Tuesday, August 22, 2006

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Last night I watched the first two acts of Spike Lee's documentary on the Katrina disaster in the 'Big Easy'. First, I liked the fact that Lee let the people who were actually there speak to tell their experience. He didn't overlay the story with an omnipotent narrator to lead you down a winding road of hersay or theories. You were looking in the faces of the victims who were there and had to experience one of the worst preventable disasters in recent American history.

It was befitting to call the documentary a requiem. New Orleans is known for jazz. In this case, the musical setting not only highlighted the plight of the natives but the overall feeling of sadness and foreboding. The score produced by Terence Blanchard, who also was displaced by Katrina, doesn’t overwhelm the movie, but highlights the faces and voices of those affected by this tragedy. It is this sense of tragedy that comes though the music as face after face is shown in despair and frustration. In one part of Act II there are pictures of children alone and wondering through the streets; you can’t help but think of your own children, nieces, or nephews in that horrible situation. You can do nothing but pause as the sublime music carries you to the depths of your soul.

It is a very compelling story of government failure at the highest levels. From the mayor to the president, our government failed at a time when something like should not have happened. Starting with Mayor Ray Nagin, Lee lets him talk and provide his defense concerning his actions from his initial order to evacuate to his meeting during day 5 with President Bush. There is, at a point, an unfair comparison between Nagin and former NYC mayor Gulianni. Based on the events that took place Katrina vs. 9/11 you should have different responses. I agree with Mayor Nagin when he states that 9/11 was a confined disaster while Katrina devastated a whole city. It would be comparable to the whole of Manhattan flooding affecting everybody in the city. Can you imagine a mass evacuation of Manhattan or Washington DC. But having said that I do think a comparison of leadership ability is inevitable. It hard for me to say what Mayor Nagin could or could not have done under those extreme circumstances. But it was obvious from the documentary’s perspective that all government officials had some blame. (Even though I think Lee was easy on the governor.)

I am looking forward to Acts III and IV, tonight. If it is anything like the first two acts it will be convicting. It’s hard to watch and not wonder how could this have happened to us? God have mercy on our souls.