How Hollywood are you?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Italian neorealism.

Hand still in your lap? No shame—I hadn’t either, until last Saturday morning, when my go-to news source (NPR) ran a story about a new video essay on the topic by filmmaker Ernie Park.

David O. Selznick, three-quarter length portra...

David O. Selznick, World-Telegram photo by Edward Lynch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Park highlighted the contrast between neorealism and the Hollywood blockbuster and discussed the interest producer David O. Selznick took in the genre in the 1950s, with fascinating results.

What struck me, though, was how you might substitute the words “literary fiction” for “neorealism” and “summer bestseller” for “Hollywood blockbuster.” In each case, the impetus driving the creation is completely different, as is the reason you choose to see or read the resulting product.

Neorealism—and the many variations of independent films that have followed, from French New Wave to film noir—de-emphasizes the star. It reveals the lives of minor characters as well as the celebrities. As in literary fiction, the plot often turns on small events, and dramatic tension arises from relationships among the characters rather than car chases or explosions.

Why would we want to sit through such a movie or wade through such a book? Not for a fast-paced thrill, surely. But perhaps some of us want more from our entertainment than escapism. We want to be reminded of what’s important in our lives. We want to revisit what causes us pain so we can understand it. We want to feel something deeply.

Carlo Dolci - St Catherine Reading a Book - WG...

No car chases here. Carlo Dolci: St Catherine Reading a Book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as there’s room in the film world for more than “White House Down” and “Red 2,” there’s room in the literary world for more than big, sweeping books that steal your breath with page-turning excitement. Ernie Parks’s video essay, and the topic it looks at, is a good reminder of this.

As an author of the quieter kind of book, I’m hopeful that there are readers who look between the covers for something other than a thrill a minute. (Full disclosure: Dance of Souls contains a couple of conflagrations and my current novel contains some violent acts.)

Why do you read and go to the movies? Are you looking for escape, or something else?

12 thoughts on “How Hollywood are you?

  1. I read or watch movies for escape, definitely. Real life is too full of both the hum-drum and the unpleasant. Who needs to seek more of that? But since when is escape all about action? Escape for me involves characters I care about moving through a good story. I don’t mind some thoughtfulness in my escape, either. I just want to be left feeling better at the end of it, not worse.

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    • “…since when is escape all about action?” Well said! Funny, I just watched the last two of the “Dark Night” movies with my family and I fell asleep halfway through, lulled by all the gunshots and explosions. So action isn’t always guaranteed to keep the audience’s attention :-).

      From the comments here, I am guessing that idea of art as a social irritant or a mechanism for painful but necessary growth is on the decline. Nothing wrong with that–we live in different (in indifferent?) times.

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  2. Recently re-watched the film noir “Chinatown” with Faye Duniway and Jack Nicholson. Remember that one? Man, has it stood the test of time! For me a good book, or a movie is one you can pick up 20 (30?) years later and enjoy just as much. Car crashes give me nightmares!

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  3. I agree with Carrie – if the movie is slow moving, the script better be stellar (and the sets/wardrobe must be done with accuracy and almost characters in themselves….you have more time to notice them – they both better carefully build and support the characterization and plot)
    And I’m tired of plots that just emphasize how bad something is or how wrong something is….it’s got to go somewhere – towards something. Mental action as lively as kung fu fighting
    Sadly Hollywood seems to prefer to pay for special effects rather than solid writers at this time – hope that changes.
    Sometimes you just want sheer entertainment – even musicals can do that
    Books always need a big variety to make sure you have something to fit every mood

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    • So the jury seems to be in: as consumers, we’d like variety. It would be nice if the creators of content pay attention! But given the way the business of film is structured, I understand why Hollywood creates to a formula. We usually have to look to the smaller studios or even independently produced works for the nuance.

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    • Both… what a concept! You must have read my post about opposites co-existing :-). It does seem that having both elements is somehow easier in books, at least in terms of marketing. I can’t think of many Hollywood action films that have subtle character development and cinematography. Everything usually seems way over the top. Glad you enjoyed.

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  4. It’s funny, because when I go to a movie, it’s for escape, and I want action. Slow-moving, dialogue-heavy movies don’t often do it for me unless the script is top notch. But when I read, I like to visit both types of writing–escapism thrillers and thought-provoking literary work.

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