Suite: Billy Pilgrim
Apropos of Nothing

What Oft Was Thought But Ne'er So Well Expressed (Empurpled Prose Edition)

Would you look at that weeks-long gap in posts, now.  Tsk, tsk, tsk.  Shameful.  And this one almost won't count, since it will be devoted largely to a decades-old quotation from someone else.

Post-war Italian neorealism is one of the glaring gaps in my personal cinematic experience, but that takes nothing away from the opening paragraph of James Agee's October 1947 review of Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine.  If you incline to the view that we humans from Earth now find ourselves in the thick of somehting resembling a clash of civilizations -- I waver on this characterization myself, depending on the evidence of the day -- then this is a fairly fine statement of what the side of Good stands for, or should:

The elementary beginning of true reason, that is, of reason which involves not merely the forebrain but the entire being, resides, I should think, in the ability to recognize oneself, and others, primarily as human beings, and to recognize the ultimate absoluteness of responsibility for each human being. . . .  I am none too sure of my vocabulary, but would suppose this can be called the humanistic attitude.  It is still held, no doubt, by scattered individuals all over the world, is still nominally the germinal force of Western civilization, and must still sleep as a potential among almost unimaginably large numbers and varieties of people; but no attitude is more generally subject to disadvantage, dishonor, and misuse today, and no other is so nearly guaranteed extinction.  Even among those who preserve a living devotion to it, moreover, few seem to have come by it naturally, as a physical and sensuous fact, as well as a philosophical one; and fewer still give any evidence of enjoying or applying it with any of the enormous primordial energy which, one would suppose, the living fact would inevitably liberate in a living being.  I realize that I must be exaggerating when I think of it as hardly existing in a pure and vigorous form anywhere in contemporary art or living, but I doubt that I am exaggerating much: I know, in any case, that Shoeshine, because it furnishes really abundant evidence of the vitality of this attitude, seems to stand alone in the world, to be as restoring and jubilant a piece of news as if one had learned that a great hero whom one had thought to be murdered or exiled or corrupted still lives in all his valor.

[Found while reading the Library of America's American Movie Critics anthology at bedtime.  Shoeshine itself is apparently not available on DVD; other notable De Sica films, neorealist and otherwise, are.]


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