Thursday, August 17, 2006

Anyone have anything to say about Spike Lee's Katrina movie?

Is anyone going to say something about Spike Lee's movie, "When the Levees Broke"?

I know a few local bloggers opted out of the Arena premiere, having other obligations to tend to. Same here -- so I'm reluctant to comment.

Because I'm extremely curious, I looked for what I could find in The Times-Picayune today and

With the caveat that I haven't seen the movie, from what I can gather, in short, it appears that the movie title should have been, "When the Levees Broke in the Lower Ninth Ward."

Both Dave Walker and Stephanie Grace are a little too diplomatic for my tastes, but then I wonder what I would say if I could say it to Spike Lee in person (I'd like to have the opportunity).

Stephanie Grace summed up Lee's failing very obliquely:

Lee treats local public officials like he treats everyone else. He lets them speak at length and with heart-on-the-sleeve passion, and he doesn't question them -- even when he should.

I don't want to go down this road, but I have to -- we all have to if we're truly going to address what happened during Hurricane Katrina, what continues to happen, and in fact, what happened before Hurricane Katrina.

Racism? Sure, I'll more than allow that the experience of black New Orleanians during Hurricane Katrina has to be viewed within a broader context of the disenfranchisement of poor blacks from the prosperity of the greater society. But was racism the cause for the criminal negligence Americans watched unfold in that horrifying week after Hurricane Katrina, as though they were witnessing something that only happens in the poorest countries? We ought to be able to have a civil discussion about it.

I don't think so -- I don't think what happened in that first week was racism. It was, plain and simple, criminal negligence. You see, the real story to be told, which Spike Lee is missing, is how -- not just how the white upper class exploits poor blacks -- but how the black upper class exploits poor blacks too. What we've seen in the planning process -- or the lack of a planning process -- since Hurricane Katrina might be called racism, but even there, I'll argue against it.

Why? Because, presumably, the mayor is in charge. He's the highest political leader in the city, and he's black. The black community is also well-represented on the City Council. Why would they want to deny the black community a humane evacuation strategy and a smooth recovery?

The answer, I believe, is political opportunism -- playing the racial card for facile access to, and maintenance of, political power for personal fortune.

I felt like I ought to use the adjective "poor" before every reference to neglected blacks described in this post. Why? Because that really is the key. There is nothing, for example, by way of comparison, that Spike Lee has been disenfranchised from having or accomplishing in his successful career. Oh sure, he'll probably tell you that his barriers to entry into film-making were higher than for whites, but what can't he have now that all but a tiny sliver of people at the top can enjoy -- wealth, access to power, a prominent voice in society?

Can Spike Lee be faulted, then, for his narrow perspective on Hurricane Katrina?

Were I able to talk to him about it, I'd say yes. He chose to only present the experience of a few thousand black residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, when flooding impacted hundreds of thousands of blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians in every area of the city. Their stories are no less tragic. Lee also skimmed the surface for the easy examples of black heroism, and white racism, or neglect of blacks. Nagin is the hero, a title earned on a single night on the airwaves hollering at officials in Washington to get off their asses. But what of Nagin's incompetence and neglect in the months before Hurricane Katrina, when he could have instituted an evacuation plan, and in the months following, when he could have demonstrated his support for poor black New Orleanians by actively engaging them in a planning process to rebuild their neighborhoods instead of leaving them to the vagaries of market forces.

Were the levees blown? Lee doesn't offer strong evidence that they weren't, leaving open the allegation that they were. This is possibly the wildest of legends that needs to be hit hard and buried for good. It's easy to find detractors if one looks for them. For example, I talked to an engineer on site in the Lower Ninth Ward who's a Marine demolitions expert. He said that the force of water breaching the sheetpiling would have made a horrific sound -- like an explosion -- but that if the levee wall were dynamited, there would have been millions of pieces of sheetpile shards scattered around the area. Are there? Well, of course there aren't, because the levees weren't blown.

The real story is actually far more insidious.

I was talking to the_velvet_rut about this months ago. In a way, she suggested that it might be fair to suggest that the levees were blown -- not instantaneously in one event, but rather, in a long, slow process of neglect and incompetence. But that neglect hurt whites just as much as it did blacks and everyone else in between. It's a story about what happened when the Reagan administration called government "the problem," and thus began a twenty-year dismantlement of vital programs -- like Corps of Engineers levee projects. It's a story about institutional failure within the Corps of Engineers. It's a story about administrators cutting corners to keep projects within budget rather than listening to the scientists who know better. It's an ongoing story about a president who would rather see New Orleans die than commit now to a bold project to protect the city from ever flooding again with Category 5 storm protection and wetlands renewal to be the envy of the world.

If anything, the mainstream media overemphasized the experience of people in the Lower Ninth Ward to the exclusion of everyone, and everywhere else. Is that racism? Well, in a way, it is -- it's probably racism expressed as pity.

Were I to do an objective documentary about Hurricane Katrina, I would be grossly misrepresenting an understanding of the event by focusing on only one race -- or one geographic area. A vast territory, 80 percent of New Orleans, and over 300,000 people were impacted by flooding directly when the levees failed.

No, I'm not sure I want to see Spike Lee's documentary anymore. I think I've already seen it, and those of us who are intimately living with, and dealing with, the real-life results of the levees breaking, are seeking true answers to why it happened, and how to prevent it in the future.

From what people whose opinions I respect say they've seen in the first two hours of Spike Lee's film, he isn't helping, he's hurting that process.

8/18/06 update:
Read the comments for an ongoing discussion. As difficult as it may be for me to do, by my own admission, and after an effective persuasive argument by "anonymous," I can't honestly carry this conversation forward any further without seeing the movie myself.


Blogging New Orleans -- Why I won't see Spike's movie, but you should

Maitri's VatulBlog -- Avoidance of Requiem Rodeo

SpasticRobot -- When the Levees Broke

Newsweek -- Spike's Katrina

Tags: | | | | |  | Bush is a moron | Impeach Bush | George W Bush | Bush | Worst President Ever | Spike Lee | When the Levees Broke | Katrina Dissidents | Failure Is Not An Option


At 8/18/2006 07:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like you should have actually seen the film before making statements and rather specific criticisms like these:

"You see, the real story to be told, which Spike Lee is missing..."

"...narrow perspective on Hurricane Katrina..."

"He choose to only present the experience of a few thousand black residents..."

"Lee also skimmed the surface for the easy examples of black heroism and white racism or neglect of blacks..."

"Lee doesn't offer strong evidence that they weren't, leaving open the allegation that they were..."

At 8/18/2006 08:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, really....
Everyone who is commenting on this movie should really see the movie before they comment. Dave Walker, a really nice guy whom I know and respect a great deal, did everyone a great disservice by publishing the review before the movie was out or before everyone in NO had a chance to see it.

For example, you seem to have a fully formed opinion based on a couple of reviews. Don't you think that you should see something like this, something that is potentially so inflammatory, yourself? I'm telling you that I sat through all 4 hours and apparently I wasn't at the same film that Walker or Grace were at. What I saw were people who were/are my neighbors who have had similar experiences to the ones that many of us have had and they were allowed to tell their stories in a very dignified and often suprisingly lighthearted way. Sure, most of them were black, but by no means were all of them black. I mean, what they hell? This city is and has been majority black for a very long time. What difference does it make who is telling the story of insurance rip offs, floods, death, destruction, evacuation, return, redemption and triump? We all had the similar experiences and it is, in fact, a movie. The characters in it are really interesting and compelling individuals and I am of the opinion that were I doing this kind of thing I would have felt very lucky to find people who could tell their story as well as they do. There were two white women from Ycloskey (who were really great), a great guy from Uptown, a white couple from St Roch, the guy who owns one of the Captain's houses down in the Ninth W, a VERY white couple from Park Island (where the hell is that? It must be pretty ritzy-these people were just a touch on the clueless side), and many others.

The movie was about New Orleans. Sure, the Ninth got plenty of coverage, especially visually, but I would say that, all things considered, you would have to be pretty damned clueless to sit through that thing for four hours and have some misconception that the trouble was not just a hair more widespread than "flooding in da Nint Wahd"

I happen to LIKE the fact that he didn't just sweat the hell out of all of the politicians. What would have been the point? A twelve year old could bait Governor Maw Maw at this point and get her to start stuttering about whatever it is that is being addressed. Any fool can get Nagin to start spouting off about what he did and did not do. Do we really want to see more of that? I believe that it was much more interesting to just let them go-to just let them say what they had to say. After all, at least they had the nerve to get in front of the camera-the real culprits like Bush, Chartoff, etc. would not come near the thing. They are too smart and have too much to hide. At least our own elected officials are willing to talk about it and are making efforts (however small-don't get me started) to try to do better WHEN it happens again.

So, in short, watch the thing. See what YOU think. This whole business of discussing movies that you haven't seen and reviewing books the you haven't read and talking about food that you haven't eaten has just gotten rediculous.

At 8/18/2006 10:42:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Good. I know I'm going to take some criticism. I still doubt I'll see the movie anytime soon -- maybe eventually. I respect Spike Lee's perspective, but on one count alone, I'm going to take him to task if this is true. Dave Walker criticized him for the one myth that needs to be *roundly* put down: That the levees were blown to somehow sacrifice poor black residents of the Lower Ninth Ward to somehow save rich white residents of other areas. Based upon the the fact that levees failed as much in poor black neighborhoods as in rich white neighborhoods, and everywhere else in between, this really shouldn't even be open for discussion. But sure, since some people believe the industrial canal levee wall was dynamited, let's have a discussion, present the evidence, and kill the issue once and for all.

You said that I "seem to have a fully formed opinion based on a couple of reviews. Don't you think that you should see something like this, something that is potentially so inflammatory, yourself."

You're right. I positively *do* have an *exaggerated* opinion about some things that I can't tolerate.

I'll take just one issue: that of the Industrial Canal levee being dynamited -- so much so that I emphatically refuse to patronize anyone or anything which espouses the view. Why? Precisely because I care about, specifically, the very same people Spike Lee spends most of his time documenting in the movie. Their cause isn't advanced by promoting that nonsense. In fact, quite the contrary. They set themselves up for greater exploitation by allowing themselves to be duped and chained to an ideology of racism where none exists.

Ask yourself this: Would you entertain the idea of going to a four-hour movie which advanced the view that the holocaust was a hoax?

I wouldn't -- and I don't see any reason to see such a thing.

Did you actually read the Dave Walker review.

Pay attention to what he said here about how Marc Morial is exploiting the rumor of the levee being dynamited:

"The film's most troubling passage has been anticipated since HBO announced that Lee would make it.

Early in the opening act, several witnesses swear they heard explosions before the Florida Avenue breach.

Refutations are made in follow-up sound bites, but the overall takeaway is that intentional levee destruction might've, could've, probably happened.

For both Katrina and Betsy.

There is value in exploring how such impressions are made and last, but absent any real evidence beyond inexpert testimony -- and there is no evidence introduced in the film -- such notions must be presented as folklore and nothing more.

Here, they're presented as likely fact, in a confusing sequence of quotes and clips that mix references to Katrina and Betsy with the one time there actually was an intentional levee destruction, during the Mississippi River flood of 1927. That breach inundated St. Bernard Parish.

"During Hurricane Betsy, there were rumors, and it became almost an article of faith with people in the community that the 9th Ward flooded because there was an intentional breach of the levees," former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial says to Lee's camera. "It was never investigated. It was neither proven nor disproven. In this case, for the government and others to sort of dismiss it without looking into all of it is not doing the people or the public a service."

In this context, the same could be said for statements just like that.

Morial is a frequently recurring character in early parts of this film, and his righteous indignation at how seared he was by watching his fellow New Orleanians suffer in the toxic water is leavened by the fact that he had eight years to plan and practice an evacuation that might've better served his city."

I won't hide my complete contempt for Marc Morial. He's an SOB who exploited the race card and talked down to black New Orleanians while ripping them off behind their backs.

Note how sly Morial's inference to something happening -- no doubt about it -- he's slick. But he could just as easily slapped down the ridiculous notion that the Lower Ninth levee was blown. He's no idiot. He won't do it because he sees the gain in pandering to a constituency that *wants* to believe they were sacrificed -- that *wants* to believe they were singled out for a racist action. Oh ... they've been singled out for racism of other kinds, but blowing the levee is just a diversion from the real exploitation occurring at the hands of the wealthy power elite in New Orleans -- both white *AND BLACK*.

You've certainly got me thinking about a couple of other things.

As an aside, you offered a couple of clever phrases, e.g.:

"A twelve year old could bait Governor Maw Maw at this point and get her to start stuttering about whatever it is that is being addressed."

Nevertheless, I'm not convinced I need to see the film. I may, but I'm far from convinced right now.

At 8/18/2006 10:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One commenter on bloggingneworles said this:

"Lee included only one or two people who said they believed the levees were blown, and around ten people, from all parts of the city and walks of life, who offered other explanations."

Not addressing the issue would be dishonest, sounds like he addressed it correctly. Relying on a movie reviewer, who is looking for a hook for his column anyway, should not suffice to form an opinion.

Anonymous #1

At 8/18/2006 11:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Folse puts this blowing up the levee BS in perspective.

At 8/18/2006 12:00:00 PM, Anonymous Sophmom said...

I read this and can't help but think of "Apocalypse Now" and that silly made-up Russian roulette game. There were so many real horrors in Vietnam and Coppola made, in so many ways, a great film. There was no reason for him to make up a false horror. It tainted the whole thing for many people.

I'm a little confused about something though (and please pardon my ignorance). Is there speculation that the Industrial Canal levee was blown? I thought an improperly secured barge crashed through it.

At 8/18/2006 12:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am no less of a fan of Morial than you are and I fully understand the power of Urban myth in a community that has perpetuated similar myths for many years (i.e. levees being blown).

On the other hand, I feel like Morial, taken at face value in the one or two minutes, in total, that he appears in the film does bring up a good point. Wouldn't it be better to have an explanation of the breaks (particularly the one in the lower 9 where, clearly, it's very likely that a barge either caused the break or made it much, much worse)? Just deal with it as an investigation of the failure, release the info, and get on with it. If people want to believe something, they are going to believe it (I myself still have a deep, abiding belief in Mr Bingle-though I know that he doesn't exist... anymore).

Also, as a kind of disclosure, Mr Walker should have mentioned that his home suffered major damage and that, beyond being a New Orleans based writer that he also has a horse in the race and is not purely an impartial observer.

As far as the levee break scenes go, I felt like there was much more evidence to contradict what the first people, who DID hear the noise-whatever it was-than there was any kind of evidence that there was some evil plot. Of course, I have seen the movie, so I can form that opinion easily. I think that, rather than sitting around discussing something that you haven't even seen , you might want to watch the thing.
It's always much more interesting to have a discussion with someone who has an informed opinion.

Over all, I feel like the movie gives a pretty broad and evenhanded view of the situation. Why do I care if it comes from Heidi in Lakeview or Gina in the Lower 9? We ALL had pretty much the same experiences. Everyone who had their home destroyed, everyone who stayed for whatever reason, everyone who evacuated and found themselves far from home, and everyone who has come back to this city to rebuild whatever was left has had a similar experience. What does race have to do with any of that? Surely much of the difficulty has to do with poverty, and as a city where the majority of the poverty is centered in the black community, there are going to be more stories about them as opposed to stories about people in Lakeview who got flooded. Also, don't forget, home ownership in the Lower 9 was pretty high-we are not talking about all renters here. The people in that film, mostly, were people that lived in houses that THEY owned. While they might not have been a stylish and sophisticated 3 bedroom, Brady Bunch Ranch in Lakeview, they were family homes nonetheless.

There were more black voices than white voices. Big deal. There were more black people in New Orleans than white people. It kind of made sense to me.

At any rate, this is rediculous to discuss any further as, apparently, this discussion can continue based on other people's opinions rather than your own.

Thanks for the props on the Gov. Maw Maw line-I liked it myself.

At 8/18/2006 01:59:00 PM, Blogger jeffrey said...

From what I've seen and heard of Spike on the subject, it seems that his intention was to let his subjects speak for themselves. Not having seen the film, I deduce from that the interviews are going to be all over the map with some (perhaps many) people saying nutty stuff absent of any editorial correction. I'm okay with that. I want to see this movie.

Secondly, I'm certain I don't need to tell any of you that the existence of the "myth of the dynamite" true or not speaks volumes about the history of the well earned suspsicion of the powerful by the powerless.

We've all read Rising Tide so I don't have to repeat to any of you that there was at one time an actual conspiracy by the powerful to sacrifice the powerless by dynamiting levees.

I don't believe the industrial canal levee was dynamited. But I also don't believe that they would not have been if those with the means to so believed they would benefit from it.

The fact that the myth exists says something relevant about the context of New Orleans and its history. I don't have a problem with its inclusion in a film.. particularly given the film's format.

I may change my mind when I see it. I don't think I will.

At 8/18/2006 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Many of those family homes were, you must admit, inherited, not purchased. I only mention it because in that context, home ownership is less a symbol of power than it is of powerlessness. While it is certainly irrefutable that owning a home rather than paying rent or a mortgage reduces one's expenditures -- let's be honest -- it also subsidizes an economic system that keeps people oppressed. It's the equivalent of a sharecropping arrangement.

Having said that, I've gone on record elsewhere saying that the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood I've come to know is as strong and as supportive a community as any I've ever known. Homeownership could be used to leverage that strength, if it were paired with education. It isn't, and I'd argue therefore, that homeownership in this case not a path to greater success, but is rather a response to oppression. It's sort of like what happens on the outskirts of Third World cities where squatter communities become established to support an oppressive economy.

Now, you know that Morial doesn't *really* believe that the Industrial Canal levee was blown, just as he knows that levees weren't blown in 1965. I don't disagree that an official, independent investigation might be warranted to dispel the myth, but why doesn't Morial just say it -- why doesn't he just tell people the truth about what he believes -- why doesn't he just say, "I think it's a total fallacy and a disservice to society to suggest that the levee was dynamited. That's why I support an independent, solid investigation, so we can dispel this rumor once and for all and move on with the rebuilding of all of our neighborhoods, free from the suspicion of such blatant racism"?

Do ten opinions versus two add up to what you portrayed was "much more evidence to contradict ... any kind of evidence that there was some evil plot." Or was they're actual evidence -- or at least expert opinion?

Mark Folse does indeed make a good case that Spike Lee didn't create the mess, nor should he be blamed for it. In a world where all that matters is the emotional impact of such images, I'd agree. And that's all Spike Lee appears to be doing. I admit, I'm out of my depth here without having actually seen the movie. Nevertheless, however tragic and heart-wrenching and angering such images are, we dishonor the subjects of those images if we don't do better to find out what really happened -- if all that's done is to repeat the images.

Okay, it may be nothing more than a cathartic reminder that Spike Lee was striving for. That's fine. But don't believe for a second that he didn't make editorial judgments. Did he -- and maybe you could answer this question -- repeat the claim by Eddie Compass that children were raped in the Superdome?

Again, I'm out of my depth not having seen the movie. I think it will be some time, and after considering the recommendations of people I respect, before I will see the movie. As you can tell, I'm plenty fed up with people like Charmaine Neville going around telling people the levees were dynamited. I'm sick of it. Sick!

And again, the truth is far more insidious. Did Lee spend any time on that?

At 8/18/2006 05:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cimino, Deer Hunter put Christopher Walken on the map, remember?

At 8/18/2006 06:47:00 PM, Anonymous Brooks (anonymous blogger above 2 long posts said...

Sorry about the anonymous stuff. I honestly am not used to commenting on this kind of blog and I didn't realize that I could just stick in my name without regsitering.

Good point about Morial. I feel the same way. In fact, as opposed to EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE MOVIE, I really, really wish that Lee had not given him any kind of voice. I personally believe that he, along with many of his cronies in CRIME, is part of the reason that the city has shown no improvement in the important areas that we can all name in our sleep. I was glad to see him run like a dog with his tail between his legs just after Jacques Morial was arrested and I was totally shocked and dismayed when the Urban League dissappointed, once again, by hiring him. Sadly, Bill Jefferson is probably in line for the same kind of appointment.

All of that aside, you raised the question of Eddie Compass. Compass was willing to appear on camera and explained his side of the story and Lee neatly wrapped that into a multi person explanation of how most of the stuff that Compass was claiming on the talk shows where he was, briefly, the Golden Boy, false or completely overstated. It was pretty well done and in fact, I left there, as I am sure that others did, with a better understanding of what happened and how.

Which brings up something else that, until I was interviewing folks before and after the movie (I was stringing for a Canadian paper that night), it really had not occurred to me that if you happened to have gotten stuck here, were evacuated on a bus or a plane to a shelter, and then moved on to other circumstances-there was, it turns out, a pretty effective personal news/video blackout in effect. Many of the people that I talked to after the show had not seen all of the footage that was shown and, though they had perhaps even been IN the footage, somehow were under the impression that they suffered the worst of it. Tunnel vision, personal blinders, traumatic memory loss, whatever. They only knew that they had "heard" about all of the stuff going on in the Dome and the Convention Center and they assumed it to be all fact. After all, they were AT the Dome and the Convention Center and it was plenty unpleasant, so it COULD have happened, couldn't it? Those people, until Wednesday night, had no real reason to believe otherwise.

Sure it's a year later and many people have had time to figure it all out if they had the time and the wherewithal to do so, but, really, who has the time? Hell, I have pretty much stopped watching TV at all. House being rebuilt, divorce in the works, day job, freelance work, volunteer work, and the just general daily inconvenient grind that is living in New Orleans proper these days don't leave me much time for TV. I can imagine that many people have even less time than I do. I happen to make my living staring at a computer screen and whacking away at a keyboard so I DO have time to search the net for information that I need and I am bright enough to know that all of my information, if I am going to form an opinion and expound on it, must come from pretty broad sources-so I know what's up. Most people can't do that all day long and into the night.

My point here is that Lee's film, among it's other uses, will provide information-pretty good, evenhanded information, to the rest of the world in a way that is heavy handed, yet, somehow, palatable.

Pathos, humor, and a clearly overwhelming interest in the subject, in the people, have served him well, in my opinion and will, eventually and inevitably serve all of us just as well. People will watch this. I am a documentary nut and I'm telling you that this thing, if you view it with an open mind going in, is pretty much as good as it's going to get. If I had to depend on something that was going to get the message out that we are absolutely NOT OK I would probably start with this. I wouldn't be far off the mark if I did.

He covered as much as you can cover in 4 hours. Sure, it could have had some more pasty white folks, but I really think that there were plenty. It told a stoty that needed to be told as completely and fully as it's going to be told for a very long time (and in the visual format probably AS completely as it's going to be told.

And after you watch it, we'll talk about it some more. While we are sitting on our virtual "raggely ass porches waving at the rich folks driving by." (you won't get this until you hear the two Ninth Ward welder guys who are shown throughout the thing-I loved those guys)

At 8/18/2006 08:33:00 PM, Anonymous Sophmom said...

You're right! It *was* Deer Hunter, not Apocalypse now. I falsly accused Coppola. My bad. Thanks, anon. Cimino still didn't need the false horror. There were plenty of real ones. Although, it did seem to work out for CW (and it was still a pretty darn good movie).

At 8/18/2006 08:33:00 PM, Blogger velvet_rut said...

What about that other great Katrina myth, the one I hear bandied about approvingly among many white folks?

"Well, you know that THEY [NOPD, Guard, Wh...I mean, Blackwater] finally just started shooting looters and thugs and dumping them in the river. Hundreds of thugs and looters! Dumped! Into the River!"

Did *that* happen?

Anytime I question that one, I get, "Oh, no, you naive thing! Tut-tut. I have it on EXCELLENT authority from many sources -- cops, military people. priests..."

I tend to think that the "kiiled 'em/tossed 'em into the river" myth is kissing cousin to the blown levee myth.

I can't bear to watch the Spike Lee documentary. I'm still too tender from being out of my mind and entirely psychically numb during most of July > until about a week ago. (Just a little vacation.) I am curious, though; a couple of constitutionally critical smart people I know who went to the Arena on Wed are calling it "the best work Spike Lee has ever done."

HBO should provide it free-of-charge to NOLA Cox to loop on one of its self-promotional channels. Either that, or Cox should just unscramble the HBO for the telecasts (including repeats).

At 8/18/2006 09:59:00 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Having heard (indirectly, online) from people who did see the initial screening, I think its impossible to judge the film without seeing it. I also get the impression that the Picayune reviewer came in as a movie reviewer with far too much personal baggage and not as a journalist. Everyone here carries so much racial baggage around that its an entirely plausible explanation for the review (how dare he not make a movie about Lakeview). I don't know who to trust on the movie until I see it myself.

I'm frankly pissed off that we're going to spend the next few weeks going on and on about Spike Lee and who suffered more, whites or blacks, etc., when we should be taking about what happened to everyone when the federal levees failed.

I think all of us in the NOLA Blogger world have to not lose site of that.

At 8/19/2006 04:19:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Brooks (thank you for posting your name -- it is *so* annoying to correspond with "anonymous"), please consider attending the Geek Dinner. There's no reason to be bashful. None of knew each other before the last (first) Geek Dinner. I know -- there's also the Alternative Media Expo which your might be considering. I'll be busy hopping around on Saturday from the airport to the Geek Dinner, and on to the alt media expo if I don't get too engrossed in conversation at the Geek Dinner. The AME gets low priority on my list, BTW -- Antigravity isn't the most generous bunch with their outreach.

sophmom -- I wanted to respond earlier to your question about the barge ramming and breaking the levee wall. That was an early theory which has, I think, been discredited. It's more likely that the barge was forced through the already formed breach. The breach hole was something like a hundred yards wide. The sheetpiling on either side was warped and bent away from the canal. There's no way a barge could have done that much damage. The breach was caused by the *explosive* effect of a Category 5 storm surge (which in Mississippi was over thirty feet high) going straight up the funnel of the MRGO (where its strength and speed was amplified), and into the Industrial Canal where it inevitably found the weak point in the levee wall.

Judy was right on the money to post a link to that brilliant TP flash movie by Dan Swenson which shows it all in graphic detail.

My first hand experience, Brooks, with "Golden Boy" (good description), is that he's a super guy to have as a friend, but he's an attention whore who will do almost anything to remain in the Golden Boy spot -- even lie. It's his Achille's heel in an otherwise fantastic human being.

I could have gone further with the film's impact. I think you're absolutely right about the video blackout effect. Those of us who got out probably already saw Spike's movie on CNN. For those who didn't, or for those who don't understand New Orleans, it's probably the perfect film for them to see. I'm truly glad it was Spike Lee who did the film, because his name and his empathy for people will give the rest of the world a greater appreciation for how profoundly tragic this event has been. I'm even (guardedly) glad that he didn't slam people like Nagin (though he have had every right to). I'd prefer that the nation continue to point fingers at Washington than at local officials. The bottom line for me is that notwithstanding Ray Nagin's incompetence, if George W. Bush wanted something to happen, it would happen. Where's Lyndon Johnson when we need him?

VR -- I'm really glad you mentioned that other urban myth. You know I have access to the inside scoop on some of those stories. I don't have first-hand accounts. What I hear are third-party accounts -- I'll hear someone say, "(such and such) told me that he was out there and someone started shooting at them, and he and his buddies just fired everything they had in that direction." I have heard a first-hand account from a sometimes unreliable source that he shot people who were firing at him. I have heard stories of law enforcement and National Guard shooting at people from helicopters. And yes, I've heard the same stories that Blackwater was out there clearing New Orleans East for rescue workers. You will probably recall the story about the sniper shooting at medical personnel downtown who was "taken care of." There has been no investigation that I know of. No police reports. No follow up. A Times-Picayune reporter said he had heard things he couldn't report because no one would go on record to substantiate the stories. So where *did* the bodies go if any of these stories are true? Is is plausible that they were thrown in the Mississippi? Doubtful. It's more likely they'd have been left where they died, and counted among the many missing. I doubt that a coroner's report would classify deaths as shootings versus flooding if a body were picked up weeks or months after the event. And by the way, lots of bodies have over the years been found in swampy areas of New Orleans East where they are very easy to hide. Having said all of that, I still want to believe that those claims of open and unaccounted for shooting are exaggerated -- and still, we know for a fact that the NOPD was involved in open firefights with gunmen who wanted to challenge them. I talked to a fireman who said he was shot at. He was in a gun shop when I met him, and he said he was buying a gun to make sure he was never left outgunned again. I talked to a National Guardsman who said that for him, the most troubling thing about the Katrina week was the people shooting at him -- when he was there to help with rescues. Did he shoot back? He said yeah -- to defend themselves. There were gangs of people roaming the streets burglarizing and raping. I've heard first-hand accounts of that kind of thing. The problem with all of these things is that it's difficult to substantiate them so they can be officially reported. And thanks to people like Eddie Compass going over the top, now no one is willing to pursue the stories.

And yeah, VR, Cox should be required by the City Council to run that movie back to back on one of their free channels.

I don't do cable, so I don't even have access to that. I'll probably have to wait for the DVD.

Mark -- that just about sums it up, doesn't it. We're in this critical phase of recovery when all the pistons need to be firing on time, and we're getting dragged into these discussions about a movie. Maybe that's okay though -- I sense that people elsewhere in the country need an emotional recharge to remind them that we're still here, and we are most definitely *not okay*.

At 8/19/2006 05:54:00 AM, Anonymous Sophmom said...

Thanks, Schroeder. I did understand the dynamics of the MR-GO funneling the surge, but I had also heard about the barge. It has also been my understanding that a a breach of that nature would have been "explosive", producing a sound that could easily be confused for a set explosion. I'm afraid that you're right, those rumors will persist.

Brooks, you should go to the Geek Dinner. I came down for the last one (from Atlanta). I didn't know a soul before I walked in (my kids thought I'd lost my mind). I had a great time and am so sorry I won't be there tonight (did anybody end up going to help Loki get ready?). It's really wonderful to meet in person and talk with folks with whom you've already been sharing ideas. They're diverse and friendly. There won't be a dull moment.

At 8/19/2006 08:49:00 AM, Blogger Tara said...


What a great dialogue you have going here! I am looking forward to seeing the Spike Lee film -- partly because I am a fan of his work and I appreciate that he has mostly stayed true to his vision as a filmmaker. I can't imagine him even thinking of making a film that would chronicle the Lakeview neighborhood, or other neighborhoods, to the extent and depth he would focus on the 9th Ward. Lee's got an agenda, and that's OK because he doesn't pretend otherwise. Based on what I have read here and in the Walker review, I am not at all surprised by the tone of the film.

You raise a good point in your Holocaust film analogy. But we have had 60+ years as a society to understand what happened during the Holocaust, to review it from all angles, and there are still some crazy MOFOs out there who would argue that it was, indeed, a hoax. Katrina is still fresh in terms of socialization/historicizing...that's probably not a word, but you know what I mean. There is still a lot left to this story to be told, even discovered.

I think the best thing about Spike Lee's film will be that it keeps the post-Katrina recovery process in the limelight, and it keeps people thinking about New Orleans and by extension, the Gulf area. It's kind of a "bad press is better than no press" situation. It may not encourage the desired dialogues in all circles of discussion, but given what I have read here in your comments, the film is achieving the goal of keeping people talking.

Sure, you in New Orleans can't not talk about it becuase it is your home, your lives, your world. But looking in from the outside, I want to believe that it will benefit the recovery process by keeping the event on people's minds.

When you are not in day to day, or you don't have a vested interest due to being a former resident or having family or friends, etc. who were directly affected, there is an element of forgetfulness. I actually overheard someone at work talking about me behind my back in the lunch room Thursday at work. They said they saw the HBO promo for Lee's film and that they were sure Tara would be posting e-mail reminders encouraging us all to watch because, "she can't let go of that mess."

People suck sometimes. So, yes, the staff of 60+ will be getting an e-mail reminder Monday morning to watch the film!!

Anyway, as always I can't thank you enough for simply existing. I appreciate the time you take to craft your postings and then to reply to almost every single comment that is made. You have been my best resource for information about the city for the past year.

The Geek Dinners sound like a wonderful time!

At 8/19/2006 11:13:00 AM, Blogger Donnie McDaniel said...


I think this one is the one you might give thought to for a guest blog at The Dem Daily. Let me know.

At 8/19/2006 11:52:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

That's a nice thought Donnie, but I don't think they'd be interested -- don't you think this is just a little too challenging to the don't rock the boat Dem line with respect to race in America? Anyway, I don't know when I'd find time to polish it up for publication.

At 8/19/2006 03:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Schroeder, After reading your comments and your blogs it has become painfully apparent that one of the root causes of your government's incompetence is that people like you keep spewing pseudo-intellectual hogwash that further obfuscates the truth. It is ashamed that people end up waseting time reading this urine in all the melee. My advice - quit trying to stimulate yourself and start stimulating the economy.

At 8/20/2006 03:57:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

anonymous -- your comment hardly merits a reply. Who are you, after all, to suggest that I am not engaged in activities apart from blogging to stimulate the economy and help my community rebuild?

And you? What are you doing to "stimulate the economy" apart from pissing in other people's forums? Or is that just your way of stimulating yourself?

Mercifully, you apparantly aren't able to spew "pseudo-intellectual hogwash," leaving me with nothing of substance to respond to, unless I care to talk about urine.

Aside from that, did you have a point ignoramus?

At 8/20/2006 08:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

You are the world's best masterdebater!


Dr. Mrs. Gris Gris,
Cunning Linguist

At 8/20/2006 08:23:00 AM, Anonymous Sophmom said...

Looks like Spike is about to be on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. The teaser they just aired had Spike saying, and I'm paraphrasing, "They Royal Canadian Mounties got there before the Federal Government."

At 8/21/2006 12:04:00 PM, Anonymous Christopher C Brown said...

An Article bashing Spike Lee's documentary and attempting to debilitate his credibility as a documentary filmmaker.....

.....and my response to it....

His article is here:

My response was:

Dear Mr. Sadow,

I am responding to your article that I recently read on Bayou Buzz. I would like to point out some things for you about Spike Lee's documentary film, "When the Levees Broke."

You make several references to Lee's "Do the Right Thing", yet you seem to miss the overall message of the film. The retaliation in the film of the black community results in the destruction of Sal's Italian Restaurant. The argument Lee makes in this film was not made to influence an election, or point out one race as better than another. It was made to convey a personal message. Art is expression of self through creativity. Not only do you mock and degrade the film with your accusations, you fail to even understand or comprehend the meaning of the film, which is non-violence. The real expression Spike Lee makes in "Do the Right Thing" is that the violence unleashed by both parties in the midst of their anger only creates more victims and a catalyst for future violence. Spike Lee's character, "Mookie" loses his job, and the black community loses their friend, "Radio Raheem", who is murdered accidentally in the midst of the violence. Sal loses a viable restaurant business that he's worked his entire life to own as a result of a riot. The point of the film is not to influence elections, the point of the film was to advocate non-violence and to show the repercussions of a violent act.

You also say that Lee does not dismiss the bomb theory. Lee simply shows different views and perspectives on the bomb theory and also exposes evidence from research that essentially nullifies the bomb theory viewpoint. However, denying the people of the Lower 9th Ward to communicate their views about what happened would be denying the victims and eyewitnesses of their personal view; without this viewpoint, the audience is also denied of a view point of the people who were victimized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At what point does truth become propaganda. Is it fact or fiction that Mr. Cheney was enjoying a vacation fly fishing while the people of New Orleans were starving to death and dying. Was it Condoleeza Rice's clone that was shopping on Broadway and playing tennis with Monica Seles during the Katrina trials and tribulations? Did President Bush lie about his awareness and overall knowledge of the levees breaking? Regardless of Spike Lee's personal views, "When the Levees Broke" has plenty more fact than fiction. You're simply trying to defeat the credibility of the communicator with your references to Lee's "Do the Right Thing", but you can't defeat the credibility of the truth, because the truth supercedes any opinions or interpretations made by the auteur. When does one finally dismiss the personal influence of the film for the truths about this administration and the state of things in New Orleans?

For the few subtle personal influences Spike Lee has on this film, the truths and the FACTS that he conveys easily dismiss and repudiate his personal views. Your article reads more like a Pro-Republican soiree than an objective work of criticism.

I'm the founder and organizer of the New Orleans Filmmakers and although I was not "invited" to the screening, I acquired my tickets to the screening and didn't belly ache. After all, some of us have to rely on making things happen, not waiting for them to happen.


Christopher C. Brown
NOLA Filmmaker

"there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

"A film is never any good unless the camera is the eye of a poet."
-Orson Welles.

At 8/21/2006 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Chris, thank you. I think everyone here is passionate about how one thing or another was presented in the film.

I, too, have yet to see the film. I've formed my criticisms, perhaps too harshly, based upon the sound reviews of other writers whose views I often respect. I'm withholding any further comment until I see the film myself -- a troubling matter (as it is for other people I've talked to).

Some people feel like their emotions are still a little raw, and that they're still a little too close to the ongoing effects. I want to see the film on my own terms, in a calm environment where I control the time of the event. I don't do cable -- I refuse to support Cox. When a DVD comes out, I'll probably see that in the comfort of my own home, at a time of my choosing.

Just one point I would make about the myth of the levees being dynamited. I can appreciate that people need to be able to express their views on this, but I would ask to what extent is it responsible for intelligent people who have access to those who can tell the truth (Spike Lee), to allow such a conspiracy to flourish like a disease, spreading from person to person and becoming more and more virulent with each person? Would any reasonable human being allow a Holocaust denier that possibility? I'm hearing reactions from people about how Lee handled the dynamiting myth, but I will say that if he wanted to, he could have resoundingly let people say what they wanted to say, and then could have given solid evidence against such a theory. Lee's impact on this would go a long way to killing such a conspiracy theory.

The problem is -- clearly we're seeing it now -- people are so wound up in these discussions about race and conspiracy against blacks, that we're spending far too much time on fallacies, while missing more important and verifiable instances of racism, as well as missing the more important issues of the day -- as other local bloggers have suggested -- Category 5 storm protection for all of south Louisiana -- including *all* neighborhoods -- and restoration of coastal marshes, to ensure that no neighborhood in New Orleans ever has to suffer a tragedy like this again.

It's the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

We need to shout in one loud unified voice: FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION!!!

At 8/21/2006 10:34:00 PM, Blogger Zihuatanejo said...

I think people are purposely being misslead on what to even discuss. Why can't people ask the right questions here? They get tangled in this and that and then find it so easy to accept myths like the federal Government is the blame of it all.

How do we dig up the real issues?

Like this, I think the local political machine is all to happy to have people believe all this hogwash: Heerden links the erosion of coastal wetlands, once historic buffers to flooding, to sleazy Louisiana politics.

In 1994, then-Congressmen Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes (who have both since vaulted to lucrative private-sector perches) introduced the Private Property Owners' Bill of Rights to compensate landowners when environmental regulations deprived them of 50 percent of fair market value of their land. The bill had a reclassification scheme for wetlands that, notes Heerden, was opposed by 33 states' attorneys general: "This was narrow-minded, short-sighted, knee-jerk so-called property rights legislation."

After going public with his opposition to the bill, Heerden was in Baton Rouge "enjoying a po-boy" at a local establishment when he got a call from Tauzin himself, "swearing, labeling me a 'tree-hugger,' et cetera, et cetera. ... Tauzin and Hayes launched into me. I was an 'African dictator,' and worse. Hayes said he would get me."

Two years later, a coastal restoration project on which Heerden had worked fell apart under the new governor, Mike Foster, whose environmental record rivals that of Edwin Edwards for cynicism in service of petrochemical interests. Heerden calls these experiences "the wake-up call of a lifetime for me, and a blunt lesson about the vindictiveness of Louisiana politics. ... The two congressmen got their pound of flesh from me and more when they helped kill our comprehensive restoration initiative. Subsequently, a senior LSU employee told me that Tauzin's staff had warned that if my name was on anything that needed funding -- forget it."

Even last year, LSU officials tried to prevent Heerden from giving interviews at one point, but then relented. Tauzin and Hayes were gone, but the university's fear of upsetting a political establishment long beholden to industry continued.

At 8/22/2006 05:01:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

A thoughtful contribution Zihuatanejo.

I *may* have made the mistake of trying to read too much into Spike Lee's film without seeing it. Those who have accused me of doing so may or may not be vindicated after I actually see the film.

I'd encourage you to consider the same thoughts before you launch into a crusade exclusively against local politicians. Yes, as I have suggested repeatedly in this blog, and I have named names, there are some sleazy politicians who ought to be placed in stocks in the French Quarter, and tarred and feathered by citizens. Nevertheless, the story of how wetlands conservation rules enforced by the Corps of Engineers were gutted -- formally and informally -- is extremely complicated and underreported. I've written extensively about it here. There are similarities in that story to the problems with levee construction and maintenance, but significant differences as well.

Yes, Billy Tauzin should be offerred a last meal and a blindfold, but if you read the books referenced in that Gambit review, I think you'll discover the story of institutional failure at the Corps of Engineers facilitated local corruption.

Bottom line: The Corps of Engineers is legally responsible for designing, building, and maintaining the levees. That faulty designs and construction occurred ultimately requires that the Corps be held responsible.

At 8/23/2006 02:11:00 PM, Blogger jonah said...

I feel like Spike Lee did a great job showing the complexity of the catastrophe and aftermath. It's really a heroic work to take so much footage and work it into a comprehensive narrative that encompasses many points of view.

Take it for what it is, the most honest and to the point story of Katrina that has been told to date. It's also getting our situation out to the rest of the nation, which is more than I can say for much of the New Orleans whining, I mean blogging community.

At 8/24/2006 05:56:00 PM, Anonymous Sarah said...

Um, SophMom : The Russian Roulette scene was from The Deer Hunter, not Apocalypse Now.
Oh yeah, the real topic : I thought the doc was pretty damn good.


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