Monday, August 30, 2010

If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise

This is the latest Spike Lee Joint, and I watched it yesterday evening after my sister went home. It’s the follow up to When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts, which I haven’t seen. Essentially, it focuses on what is happening in New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina.

I can’t say I absolutely loved it, but I’ve been thinking about it all day, so that has to mean something. If anything, it is powerful and put together extremely well. I read The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley a few years ago, and have been fascinated by the epic failures at the city, state, and federal levels in New Orleans both pre and post Katrina ever since.

The documentary consists of interviews and footage of New Orleans residents, writers, journalists, activists, experts, and many others (including Brad Pitt) discussing the rebuilding of New Orleans from various standpoints – such as the housing, projects, crime, and schools. It veers off to the earthquake in Haiti for a little too long, and also for quite awhile into the BP oil spill toward the end.

Given that it’s Spike Lee, the predominant viewpoints on the issues raised are the ones he thinks are correct. Although he did appear to minimally attempt to show other viewpoints (because none of the issues faced are easy ones), both the time spent and the way the film is edited does not leave you wondering which view is the “right” one according to Spike Lee. For example, some detail is given on the decision to tear down the projects and build mixed income housing in their place. The predominant viewpoint shown is that this was the wrong decision and it was a terrible thing to do to those who lived in the projects. (Nevermind that it would have cost a fortune to fix the damage that was there both before and after Katrina.) While he showed one or two people who stated their views that the mixed income housing was a better idea for long term growth, their bland statements didn’t exactly compare with scenes of a group of people emotionally screaming and yelling at the city council meeting. He also – as per usual – did everything he could to make President Bush look bad and President Obama to look good, when the truth for both is somewhere in between.

That said, I’m a huge fan of Spike Lee’s directing. He has such a way of using music and images that is so unique and memorable. (One of my all time favorite movie scenes is from the 25th Hour where Edward Norton is in the bathroom talking to himself in the mirror.) It’s clearly a Spike Lee film. In fact, that is probably why I am still thinking about this documentary. While it doesn’t take much to put together a collection of the horrifying images of New Orleans post Katrina, somehow the way Spike Lee does it, in conjunction with the soundtrack, sticks with you and evokes stronger feelings than usual. (Another Spike Lee scene I love is the use of Fernando by ABBA as the camera scans over a car with two dead bodies in the front seat during Summer of Sam.) So, kudos to him for that. The guy knows how to make a movie.

My only real complaint is that it is four hours long, and at certain points starts to feel a little tedious. For example, at the beginning of the first hour there are scenes about the New Orleans Saints Superbowl win, with throngs of people in the French Quarter singing the “Who Dat” song, and it tends to drag.

Now I just have to watch When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts. I wonder if they are showing it on HBO anytime soon.

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