Monday, August 18, 2008

Flickers 2: The Cinema of Katrina; "Badlands" as Screwball Western

Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, a made-for-HBO documentary released in 2006, was heartbreaking and beautiful, an angry, illuminating piece of work that captured the tragedy of New Orleans, post-Katrina.

It was sad because of the obvious, and poignant in part because of the emotionally devastating interviews with people whose lives were destroyed by the storm, and the footage of the hurricane-wrecked neighborhoods. Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard's mournful pieces underscored the poignance of the film; he subsequently released an album's worth of music written for and inspired by the movie.

Katrina cinema has practically become a genre unto itself, according to a piece by film critic Dennis Lim, published in Sunday's New York Times.

Lim examines such documentaries as Sundance winner Trouble the Water, The Axe in the Attic and Kamp Katrina. Sounds like a film festival waiting to happen. Proceeds from such a fest could be used to raise funds for Katrina's homeless.

Terrence Malick's much-revered Badlands has rightfully been praised as a gorgeously lensed meditation on alienated youth, and a lost West.

Celebrated Brit-born critic and film historian David Thomson, in a piece published in the September issue of Brit film mag Sight and Sound, takes a contrarian view of the 1973 film, calling it "a screwball Western."

More: "It's a kind of grim screwball comedy - or a realisation that this America has gone past the point where it can take serial killing simply for what it is. The gap between murder and laughter is now itself a joke, and the cowboy sheriffs who eventually nail Kit are parodies of old-time posses, feeding on Kit's celebrity, his greasy comb and the way he looks like that Dean guy. I had not realised until my most recent viewing how far Badlands is poised on the edge of being a comedy - and I suspect that at the time it was made that verdict was far from the minds of the makers. But that is how art can push up concrete if it is a strong enough green shoot. The music by Orff and Satie is not pretentious, but comically ambitious. Sheen's deft sparring with words lampoons a society where everyone else speaks with monumental simplicity - though Holly is clearly a wishful creative writer who speaks in sentences probably written in purple crayon in her exercise book."

Badlands was recently re-released. To read Thomson's complete essay, go here.

No comments: