‘Innocents and Others’ by Dana Spiotta – Women and Their Movies

‘Innocents and Others’ by Dana Spiotta   (2016) – 275 pages

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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.

 

Grade:   A- 

 

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting. When I saw the title I assumed this would be a non-fiction book, but clearly that’s not the case. How did you feel about the blend of fiction and references to real films and people (the tidbits on the history of filmmaking you’ve mentioned)? It sounds as though it worked here.

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    • Hi Jacqui,
      Although fiction is nearly all I read, I have no problem with learning some actual history or other information along the way. It shows the writer’s enthusiasm for their subject. Somehow I believe subjectivity is a more honest and real approach to a subject than objectivity, but I have no problem when fiction writers include facts in their work. It is done well in ‘Innocents and Others’.
      That may not be a great title, is it?

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      • I see where you’re coming from, makes sense. Yes, I wasn’t sure about the title – it could be interpreted in different ways.

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        • ‘Innocents and Others’ probably relates to a situation where one of Meadow Mori’s films causes someone great humiliation. In that sense the title is appropriate, but it does not seem catchy.

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  2. Great review Tony. I’d never heard of this but it sounds great – I’ll keep my eyes out for it.

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    • Hi kaggsy,
      This summer I have resorted to crime fiction a couple of times, not always with the best results. It is kind of nice to come across an avant-garde work like ‘Innocents and Others’ that is quite likeable.

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  3. Oh, this sounds great! I am so glad I read your review, because I love her work, but read a lukewarm, or possibly even bad, review in some paper or other and then decided not to. I am fascinated by filmmaking–I wish I’d gone ahead and read it. Oh, well, it will be in paperback by the time I get to it, so at least I will have saved a few dollars.

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    • Hi Kat,
      I was not familiar with Dana Spiotta before reading ‘Innocents and Others’, but now I will be on the lookout for her work. It is reassuring to find a writer doing something new and different so well.

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