Our place in history ...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

If you haven't already, please go see "Bobby"─

My contribution to the multinational corporate economy Thanksgiving weekend usually takes the form of Cineplex movies instead of mega-shopping center bargain hunting. The afternoon following Turkey Day dinner the bulk of my fellow bird, side-dishes, and gravy aficionados entered a 3:25 pm showing of the latest in the multi-decade, multi-actor James Bond saga. Since I managed to get that one in on opening night, I purchased a ticket for “Borat,” the all-too-popular pulp piece shot as a pseudo-documentary. My concern that audiences were not flocking to this flick because of a newfound appreciation for satire, but rather were reacting to a desire to see fellow human beings humiliated, and popular stereotypes about our differences confirmed, kept me from seeing it on a prior date. Some of my preconceived notions were confirmed; others shattered. In some ways, “Borat” represents an intersection of three strings of popular culture: (1) Ben Stiller comedies in which humor is provoked by discomfort like “There’s Something About Mary” and “Meet the Fockers”; (2) public spectacles designed around voyeuristic urges—don’t try this at home car crashes and double-dog dares—a la MTV’s “Jackass” and the raising of the “America’s Funniest Home Videos” broadcasting bar that “Bum Fights” videos as well as YouTube downloads (with or without police brutality) represent; and (3) the gaping void Carlos Mencia and others have been scrambling to fill since Dave Chappelle chose a plane ticket to Africa over the $50 million the Comedy Central network offered in exchange for another season’s worth of primetime episodes.

After a dinner of leftovers I both returned to the multiplex theater for a post-evening showing of “Bobby,” and indulged in a late night DVD entitled DIG—an indy rock exposé of the shenanigans associated with the personal and private lives of “the Brian Jonestown Massacre” and “the Dandy Warhols.” The later reminded me of the days when I daydreamed my writing would resurrect “Raygun” magazine and transform me into the most important cultural critic of my generation. It also served to remind me of all of the reasons I am not a postmodern artist or self-described musical genius. My Woodstock was listening to Barak Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, not any combination of concerts or permutation of jam sessions. Whether popular or avant-garde, great collections contain at least one piece that remind us of Tupac Amaru Shakur’s claim that he (as an individual human being interacting with other human beings through speech and actions) might not change the world, but he knew with certainty that he (as the creator of powerful phrases assembled by the labor of combining accessible words) would plant a seed in and inspire the mind that would. BJM and the Warhols are part of a great collection, but their creations—as much as I enjoy them— do not inspire visions of seeds taking root, finding nourishment, and blooming into change.

“Bobby,” on the other hand, is an epic dedication of able hands to the care of fertile soil. And whether the yield is that of a garden a family farm, or an agribusiness monster, it is obvious that writer/director Emilio Estevez spent seven years looking for just the right spot to start working, and equipment to labor with, before attempting to break ground. In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that I was fearful of serving as a patron to a mediocre movie. I doubted Estevez. I was wrong for this and I apologize. “The People v. John Lennon” was disappointing. It seemed directionless, (and not in a planned Dadaist fashion) as well as lackluster in execution—as though everyone behind the scenes, from the makeup artists to the postproduction editors, knew the film was doomed because of its unwillingness to embrace the conspiracy theory the audience expected: Lennon was purposefully killed because he possessed sufficient power to challenge the conservative ascendance Ronald Regan represented, and shift the pendulum left again. My assumption “Bobby” would suffer from similar cinematic shortcomings evaporated within moments. Each storyline and aspect of character development brought to fruition by actors giving performances as strong as any rendered over the course of their careers, this labor of love succeeded in making the past present and culling hope for the future. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried at the film’s culmination. I expected and found myself more than prepared for the spilling of Kennedy’s blood. Nothing could have maintained my distance from the resonance and poignancy of his words. Estevez selects a speech in which RFK moves an angry, despair-ridden audience from violence to peace; from sheer hopelessness to open eyes, heads held high; from humanity’s defeat to its greatest glory.