Sunday, December 7, 2008

Requiem for New Orleans

I am quite proud of myself this evening. Today I went along to ACMI's Spike Lee retrospective and took my seat for Lee's HBO documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. All 256 minutes of it, too, and with only a ten minute intermission to appear people's stressed bladders and my weakening stomach (sushi was a good quick saviour or else the grumbles of my empty stomach would have echoed throughout the Cinema 2 for all to hear). It was actually a good experience to test myself. I've watched long movies before, but never four and a half hour cinema experience - the longest film I have ever watched is, I believe, Gone with the Wind on DVD - so it was actually nice to know I could handle it.

I tend to find documentaries make me sleepy, so the prospect of sitting in a cinema for over four hours watching one made me worry, but I pulled through with flying colours. Maybe if ACMI somehow manages to get the original Che programmed I could try for that one too, as opposed to seeing Soderbergh's film split into two (hi Grindhouse!)

And what of the film itself? Well, it was very good. Emotionally draining, fundamentally stupefying and incredibly well made. I couldn't ask for any of it to be cut as it was all so vitally important to the film Lee was making. And, on the subject of Lee himself, I was glad he showed restraint by not inserting himself (either his face or his voice) into the proceedings. Many up-and-coming directory filmmakers could take a cue from that. No need to show lighting setups and the director asking questions, okay!

I did cry once and it was a moment I suspect many viewers had to wipe tears away as a mother (below) buries her five-year-old daughter after Hurricane Katrina. I was surprised Lee didn't mention the goings on of the Superdome more though. I know a lot of the stories that came out of that place were as fictitious as they were horrific - a point brought up in the film - but there's no denying that that place was a Hell-on-Earth situation. The stories that came from Australian tourists trapped inside were the stuff of nightmares.

It's a shame that this film isn't available on DVD and hasn't screened on TV. An introduction before the film mentioned rights issues with some of the news footage found within the film, which is perhaps the reason why, but this film deserves to be seen as the definitive article on a terrible incident. I, for one, wasn't aware it was as bad as shown in the film so I'm both grateful and saddened. I'm definitely glad I took this truly awe-inspiring film in as it's truly great stuff. A-


Paul Martin said...

I didn't see you there, Glenn, but it was a pretty good turnout for a 4 hour documentary. I agree with your evaluation and the funeral was the bit that got me the most. I think the film is best suited for its intended medium, television.

Kamikaze Camel said...

You could definitely tell it was a television production. The structure of it was definitely better suited to the small screen, but it was great nonetheless and I actually think it made a lot of the images far more shocking. Seeing it on a big cinema screen and all.