The ESPN series 30 For 30, available on Netflix, is really great. I think today I saw one of the best, if not the best. It was called Ghosts of Ole Miss and it covered the undefeated Ole Miss football team of 1962. More importantly, it also covered the bravery of James Meredith and the riots that ensued because of him being the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi.
However, if this was just a documentary about history, I don’t think I would be writing about it. (Even though it is a completely enthralling piece of filmmaking that covers a time period that many Americans would like to forget.) For anyone that doesn’t understand the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag, or thinks that controversy is much to do over nothing, I think this is something you must watch. The film is also great at providing the missing link between the Civil War and modern day problems dealing with race. I also don’t think race is the only modern political situation this film is relevant to. At a time when we are seeing local and state politicians try to stand up to the federal government on the issue of gay marriage, one can’t help but see their historical counterparts in this film.
There is also a positive element to this film. Even though the film does not make the claim that all race issues are gone are settled in Mississippi, as they clearly aren’t there or anywhere else, the film does acknowledge that great strides have been made. As dark as the history showcased in this film is, there is hope that, over time, people can change.
A Lie Agreed Upon – David Milch’s Deadwood
The other day I mentioned that I was watching the David Milch created Luck. While reading more interviews with Milch I came upon this fascinating article. There is a mini-documntary here that you can watch about Milch’s Deadwood, one of the greatest shows of all time. You can also read the script for the documentary below if you don’t feel like watching it. It’s truly fascinating not only for the information about the show, but the ideas inherent in the show and therefore the documentary as well dealing with our country. The title above has to do with the idea that history is a, “lie agreed upon.” I found the following passage really interesting and a good sample of the kind of ideas inherent in the show and article:
He said, “An agreement that creates a community is an agreement upon an illusion, an agreement upon an intoxicant. Our founding document jumps off from, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ which to me means a frank agreement upon illusion – not that these are self-evident truths, but that we agree upon an illusion that these are fucking truths.”
This movie looks really interesting. It’s about the Washington Music scene in the 80’s. I’ve listened to music from this scene throughout my whole life. Minor Threat’s Out of Step and then Complete Discography were especially important to me when I was really young. I was soon onto Fugazi and other bands. It looks like they have all the players involved, so there is a good chance that the film will be decent.
Lawrence Wright On Scientology
Here is an author of Going Clear, a book on Scientology, about the religion and the upcoming documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Even though this author’s main focus is on Scientology, he says things that are relevant to other religions as well. What are people looking for when they become part of a religion? What makes people believe in something that may appear absurd to outsiders? What are things that a religion does to keep its members in line? The author speaks of the things that many religions share, but also what separates Scientology from those other religions as well.
Paul Simon Graceland Acclaim and Outrage
One of my favorite albums is Paul Simon’s Graceland. I have always liked Paul Simon in general, but my particular love for this album is also largely rooted in the African music that is part of it. Paul Simon was attacked politically breaking the boycott of Apartheid South Africa and recording with South African musicians. Apparently there is a documentary that details this story called Under African Skies. I have not seen the documentary, although now I would like to. The above article tells the political story behind the album and the documentary. It is an interesting read.
I am personally glad that this album exists. This album has meant a great deal to me. It has also caused me to investigate further and purchase music by African artists. I have read before where some people have said that Simon was committing a kind of cultural imperialism, but I have no patience for such things. Anyone that understands music knows that artist are constantly borrowing, stealing, and learning from each other. It is how the form gets moved forward. Everything comes from somewhere. Even artists that create things that seem shockingly original are simply combining ideas in ways they haven’t been before. That and technical innovation are what creates new sounds.
On the political side of things I still think Simon comes out clean. As far as I know he treated the artists well and paid them well for their work. (There is some controversy over his collaboration with Los Lobos on the album, but none that I can find with the African Musicians that he worked with.) I think Simon’s own view on the political nature of what he did is correct:
What was unusual about Graceland is that it was on the surface apolitical, but what it represented was the essence of the antiapartheid in that it was a collaboration between blacks and whites to make music that people everywhere enjoyed. It was completely the opposite from what the apartheid regime said, which is that one group of people were inferior. Here, there were no inferiors or superiors, just an acknowledgement of everybody’s work as a musician. It was a powerful statement – National Geographic
I also find it interesting that for all of the clamor and noise over a work of art at the time of its creation, that time has a funny way of sometimes turning everything but the art itself into dust. That doesn’t mean that political arguments over a piece of work have no merit, especially as they relate to current political struggles. Also, overtly political works have a different amount of relevance to political struggle than works that are art for art’s sake, especially if those struggles are still going on in some fashion. However, as time progresses we humans and our struggles disappear and all we are left with is what we created. Graceland is till fairly new and yes there are still struggles going on in South Africa, but they are different ones than what was going on during Apartheid, even if they are related to that time period. Lately I have been reading parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Dante wrote this as a political exile. While knowing the politics behind it can make certain parts of the text more meaningful, Dante’s political struggle has no bearing on our present reality. Yet the text is still with us in all of its power. It is very possible that problems of race will long outlast Graceland, but the opposite may also be true. All one can do is to follow their own compass and try to speak their truth, time will sort everything else out, one way or another.
I’ve mentioned before that Bjork is doing a career retrospective at MOMA. Here is an article in Rolling Stone about that retrospective. It also features some clips as well. This is definitely a show I would check out if I lived even remotely close.
Speaking of Museum of Modern Art, one of my favorite documentaries of recent years was about a show there. That film is Marina Abramovi The Artist is Present. This movie is fascinating and definitely worth your time. Here is the trailer:
Nicholas Winding Refn Documentary
The above article is an interview with director Nicholas Winding Refn and his wife Liv Corfixen, who just made a documentary about her husband. He has long been one of my favorite working directors. All of his movies have a emotionally intense poetic quality to them. He is someone that can deal in abstraction and have it resonate. You get a sense that he understands how to communicate on a personal level through imagery. If you think of how many things have to be put in place for a film image to be just right, that is quite a chore. One of the best.