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When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts


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I blogged a link to an article about this a while back, and Lee was talking about how he's going to present the claims of New Orleans folks who swear they heard bombs going off and breaking the levees in an act of deliberate sabotage.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I honestly can see why many people would believe this. New Orleans is overwhelmingly poor and black. Tensions between races are very high, and the gap between the haves and the have nots is so huge...

On top of all that, things *have* been done to black people (besides the horrors we already know about) - forced sterilizations, the Tuskeegee "experiements" where untreated syphilis was allowed to run its course and the luckless "participants" were observed as if they were lab rats, etc. etc. etc.

Not only have those things been done to black people, but levees in New Orleans were blown up by wealthy white people during a 1927 flood which resulted in the flooding of poorer neighborhoods. The New Yorker had an article about this last fall.

The best-known writer to come from the Ninth Ward is Kalamu ya Salaam. A poet, playwright, and civil-rights activist, Salaam used to go by the name of Val Ferdinand. When I told Salaam what I was hearing in New Iberia and Houston, he laughed, but not dismissively. He said,
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Whoever broke these stories on Spike's latest (I've seen several different versions now) obviously doesn't know or care about what happened in 1927. Or else these people would *not* look or sound "crazy."

No, they just sound pathetic by attaching recent events to something that happened 80 years ago and by people long dead. Any documentarian that entertains that notion would also be pathetic and an opportunist by linking two completely unconnected events. Why give creedence to half-baked theories when the facts are so readily available? This should have been a non-story given the truth of the matter. But now the media angle has changed to this nonsensical drivel. Another urban legend is born, and grows big and fat on half-truths, innuendo, and lies.

Seriously, this is just pathetic. Especially referencing some vague "they" adversary. As if. "I figured they

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Exactly.

Are people capable of such callous disregard for others in 2006? Yep, as much as they were in 1927 - or any other year you could name.

Show me proof, as compared to hearsay and myth, where that applies in this instance. Otherwise, for the people who are espousing this drivel, it is opportunist, unprofessional, and damaging to the dialogue.

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No, they just sound pathetic by attaching recent events to something that happened 80 years ago and by people long dead. Any documentarian that entertains that notion would also be pathetic and an opportunist by linking two completely unconnected events.

Are you familiar with the fact that history often repeats itself? Regardless if it did in this case or not, this the first I heard of the '27 scandal, so I'm already grateful that the documentary and this thread have enlightened me to that fact. The film could be about nothing more than people channeling the pain of their recent past into the present moment, and that alone would greatly interest me.

Why give creedence to half-baked theories when the facts are so readily available?

Well I don't know if they're half-baked or not; I don't even know what the theories are, I haven't seen the film yet.

This should have been a non-story given the truth of the matter. But now the media angle has changed to this nonsensical drivel. Another urban legend is born, and grows big and fat on half-truths, innuendo, and lies.
Just for clarification, did you mean "the truth" or your assumptions about the truth? Personally, I think documentaries that question prevailing wisdom in a thoughtful manner should be treasured. Documentaries that also give voice to the silent minority who aren't courted by the mainstream media should also be commended. Lee recently made a very fine documentary short, We Wuz Robbed (2002), about the illegal purging of thousands of voters from Florida's 2000 voting rolls, and his 4 Little Girls (1997) is a very powerful documentary about a white terrorist bombing of a black church during the Civil Rights Movement. On the basis of those films alone, I'm certainly willing to suspend judgment until I see what his new film offers.

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He also made it very clear in the interview that he's presenting the opinions of the people who went through it, giving them a voice, and with so many voices apparently espousing that theory, it's only fair to include it. Lee didn't say he embraces the theory.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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No, they just sound pathetic by attaching recent events to something that happened 80 years ago and by people long dead. Any documentarian that entertains that notion would also be pathetic and an opportunist by linking two completely unconnected events. Why give creedence to half-baked theories when the facts are so readily available? This should have been a non-story given the truth of the matter. But now the media angle has changed to this nonsensical drivel. Another urban legend is born, and grows big and fat on half-truths, innuendo, and lies.

Seriously, this is just pathetic. Especially referencing some vague "they" adversary. As if. "I figured they

Edited by utzworld
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  • 3 months later...

He spoke about this in relative length in an interview with Mark Kermode on Radio 5 a while ago. It should be archived - check under Inside Man, cos he was promoting that too at the time.

It sounds fascinating to me. I think people here have picked up on the whole conspiracy thing a little too much. From what he said in the interview I heard, this is just one small aspect of the documentary. I understood it to be mostly about disenfranchised poor people - black and white. I say bring it on! His work may not be accurate but it's always a refreshing change to routine blandness.

Oh and as for the subtitle to this topic - since when has he stopped being angry?! Have you seen Bamboozled?! (although, admittedly that was 6 years ago) But even Inside Man had traces of Spike sparks in it.

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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nardis wrote:

: As far as I can see from the pieces I've read, Spike Lee is not espousing consipracy theories or talking

: "drivel." He is trying to give a voice to people who wouldn't get a hearing in any other way, especially

: not outside of their own communities. I find that admirable.

Um, well, that depends on what those voices are saying, doesn't it?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Thanks so much for your comments, Alan; my only hope (apart from a fluke in my schedule that allows me to see it at TIFF) is for the film to be released on DVD soon. It can't be soon enough.

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OK, I'm writing my thoughts up into a review, and I just realized that the structure of the film -- four acts -- closely follows the structure of a Jazz funeral. First, there's a recounting of the death and the sorrow. Then a sober reminiscing of the good times and the life of the deceased. Finally, there's a look to the future and the life to come.

N'Awlins 101, y'all! Hopefully Spike closed out this flick (I haven't seen it yet) with a good ole fashioned Second Line strut down the French Quarter - umbrellas and all!

Edited by utzworld
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Spike Lee does a really good job in this one, sure his politics are all over it, but it's not just quick caricatures either. He also does a good job at providing international context as well as socio-political issues and historical context (specifically, as to why there is a tendency in New Orleans to mistrust the government), even some "unexpected" ones, like global warming. And yes, there does seem to be a particularly spiritual framework to the film, even in the telling of anecdotes.

My only quibble was that the visual device used for introducing the interviewees in the epilogue is similar to something I'd seen recently in Fran

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Alan Thomas wrote:

: Spike gives a lot of attention to Christian hope.

FWIW, I watched a whole bunch of Spike Lee films in a very narrow span of time several years ago -- during the lead-up to He Got Game, IIRC -- and I was struck by this weird disconnect in his films, where the documentaries often seem to include pro-faith elements, whereas the fiction films seem to tend to denigrate religious belief. Has anyone else noticed this? And if so, how would you account for it?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 4 months later...
N'Awlins 101, y'all! Hopefully Spike closed out this flick (I haven't seen it yet) with a good ole fashioned Second Line strut down the French Quarter - umbrellas and all!

I FINALLY saw this in November 2006...and yelled back at the TV during the whole doggone thing!

I was glad to see that the film did indeed end with a good ole fashioned Second Line strut after all. Yeah, they didn't strut down the French Quarter, but they did get their strut on. Made me proud.

FYI - the DVD has a brand new 90 minute (or so) Epilogue where Spike revisits the folks in the film to check up on them. I have the DVD but haven't seen the Epilogue yet.

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Did you "yell" because of the injustice and tragedy, or was there something Spike Lee did wrong?

Funny. The few opposers of this film searched for a reason to yell at Spike when all he did was just turn the cameras on and start filming. The utter shame of the injustice that these people - Black AND White - suffered was what kept me yelling.

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This film is a solid 4.5/5 or 90 on the ratings list--our highest-rated documentary, ahead of Born Into Brothels, An Inconvenient Truth, March of the Penguins, and others.

So...five votes. Who are the other *three* viewers of the film besides Chris and me? Whadya think?

I saw it over Christmas at my parents' house. It was still available on HBO On Demand last week. I don't have much to add. It seemed like Spike did a good job of simply letting people talk. The "controversy" over the people who thought that the levees were blown up, was "blown" way out of proportion. He shows some of the history and recent conditions that could lead to people making that connection, while also making it clear that it did not happen. There is enough of an indictment of American society present in the film that there is no need for embellishment.

Chris, I'd love to hear about the Epilogue once you have watched it. I wonder if it was filmed before or after the area's largest commercial insurer announced they were going to cancel all of their commercial property insurance in New Orleans this year.

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