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.
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.
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?
- Neorealism Goes Hollywood (npr.org)
- Discussion Topic: Breathless, Hollywood and Italian Neorealism (filmhistorytwo.wordpress.com)
- The Space Between: Fascinating deconstruction of Italian Neorealism vs. Hollywood filmmaking (dangerousminds.net)