August 22, 2006

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts

I just got done watching Spike Lee's new HBO documentary, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts." My wife, who was born and raised in Slidell, just across the lake from New Orleans, a community equally hard hit by Katrina, had to get up and leave the room because she thought she might have a panic attack. That's how striking this documentary is. And I'm pleased to report that Lee achieves this without taking any of Michael Moore's effective yet impudent (adj 1: marked by casual disrespect; "a flip answer to serious question") tone. Moore's brand of mock naivete and sass isn't appropriate here. And why not? I kept wondering as I watched. Why isn't Spike narrating over top of these images? I kept waiting for his now iconic voice--that kid-trying-to-be-cool voice that I first heard in Air Jordan commercials back in the late 80s--to come in with that hip-hop politico swagger, but he restrained himself. And what a difference it makes.

Although there are some moments where the nice is twisted, particularly at the beginning when Louis Armstrong sings "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?" over top of stock news footage of the inundated city. For me, this is the big question that the documentary is asking me to grapple with. The photos and news footage gathered from CNN and other networks ask us to review the evidence and ask: Can you fathom this? How could this happen? Human beings left for four or five days without food or water at the New Orleans Convention Center and on interstate overpasses. Armed mobs blocking the Crescent City bridge so that inner-city New Orleanians cannot seek shelter in their white enclave.

What results truly is a requiem, a solemn service to the dead. In short, Lee has done this right. He has jazz musician and composer Terrance Blanchard as a talking head and a contributor of original music for the soundtrack--one that doesn't just--again, like Moore--ironize, but that rounds off the sharpness, the sting of the photos in such a way that doesn't feel sentimental, very much anti-CNN. After all, sentimentality, according to Flannery O'Connor is "an early arrival at a mock state of innocence," a condition that leads to obscenity rather than actual grief.

It is grief that a requiem, in its very structure and solemn pageantry, is meant to provide a proper outlet. It is is meant to affirm the gift of life even amidst doubt and darkness. Without having seen the second part, which airs tonight on HBO, it's too soon to say where Lee will leave us off, but I suspect we won't be let off easy.

Lee's documentary reminds me of a classic of the genre, Harlan County, USA, in which poor white coal miners and their families eek out an existence in a place that looks like a Sebastio Salgado photograph. Similarly, "When the Levees Broke" shows America to be not so different than your typical despot-ruled third world country: concerned primarily with wealth and war.

August 12, 2006

Book is Out, Apparently

Well, it seems that the book is out. Finally, after many delays and false alarms and sabotage attempts--no lie--by disgruntled employees of at the printer in Montreal, the book is, apparently, in warehouses all across the country. I say apparently because has changed the status of the book's availbilty from "We have no fricking clue. Good Luck!" to "In Stock."

And,also apparently, the book is selling. As of this morning, tells me, there are "only 3 left in stock" at their warehouse. I'm hoping that this means hundreds of copies have been shipped to the four corners of the earth; although, I suspect that several dozen are heading for Perrysburg, Ohio--where my parents live.

The next step is to place some excerpts from the book in various places to promote more sales. So far I have leads with Killing the Buddha , the award-winning online website for those who aren't exactly atheists but aren't exactly believers either and The Huffington Post, the online political and cultural news clearing-house. This last lead has an interesting wrinkle in that the editor I've been working with is passing my book on to John Cusack, who, she told me, expressed interest in the premise of my book. Apparently, she was talking with John at a party at Arianna Huffington's house one evening and mentioned my book to him and he--who has just finished shooting a film in which he plays a guy whose wife is killed in the line of duty while serving her country in Iraq--apparently--said, "I'd liked to check it out."

Weird. Wonderful.