‘Innocents and Others’ by Dana Spiotta (2016) – 275 pages
An alternate name for ‘Innocents and Others’ would be ‘Women and Filmmaking ’ but that would be too formal. The first thing you notice in ‘Innocents and Others’ is the creative and endearing use of words. It sizzles with energy, intelligence and wit as few novels do. This writing is almost sensuous. Dana Spiotta could write about nearly anything, and I would happily read it. In this novel she writes mainly about the making of movies.
‘Innocents and Others’ jump cuts from scene to scene just like some of the indie films which are its subject. Very little of the novel is exposition; instead it captures the moments of living for these female filmmakers. This novel would probably be considered an experimental cutting-edge fiction, but it is not cold and analytical as some experimental novels tend to be. It is warm and easy to like.
The novel starts with a strong 32-page tour-de-force. This is a ‘How I Began’ installment that independent documentary filmmaker Meadow Mori has written for the ‘Women and Film’ blog. She talks about her living arrangement with an elderly male film legend (Orson Welles?) which began just after high school. It is written in such a way that the reader may question if the affair really occurred. Anyway this opening is so clever and entrancing that there is no way the rest of the novel can match it. Not that the rest of the novel isn’t winning, just not quite as captivating.
One of the side benefits of reading ‘Innocents and Others’ is that it contains a lot of tidbits on the history of filmmaking from the very first films by the Lumière Brothers to Charlie Chaplin to Ida Lupino to Orson Welles to Jean-Luc Godard to Alfred Hitchcock. My own independent research found that many of the very first short films by the Lumière Brothers made in the 1890s can be viewed on YouTube. Here and here are examples.
There are three main characters in ‘Innocents and Others’, the aforementioned documentary filmmaker Meadow Mori, her best friend Carrie Wexler who makes silly but popular teen comedies, and a gal simply called Jelly who hacks phone calls and is the subject of one of Meadow’s documentaries. There are also a few male friends and lovers met along the way.
In ‘Innocents and Others’, Dana Spiotta has accomplished the near impossible. She has written an experimental novel which is still very likeable on the human level.