Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Every Creek That Rises Must Preserve

I've been neglecting this blog lately. Rumblings are afoot for a new comics blog, instigated by a few of the Closed Captioned Comickers, which I will be participating in, as yet unnamed. I think the idea of writing for a blog strictly about comics will be freeing, and I am saving all my thoughts on comics until that gets underway.

So, for today, film. And music. (In the future, all at once, together, forever.)

One of the great things about film, or photography, really, is its sense of place. Beasts Of The Southern Wild, the first feature film of Ben Zeitlin, is shot in Louisiana, and it is recognizable, to me, as the same part of the country where Walter Hill's Southern Comfort was set. While that film, released in 1981, allegorized the Vietnam war, Zeitlin's film, coming out this Summer, feels at least in part like an exploration of issues raised by Hurricane Katrina. Which is to say that I think it is about America in the 21st century. Not in a political way, or a didactic way, but in a mythic way, because it takes place in the realm of myth. It's an American myth the same way that superheroes are the myth of 20th century America, or the cowboy was the myth of the 19th century. This is the story we're telling ourselves about what is happening now, and the failures of Katrina are as foundational as the factory or the frontier was.

The protagonist of the film is a 6-year-old black girl named Hushpuppy, whose father is dying. She is lively, chaotic, natural. I am reminded of David Gordon Green's George Washington, although this film's rhythms are less built on cutting between scenes, and more of an observational stillness and drift. What we see is beautiful, set in its swamplands, and the land on the other side of the levee, of urban civilization, is pointed out as ugly. We are present in the land of folktale, tradition, jazz as folk music. The soundtrack is gorgeous and evocative, and when it comes time to depict a rainstorm, the sound's mixing of water against the scrap that makes up improvised roof shacks comes through with presence, resonance. Afterwards, once the waters have risen, the beauty in the desolation comes through enough to see its world as still being worth fighting for, against the encroaching of civilization's standards.

Honestly, once the film leaves this society, for the land of interiors and tighter spaces, it loses a little something, certain bits of charm. The narrative voice, observing the refuge, the hospital, is still sharp and funny; but the cinematography, without bits of grime to dwell on, in the name of forward narrative momentum, loses a bit of its life.

But that's the story we are being told, one of a dying father, and that is what I'm arguing is the story we need to tell ourselves. If memory serves, one of the first sentiments spoken after the film's title card is that all animals are made of meat. Later we are told that everybody's daddy dies. These are the films truisms, and its parental advice: "Don't cry," and "smile," when taken in conjunction with these ideas lays out the sort of worldview we need as human animals bearing this weight, and also points to the tonal quality of the film, as laid out in its photography of wide vistas, its stillness. This is a film to usher you into the animal world, about a girl learning to navigate the world via talking to animals. This is the apocalypse that is coming; one that already happened, back in 2005.

The music I meant to talk about when I started writing about the film is that of the rap group Death Grips, their loops, their collapses, their noise. The lyrics that are this abstraction of all that is guttural, super-aggressive, but mostly just fucked-up. Thinking about rap music as an extension of oral storytelling traditions, or "the dozens," and the world we're living in.

Obviously all of these things have racial implications that are going to be problematic for some people. The point I am trying to make, essentially, is to invoke the phrase "post-racial" to describe a time, forthcoming, where we will all be the neglected citizens of the city of New Orleans, due to a class structure that wishes for us to be slaves. And then to take this mythology of the wild, of communing with nature- sort of a stereotype, but we are able to use it as an archetype, or a totem, as some kind of navigational tool. Whereby we all see ourselves as six-year-old black girls (sort of the ultimate disenfranchised figure) and learn to cope with a natural and indifferent world and are then able to look into the beast's eyes and see it as something we can coexist peacefully with, against civilization.