Richard Brody gives A.O. Scott a history lesson:
1. Scott claims that postwar Italian neorealism found echoes throughout the world but that “in the United States, neorealism has sent up only fragile shoots.” In fact, there were plenty; see under film noir (the Jules Dassin retrospective currently at Film Forum offers some choice examples); also films by Abraham Polonsky (“Force of Evil”), Robert Rossen (“Body and Soul”), John Berry (“He Ran All the Way”). But the blacklist put a stop to much of it. Then, there was also “Marty”; there was “Blackboard Jungle”; there was “The Harder They Fall.”
2. Independent films picked up the slack: films by Morris Engel (“Little Fugitive”) and Lionel Rogosin (“On the Bowery”). Later, there was Michael Roemer’s “Nothing But a Man”; films by Robert Mulligan (“Love with the Proper Stranger”); “A Patch of Blue”; Jerry Schatzberg’s recently reissued “Panic in Needle Park,” his “Scarecrow.” Neorealist-like films became the basic independent-film trope: whether the films of Victor Nuñez or Gregory Nava; pretty much John Sayles’s entire career; Eagle Pennell’s “The Whole Shootin’ Match”; it’s long been a staple of Sundance (see “Maria Full of Grace”).
3. Scott mistakenly cites Kent Mackenzie’s “The Exiles” and Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” as examples of American neorealism. “The Exiles” is one of the best counter-examples to neorealism that exists; same with Burnett; Mackenzie is a psychologist, Burnett a romantic; both reject the facile materialism of neorealism.
4. The reason there wasn’t even more American neorealism in Hollywood is that another form of realism—method acting—was coming to the studios. It conjured a degree and an intensity of psychological reality far greater than any to be found elsewhere at the time in world cinema, by opening up characters’ sex lives, hidden desires, deep emotional wounds—nothing less than the acknowledgment of the dignity of the individual over the limits of the social category