loads of useful information here. I would also like to contribute some thing for this community. I would like to share some [url=]quick weight loss tips[/url]. If you want to know how to lose 10 lbs in a calendar week, you are likely not looking for a basic dieting and work out plan. You can lose weight with a regular diet and exercise plan, Still this takes a lot of time doing intensive cardio exercises and following a strict diet. Here I will outline the right steps that I took to lose 10 pounds in just a calendar week.

1. Keep Distance from all deep-fried foods for the week
2. Drink an 8oz glass of Citrus paradisi with breakfast every day. (this speeds up up your metabolism)
3. Eat reasonable portions (stop taking when you are full)
4. Instead of eating 3 huge a meals a day, eat 5-6 small meals to keep your metabolism up and keep your body burning fat.
5. Aviod your habbit of eating after 9 P.M.. Its good to eat before 9 P.M. so that our body gets proper time to burn calories before sleep.
6. Take proper sleep every night. Not getting adequate rest has been proven to be a leading element to the body storing excess fat.
7. Utilize a body/colon cleanse for the 7 days. This will get rid of needless weight stored around the stomach area as well as cleanse your body of harmfull pollutants that cause you store fat and feel tired. Flush away excess pounds around the stomach area that otherwise would be hard to lose.
8. I advice you using Acai Berry Diet Pills. This one is tested to work, and you can get a free trial.
9. For those individuals who wish to burn fat quickly, avoid alcohol.
10[url=].[/url] A low GI diet is an superior method of loosing weight quickly.


Anonymous said...


I'm just browsing sites for the kids of Haiti.

I'm doing this for a non-profit haiti organization that gives time to
building an oppurunity for the kids in haiti. If anyone here wants to donate then this is the site:

[url=]Donate to Haiti[/url] or Help Haiti

They provide children in Haiti a positive outlook through education.

Please check it out, they're legitimate.

Anything would be appreciated

Anonymous said...

Hello everybody! I don't know where to start but hope this place will be useful for me.
I will be glad to receive any assistance at the start.
Thanks in advance and good luck! :)