FOUR ACTS| WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 6.36.20 PM.pngSpike Lee broke up his documentary into four acts. At first, I thought that he split up the four parts based on chronology– beginning with preparation for the storm, then people’s experiences during the the storm, then moving into the aftermath and finally the political stakes of the consequences. I do still think that the way that Lee broke up the acts was somewhat chronological, but I’m not sure if that was his only intention. In thinking about other factors that influenced how he broke up the acts of the documentary, I noticed that the narrative of the film was not just unfolding the timeline of the storm, but also the process of realization of the political-economic causes and effects of the storm, as well as how they intermingled with history, oppression, notions of citizenship. Does anyone else have any ideas about how Lee decided to split up his acts, or did most people think it was simply chronological?

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for posting this, Julia! I spent a lot of time thinking about how the Four acts were broken up as well. It’s challenging because some acts feature time stamps, providing dates at the bottom, but we don’t always move through events chronologically. I began to think about each act in terms of theme or message instead of as chronological events, but it was so hard to remove the timeliness of everything from the film. I was particularly struck by the news clips in Part 1 that give the sense that the viewer is actually experiencing the anxiety leading up to and during the storm. The latter two acts seemed to be doing the work of pulling in as many possible angles to approach the aftermath, and did seem a little scattered in this work, definitely not moving through them chronologically. I think holding the themes and chronological events of the storm in conjunction and holding them on a non-linear spectrum helps to move through the incredibly immersive documentary.

  2. Like Lauren, I don’t think that Lee formatted the acts through a chronology of all of the events. However, it depends on the chronology that you chose to pay attention to. If you strictly examine the progression of the aftermath, based on the residents’ experiences, you’ll find that Lee adds other events based on relevance. For example, the second act focuses on politics, because it is necessary for the audience to understand the despicable origins of the circumstances in New Orleans, and the history of New Orleans (in either the third or fourth act) is integrated later on, because culture was a part of the loss in the aftermath.

  3. I think the four acts make more sense when considering When The Levees Broke as an epic film that builds on the art form of the requiem. A catholic requiem mass is composed of 9 parts, and classical composers that wrote music for these masses would follow similar structure. When portions of that traditional structure are omitted, what’s left is usually four parts: Introit, Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. I’m not sure how content wise Lee’s four part film is informed by that structure but it helps to have this understanding when approaching his self proclaimed requiem.

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