Is there a literary equivalent of cinema verite?

Gary and I made the mistake of arriving spot on time to see The Bourne Ultimatum Saturday night. The only seats in the packed house were way up front, and after two hours, my eyes felt like a couple of fried eggs. Over hard. The whole movie is shot in cinéma vérité. ("French for cameraman with hangover," says my cynical spouse.) My eyes naturally fought to focus, and the effort left me with a C-clamp of a headache.

It got me thinking, though. What is cinéma vérité about? What does it actually do to the viewer, physically and emotionally? And is there a way to do the same thing with a book? An enlightening article on filmeducation.org sheds this light:

Cinéma Vérité literally means ‘film truth’ in French and was a style of film making developed by film directors in the 1960s. The film directors of the Cinéma Vérité movement strove for immediacy, spontaneity and authenticity in their films, primarily through the use of portable and unobtrusive equipment, such as small, hand-held cameras and the avoidance of any preconceived narrative line. Cinéma Vérité was characterised by the use of real people, as opposed to actors, in unrehearsed situations. Sets and props were never used and everything was shot on location.


Immediacy. Spontaneity. Authenticity. All those are doable. The challenge would be bringing that jarring in-your-face-ness to the narrative passages. A book that came close to achieving the cinéma vérité effect (for me anyway) was the fantastically funny and utterly out of hand novel Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison, which is actually a string of scenes as experienced by a Hollywood screenwriter with ADD. I was so engrossed in this book that I was genuinely unable to put it down while I got a mammogram. Talk about immediacy. Yeah, baby.

Insights, anyone?

(A little aside: How trippy was it to sit there watching the chase play out through the streets of Manhattan, London, Paris, and Tangier and be able to say, "Hey, we were there." Gotta love a movie that travels like we do.)

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