Monday, August 21, 2006

N.O. better blues


Aug. 20, 2006 | NEW ORLEANS -- People had been talking for weeks about how the New Orleans premiere of Spike Lee's much anticipated Hurricane Katrina documentary, "When the Levees Broke," was sold out, so it was a little eerie when we arrived at New Orleans Arena Wednesday night to find that fewer than half of the 14,000 who'd reportedly snatched up the free tickets actually showed up for the event. Maybe they'd heard there would be no alcohol sold in the arena. Certainly Lee's ambitious film -- sweeping in its scope, emotionally intense and a challenge to watch in one sitting -- could drive just about anyone to drink. It's also possible that all those people who didn't show up don't live here anymore. The new New Orleans can be a pretty lonely town sometimes.

Which is partly why watching a Katrina documentary with thousands of other local residents -- certain to be a gut-wrenching experience -- also carried with it the possibility of catharsis. All summer long, apprehension about the first anniversary of "The Storm" (First? Really? Why does everyone look 10 years older already?) has been steadily building. With so many people still assessing their losses, coming up with a meaningful commemoration can be difficult. I know that 11 months ago I would never have predicted that I might be sitting in the arena across the street from the Superdome -- eating nachos, no less -- eager to watch more footage of what I thought I'd witnessed too much of already.

Lee kept his introductory comments brief, thanking the audience for the opportunity to tell their story. He encouraged people to laugh at the funny parts. Given how common inexplicable weeping spells are around here (as I write this from my neighborhood coffee shop, there is a man next to me reading his e-mail and sobbing intermittently -- I don't even ask anymore) everyone seemed relieved to hear that there would be funny parts, even if they did turn out to be few and far between.

Lee has frequently stated that at four hours – apparently the longest running time ever for an HBO original movie -- "Levees" is still not long enough, nor complete, and he's right. But through hundreds of interviews, "Levees" admirably covers an entire spectrum of events and circumstances. Starting with Katrina's landfall and the flooding from levee breaks, Lee moves quickly into the rapid spread of conspiracy theories and the government's refusal to address them. We see familiar footage of the botched evacuation, as Americans became refugees in their own country, and witness, again, how it was the inaction of elected leaders, not bad weather, that led to the subsequent breakdown of their lives.(read entire article)


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