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.
“Neo-Neo Realism,” A. O. Scott’s piece in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (and already online), about a new trend in American independent filmmaking, offers lots to think about. His argument is based mainly on the recent films Wendy and Lucy, Ballast, and Frozen River, as well as the films of Ramin Bahrani (whose Goodbye Solo will be released on March 27), made on location in diverse American locations, about working-class characters, sometimes using non-professional actors. These are films made skillfully and sincerely under difficult circumstances; they are, in many ways, admirable. But I think that Scott makes a little too much of them. His ambitious article ranges widely over the history of cinema; I think it rests on questionable premises and reaches dubious conclusions.
His numbered list of eight objections, running to more than 1,000 words, was meant to demonstrate that my essay “rests on questionable premises and reaches dubious conclusions.” This is Mr. Brody’s way of saying that he and I like different movies, and that he wishes I had not paid so much attention to Wendy and Lucy, Ballast and the films of Ramin Bahrani, director of Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo. (For some reason, he also twice makes mention of Frozen River, which is not discussed in my article.) He would rather I had discussed Gran Torino, Frownland and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
This whole debate, for me at least, is amazing. I love it when two people engage in intellectual banter. I personally agree with A.O Scott, but many people in addition to Brody find flaws in his article. What are your thoughts on neo-neo realism and on this debate?