EVERYONE KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE
Is there such a thing as an American neorealist movement in film? I watched my first John Cassavetes film, Shadows (also his directorial debut), last night, and I can instantly see a connection to the Italian neorealists, who were moving on to other things when Shadows was released in the late ‘50s, and the French New Wave, which was just getting started. I now see the influence Cassavetes likely had on a young Scorsese (particularly as a fellow New Yorker), and would put Shadows in the same category as Fellini’s I Vitelloni and Scorsese’s Who's That Knocking At My Door? for portraits of restless youth looking for their niche.
And as I type this, I am midway through being bored with Richard Linklater’s It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, his previously unreleased directorial debut that comes on the second disc of Criterion’s Slacker. This, along with Gus Van Sant’s recent output (Elephant and Gerry, which I should disclose I have not seen), though nearly two decades apart from each other, seem to be a part of a more recent independent movement, one that is indebted to Cassavetes but which also owes a heavy debt to Antonioni. So, the gritty attempt to capture something true happening is pulled from America, and the wandering philosophizing from Italy. Yet, there is a real sense of being lost in these more recent films (literally in Gerry) that can’t help but beggar the question, is this a celebration of aimlessness or artists never arriving at a destination? Because in Shadows or La Notte, the characters end up someplace, the search itself is not enough.
It’s random theorizing. Clearly I need to see Gerry, and I need to finish It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books to find out if this endless train ride ever stops, if anyone ever does something or even says something of any import, before I can come to even the beginning of a conclusion (and this wandering makes me no better than what I may end up deriding).
Interestingly, I am engaging in an exercise for novel 3 where I am creating an interview with my main character, and just yesterday, he said, “The thing is, though, when it comes down to story, I have no need for the real world. I live in the real world, I am opening up a book to experience another. It’s why I often have a few scenes of an exaggerated reality, a hyper reality, in each story, to signal to the reader this is not a place you know, it’s different.“
Update: Near the conclusion of the movie, Linklater shows his main character watching TV, as he has done several other times throughout the film, each lengthy clip containing a clue to the film we, as the audience, are watching. The final one is a foreign movie, where a woman says that all lives are dreams, searching for connections to other dreams. Arguably, in the last scenes of the movie, where the character is told that a person he knows who has had many traumas in the past year should not be alone and he then mails a letter (to whom, we do not know), we are seeing him finally learning that he should be making these connections with other "dreams" and the letter is a way to reach out--but I don't know, it seems a rather slight message for all the work that goes into it. And if it is a dream we are watching, aren't dreams usually more complex and coded than this?
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2004 Jamie S. Rich