TW: Sexual Assault
As I mentioned in my last blog, I really wanted to do a film analysis of When the Levees Broke, but since I wasn’t sure how to go about it, I looked up some guidelines from a few websites. This film analysis website had the easiest step-by-step guideline, so I’ll be using it for my blog, but I’ll skip the parts that I’ve already done with my two previous blogs, and I’ll only focus on the film techniques.
Film Techniques that I liked About the film:
- Shot angles:
- The zoom shots, and the extreme close-ups
- The zoom shots, and the extreme close-ups
- Flashforward and flashbacks: The integration of clips from news footage, and other recordings, was consistent throughout the film, and executed really well. These clips provided the audience with a sense of how it felt to live during the time of the hurricane. They also granted the audience an understanding of the past.
- Diegetic Sounds: The synchronous sounds from the music within the film intensified the emotional atmosphere of the film, such as the jazz music played at the end.
I found Spike Lee’s 1996 film Get on the Bus to be an interesting, although not satisfying, look at Black American masculinity in its multitude of forms in the mid-1990s. One aspect of the movie that stuck out most for me was the depiction of queer (in this case, gay or MSM) identity. I was particularly interested in the character of Kyle, played by Isaiah Washington, a black, gay republican whose relationship difficulties play out on the bus over the course of the movie. One detail I noticed during the screening is the book that Kyle is reading during the road trip.
The book is called B-Boy Blues: A Seriously Sexy, Fiercely Funny, Black-on-Black Love Story. Referred to by most simply as B-Boy Blues, the book was the debut novel of writer James Earl Hardy. The novel tracks the love affair of Mitchell Crawford and Raheim Rivers, two young Black gay men in the early 1990s. More broadly, B-Boy Blues is “about the lives of black gay men in New York City [and] is unabashedly and unapologetically written for the African-American male. Rough, sexy, humorous, and authentic, B-Boy Blues is a first-rate love story.”
Many black queer folks talk about the impact that B-Boy Blues had on them– especially the significance of being able to read a love story about someone who looked and talked and loved like them. I’ve attached an article here that I think describes pretty well just how important this work was at this particular period in time.
B-Boy Blues was published in November of 1994, less than two years before the release of Lee’s Get on the Bus.
I probably wouldn’t have noticed B-Boy Blues in Kyle’s hand had I not read the book before. I’m glad that I did though, because Lee’s inclusion of the novel in his film says something about black gay men’s culture in that particular moment– or at least the way that it was being represented in media at the time. Hardy’s B-Boy Blues brought the very siloed conversation of different expressions of black gay identity (i.e. anything other than effeminate expression) out into the mainstream. In some ways, this made the representation of Black gay identity that was Kyle’s character (a macho military-serving, Black, gay, republican on his way to see Farrakhan) possible.
Towards the end of the semester, we spoke about the economy of Lee’s films, and all the other kinds of things he has to produce in order to maintain his independence and his ability to produce films on his own terms. That there are people who disparage him for this was upsetting and unsurprising to me: the logic of artists suffering/starving for their art is a lot more of a reality for marginalized people creating art, and so it’s more distressing to the establishment when someone challenges that model.
In that vein, I remembered hearing that Lee had financed his last movie, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, over Kickstarter. The campaign page is pretty interesting, especially the FAQ that Lee set up. I encourage everyone to go check it out: it offers some interesting insight into Lee’s understanding of himself in the Hollywood economy.
“Chi-Raq” is, without a doubt, the film I discussed the most outside of class. From deep conversations with classmates to rants with anyone who would listen, I spent so much time
complaining talking about this movie. However, I never got around to blogging about it because I honestly didn’t think it was worth my time. This review accurately sums up almost all of my initial thoughts. However, with a few weeks of reflection, I’ve decided to attempt to formulate my rant in a productive way that seeks to explore and understand the real work of “Chi-Raq”.
On April 30th, I had the opportunity to attend the DH showcase in the Center for Humanistic Inquiry, and I will be highlighting a few of the things I learned. If you are confused about what Digital Humanities is, you can check out my previous blog about it here.
Professor Parham, whose also the director of the Five College Digital Humanities, introduced the showcase by stating the necessity of having such an event. She mentioned how creating informal settings where individuals can comfortably share their works, generates better conversations and encourages people to be more involved in DH projects. She also emphasized the power of social media in establishing connections within the DH arena.
Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for two of the presentations, but I thought that the works done by these two speakers was really cool. The first was Professor Martin Norden, who is a film historian and a professor of communications at Umass. He teaches an interesting film course that utilizes multitudes of digital, online historical newspapers to convey to his students how history is ever changing. In the course syllabus, students are required to engage with past films in conjunction with articles that were produced at the time. It seemed like a really fascinating course, and I might even take it some time before I graduate.
The second speaker was Alana Kumbier, a librarian for the Social Sciences and Digital Pedagogy at Hampshire College. She has been leading a DH project known as Zine Scenes, which will be offered as a course in the upcoming fall semester. Zine Scenes “evoke[s] the relational, highly interpersonal modes and cultures of zine dissemination and to help ‘digital natives’ understand what it was like to encounter and participate in communities of zine makers and readers before the spread of email, online social networks, and digitized collections.” Hampshire students have actually contributed to a lot of the project’s success, and the lead student, Norah, even got to present her piece in the beginning of the day. You can access the project here if you want to find out more.
I have to say that I believe that When the Levees Broke is Spike Lee’s best work in the past 15 years. It saddens me that he makes movies like Inside Man and Chi-Raq (so BAD) to satisfy the desires of the studios. His earlier, smaller budget movies are so provocative and layered because he was more invested in them as both a director and writer. But at the same time this is one of the few times that he is absent, both physically and as a mastermind force. While there certainly is a bias to the film, nearly all the participants are black. Yes, the population of New Orleans is predominantly black, but there are people of other races! The only time white people were interviewed were Sean Penn, the pretentious couple who were in pompeii, and the drunk woman with the thick accent: Not great examples of diversity. But despite that caveat he steps back and lets other people tell their story for once (ok, yes, he has done other documentaries). For once his message is not idealistic or unrealistic; he is rooted in reality.
For me the most heartbreaking moment is when the old woman returns to her destroyed home for the first time. I can’t imagine that happening to me and I felt so emotional when she truly realized it was all gone.
One thing I did not particularly appreciate is how Lee made a montage of photographs of drowned bodies. I had seem them before on the news, but only the ones of people floating face down. Lee went too far when he showed faces and severely bloated bodies. He needs to remember that these were people. They have families and histories, and they met a tragic end. He should have been much more respectful.
Also its a sad but cool coincedence that Wendell Pierce was interviewed as he has appeared in two other Lee movies: Get on The Bus and Malcolm X