Thursday, August 31, 2006

When the Levees Broke

Bear with me here for a moment...

A lot has been made over documentaries in the last few years. From Moore to Spurlock to Gore, and the documentaries made in response to those documentaries, wonk culture seems to be all wrapped up in documentaries as propaganda.

I watched Bowling for Columbine, and was impressed by the focus on the very real study of the infection of fear into the American media. Then the Fat Beard threw all respect away when he pulled that childish stunt with Heston. I could barely watch the other one of his, and found it mainly worthless. On the other hand, Spurlocks's Super Size Me was nothing short of brilliant, IMHO.
I have not seen An Inconvenient Truth because I've already read Silent Spring, Our Stolen Future and I watched almost every National Geographic Explorer on Sunday nights from what feels like 1985 to 1992 (not to mention the wealth of NG magazines my father had on subscription).

I have now seen Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke three times on HBO. I was hesitant because of who made it, and the bad rap the aforementioned documentaries. But having seen it many times, I have to say that it is very well done.

I would write a defense for it, as many folks I have spoken to on the East Coast refuse to even watch 3 minutes of the film, writing off any value in the piece because of their views of the author. I would write a defense for it, but someone said it better than I ever could.

Oyster of Your Right Hand Thief:

Certainly the devastation in the ninth was the visual centerpiece of the film. However, there were clips of devastated Lakeview mansions as well. As a former Broadmoor resident, I didn't see many pictures from my old neighborhood, but I was too engrossed in the film to keep score. When a black Lower Ninth Warder was shown standing in the street by a pile of moldy debris... you know what? I was able to identify with that! Months ago, my belongings were also in a big pile in an empty, dusty street, and I had an uncertain, fatigued look in my eyes! That's not a "white" story or a "black" story-- it's a Katrina story. And shame on anyone who can't see that!...When I saw an African-American Broadmoor resident being interviewed in Lee's film, I felt like I was listening to a neighbor tell his story. It didn't occur to me that perhaps my neighbors pigmentation caused the flood to affect his house differently than mine.
Perhaps the critics are now the ones who have become hypersensitive? YRHT also mentions another sticking point the critics had with Lee:

Fourth: And as far as the "bombing the levees" conspiracy goes... I think the documentary's refutations were solid and explanatory, as were the extended follow-up shots showing the barge that caused the sounds which were interpreted as explosions. Perhaps this could've been refuted more decisively, but Lee presented a persistent myth: there are many who wrongly believe the levees were bombed during Katrina and Betsy. Obviously Lee doesn't subscribe to this view, because he named the film "When the Levees Broke", not "When the Levees were bombed".

But still the critiques wouldn't stop, and neither would Oyster. I loved reading these.

Y'all, you may not agree with every opinion proferred within the interviews of When the Levees Broke, but there are a lot of different stories that are told. It is a difficult film to watch, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch it. No single interview negates the power of the whole: the news footage, the images, the personal testimonies and tragedies, the music, and the stories of what happened when everything went wrong.


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