Robert Durst, triple murderer? The Jinx.

Yesterday Robert Durst was arrested in New Orleans on suspicion of murder of Susan Berman, in California in 2000. He was charged with illegal possession of a handgun, as he is a felon.

Robert DurstI began watching HBO’s documentary THE JINX (directed by Andrew Jarecki, of Capturing the Friedmans) when it aired six weeks ago. The case was new to me, but I quickly caught up on it. Robert Durst, the son of a billionaire real estate magnate, was the only suspect in the disappearance of his wife. Her body was never found, and according to police, no real investigation was made by the family, despite their copious resources. Robert was “estranged” from his family; evidence of threats against his younger brother Doug, who was given control of the business, was given. He has a restraining order against Robert, who is known to carry handguns.

In 2000 in California, Robert’s friend Susan Berman was found shot in the head, only after an anonymous letter to the police was received, saying “where to find the cadaver.” Friends of hers believe she had information on the disappearance of Durst’s wife, and that was why she was killed.

In 2001 in Galveston, where Robert was living as a woman by wearing a wig and claiming to be mute, he was put on trial for murdering and dismembering his roommate, whose torso washed up in a nearby body of water. He admitted killing him “in self defense,” and said he was drunk while he methodically dismembered the body, paid the rent up front, and disposed of the remains. Because in Texas some people need killin’, the jury believed this, and acquitted him.

A more detailed explanation of this trial, by Matt Pearce of the L.A. Times, can be read here.

Spoilers follow in the next paragraph.

The documentary depicts Durst being shown new evidence linking him to Berman’s murder, and at the end of the episode, forgetting that he still has his mike on, Durst goes to the bathroom and mutters to himself, ending with, “what did you do? killed them all, of course.”

And then it fades to black.

After the final episode aired, he was arrested. He has a habit of fleeing on bail and has nearly limitless resources; he spent $1.8 million on his Galveston defense. It will be interesting to see if the new evidence in the Berman case will get a murder conviction to stick. He all but confessed on tape, if Jarecki protrayed it truthfully. Durst was not on camera at the time. There will be plenty of reasonable doubt if this is brought as evidence. Voice analysis, and so on. The Berman evidence rests largely on handwriting analysis, and that can be countered as well. There are few smoking guns, and with the resources he has, the passage of time, and the lack of evidence at the crime scenes, his next trial may accomplish nothing except give Jarecki material for his next documentary.

Angola: The Farm

The Louisiana State Prison, nicknamed “Angola” after the plantation land it sits on, is unique, infamous and impressive all at once. They also call it “The Farm,” because all prisoners work, and the farms on the grounds feed the inmates. Some have likened this to slavery, but a working man gets in less trouble, and Angola has over five thousand prisoners, a large percentage of which will never walk free again. Louisiana’s sentencing guidelines are some of the toughest, and the prison has a hospice for all the elderly cons it must take care of. And not all are convicted of violent crimes.

Angola has a great variety of programs to keep the prisoners involved. There is the Angola Rodeo, which is as dangerous as any other, and garners criticism comparing it to the Roman gladiatorial arena. There is also a golf course for prison staff, where prisoners with the best behavior records can work as caddies, and recreational grounds and ball parks they can use as well. There are two programs for fathers in prison where they can meet with their families once a year.

Angola Prison Rodeo

However, the last thing you’d say about Angola is that it coddles prisoners. The prison has a long history of violent abuse and it was only turned around in the last two decades. Sex slavery rings were common, the “Red Hat” cell block was a pit of inhuman misery, and the guards were among the lowest paid in the nation. It has turned around, and while at first glance this may look like a country club, when you watch these prisoners or read their articles in The Angolite, the prison magazine, you see they are different from most convicts in other prisons. They have some dignity. They are not marking time in a cell, they can see the fruits of their labor, whether they sport a silver rodeo belt buckle, harvest crops, or ease a fellow con’s pain in the hospice. And according to the Shreveport Times, Angola has a lower rate of recidivism than local facilities, but this may not be correlated to these programs.

An excellent documentary on Angola and prison life in general is The Farm: Angola USA. The film documents the hospice, the rodeo, and the difficulties in housing a large prison population, many for life sentences. At least three of the prisoners featured were released after long legal fights over their convictions. Which is available to view on Liveleak:

http://www.liveleak.com/ll_embed?f=c8d538bb1eb1
Direct Links to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

I found out about The Angolite through my writer buddy and ex-con Les Edgerton, author of The Bitch, Just Like That, The Perfect Crime, Gumbo Ya-Ya and many more. Subscriptions are $20 a year, and having read my first issue of this slick and well-written magazine, it is quite a bargain. The July/August 2011 issue had an in-depth article on illicit cell phone use in prisons, plus articles on the “Long Termers,” cons in Angola for 25 years or more, the Returning Hearts family visit program, plus short “expressions” and poetry by convicts, including a touching elegy to a lifer who’d rehabilitated himself yet died behind bars, an old trusty they called “Papa Smurf.” It’s great reading, and gives an insight into prison life.

Subscribe to the Angolite

© 2012 Thomas Pluck

I post on Twitter as @TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

movie compactor

To conserve paper, I have reviewed 5 recent movies in one post. With one week to the Oscars I still haven’t seen a few. I’m hoping to see The White Ribbon this weekend. Gonna skip Crazy Heart, as much as I like Jeff Bridges, because I saw Tender Mercies. But these are worth seeing:

Big Fan
Patton Oswalt as “that guy,” the face-painting home team obsessed freako who lives in mom’s basement and stays up late to rant on the local AM sports talk radio show. Oswalt once again shows his enormous range (you thought I was gonna say ass, didn’t you?) by totally becoming this role. Written and directed by the screenwriter of The Wrestler, we know to expect him to be a busted up shell of a man filling a hole in himself with his fanaticism. He sees his team’s quarterback one night and he and his buddy follow him to a strip club, and work up the guts to approach him. Things happen and he gets assaulted, and must decide just how much he’ll suffer for his home team. It’s a bit weak in the third act and ending, but as a character study it’s pretty gripping. This is one of the better films of last year that was sadly overlooked, and a fine first directorial effort for Onion alumnus Robert D. Siegel.

4 face-painters out of 5

Big Fan on Netflix

The Blind Side
This movie’s getting a lot of hate. Straight up: I enjoyed it. I think we’ve become accustomed to discounting uplifting fare as inherently shallow, and while it may be a stretch to nominate this for Best Picture, if Avatar is up there this has every right to be. The Hollywood take on Michael Oher’s rise to football stardom, this is a sports story with a deeply human element that is unafraid to tell us what we’re supposed to mean when we say “Christian charity.” The Tuohy family is rich; Mr. Tuohy is a former basketball superstar who now runs a gaggle of fast food franchises. The film obliquely points the finger at our millionaire sports heroes to perhaps give a little back, as Mrs. Tuohy- played with organic brilliance by Sandra Bullock, in what will hopefully be a controversial Oscar-winning performance that will bump Marisa Tomei’s win for My Cousin Vinny as the film snobs’ “least deserved award” category- decides to do the right thing and bring the practically-orphaned “Big Mike” Oher under her wing. This is old-school Hollywood storymaking, not unlike Slumdog Millionaire without Danny Boyle’s directorial strength. John Lee Hancock does a workmanlike job. He also wrote the screenplay, which to the real Michael Oher’s chagrin, makes him a sort of football oaf to begin with, when he was rather skilled by the time the Tuohys helped him. The real story is how they overcome their fear and saw Michael as a person, and shared their abundance of both the material and the emotional to make him part of their family. So what if it’s couched in a tale written for the demographic where both sexes love football from birth? It’s uplifting without being smarmy, and isn’t as simple as its critics claim it to be.

4 out of 5 ladies who lunch but also give back to their community

The Blind Side on Netflix

The Road
Adapting Cormac McCarthy is difficult but obviously possible; No Country for Old Men, anyone? This one’s not so easy, as much of the story is internalized. The screenplay veers from the source at times, to give us a female character to please the bean counters; I felt this was a distracting mistake. The story is simple- an unknown disaster has cut the shackles of civilization and returned man to his more bestial state, and a father resolves to protect his son from the ravages of cannibals and nature, so he may “carry the fire” of humanity, and bring hope to the bleak future. How does the world end? In this version we know it’s a bang, when it was left ambiguous before. Does it matter if it’s a whimper, or fire or ice? Not really, in the grand scheme of things. Humanity is consuming itself, literally. What the movie gets right is showing how the father- Viggo Mortensen- loses hope. How can he carry the fire when it has gone out inside him? Like Frank Darabont’s similar take with The Mist, the father’s protective drive has corrupted him. I found this a little too spoonfed, and I didn’t care for the flashbacks to the mother, though I see the parallels and contrasts director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) was making. My suggestion: see this first if you haven’t read the book yet, and let the book expand on it.

4 out of 5 long pig banquets

The Road on Netflix

Everybody’s Fine
Robert DeNiro plays a retired widower, who Harry Chapin was singing about in “The Cat’s in the Cradle.” He drove his children to be ambitious and worked hard while his wife handled family matters, and now that she’s gone, no one has time to visit. It surprised me by shifting alliances, showing the old man’s own flaws and how past wounds run deep. This one rises above the standard tearjerker, but never goes much further. Bobby is always endearing and is perhaps the perfect image of that sort of hard working family man who was always too tired to really give to his family, but I never really felt his sadness, like Jack Nicholson managed in the similar film About Schmidt. This was based on an Italian classic from the 90’s entitled Stanno tutti bene, starring the unequaled Marcello Mastroianni, and the new script has some nice touches. Bobby made PVC casing for telephone wires, and only talks on land lines (rather like Paulie from Goodfellas); his children are well played by Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. At first they seem like the usual busy, ungrateful kids but bloom into real people. It’ll do well on cable.

3.5 out of 5 million miles of wire

Everybody’s Fine on Netflix

Food, Inc.
Are you eating? Might want to read this later. This should be for the modern food industry what Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was for turn of the century sausage factories, but I doubt many people saw it. Like the lackluster dramatization Fast Food Nation, this documentary exposes the industrialized network of factory farms and how it accepts disease and death among us, its customers, to serve its bottom line. I bet you expect the FDA to protect you from this, but the fact is they were created to promote and protect “farmers” and “cattlemen,” who are now mostly large corporate conglomerates benefiting from government-sponsored local monopolies. We see the victims of E. coli poisoning from “undercooked” beef- which would be perfectly safe if it wasn’t contaminated with, you know, shit- and E. coli tainted vegetables infected from manure runoff, since these county-sized slaughterhouse operations can’t dispose of the cow shit, which could probably fill one of the Great Lakes. Don’t criticize them too loudly, for they are protected by Federal Law (just ask Oprah, who was prosecuted for saying she wouldn’t eat beef until we tested all our cattle for Mad Cow disease, which we still don’t).

Genetically Modified foods are explored as well; they concentrate on Monsanto, not for abstract fear of “frankenfood” as some call it, but for how they have patented life, cornered the market on soybeans, and made it illegal for farmers who purchase their seed to … plant the seeds that were naturally produced. Plants produce seeds; but you can only plant the ones you buy from Monsanto. Your food now comes with a service agreement. It’s an eye-opening documentary, and while I found The Cove important, this is more so. If you wonder why a McMuffin costs less than a head of broccoli, rent this and find out. And wash and cook your food thoroughly. To quote Fast Food Nation, “everybody has to eat a little shit sometime.” Dig in.

5 out of 5 grass-fed free range organic strip steaks, hold the E. coli

Food, Inc. on Netflix

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

mondo mini movie reviews!

This is what I’ve watched in the past week or so.

Black Dynamite
A hilarious homage to the blaxploitation flicks of the ’70s, this one should not be missed. A dose of Dolemite with a dash of The Mack and Superfly, martial artist Michael Jai White plays the title character who’s out to avenge his dead brother, who was working for the CIA when a mafia drug deal went sour. It begins with him kicking an old lady through a door, and ends with him kicking ass at the White House, as his battle leads him to The Man himself. It gets a little silly in the middle when we learn what the Sinister Plot is, just in time for a homage to Enter the Dragon, but the dialogue is so moronically clever that you’ll be laughing the entire time. “If your momma was alive to see this, she’d be spinning in her grave!”

4 out of 5 fat muthafuckas wrestlin’ over pork chops ‘n greens

The Cove
If you ask the average person in Japan if they eat dolphin, they’d say no. So then why are thousands slaughtered every year in a secretive cove in Taiji? This documentary plays like a heist film as the man who trained Flipper, now turned activist, exposes the brutal and bloody secret of the dolphin industry, where hundreds are harvested for amusement parks and the rest are butchered for meat, and because the Japanese fishing industry thinks they eat too many fish. Yeah, really. This doc certainly has an agenda, but all good ones do; it takes great pains to show that the average Japanese has no idea this is going on, and this is no different than the corruption in America’s cattle industry, which keeps us from testing every animal for Mad Cow disease. You’ll never go to Sea World again after you watch this one.

4.5 out of 5 senseless slaughters

A Serious Man
The Coens weave a darkly comic tale of Larry Gopnik, a physics teacher whose life takes on the story of Joband the puzzle of Schroedinger’s Cat as his life begins to fall apart. I found it interesting, but at times deliberately difficult, and a little pretentious. It calls back to Barton Fink, and is enjoyable as a dark comedy if you don’t want to wonder if Gopnik is destined to misery because he’s angered God, is being tested, or has just made a serious of bad choices that like Schroedinger’s Cat, he can’t tell the result of without affecting it. It’s a good discussion film, but not for everyone; if you hated Synecdoche, NY you’ll probably find parts of this a little pretentious. I myself liked it, but felt some of it superfluous. The opening story of the dybbuk makes sense in retrospect, as it can be likened to Schroedinger’s cat, and then the issue of a student who may or may not be trying to bribe Gopnik for a better grade, and so on. There’s also the story of his son preparing for his bar mitzvah, which is both entertaining and nostalgic; did I mention it’s all set in the Jewish neighborhood of Minneapolis suburbs in the late 60’s? Nice touch. Much like the story of the dybbuk, it places it in the past and gives it all the feel of a parable.

4 out of 5 Larry Storches
The Hurt Locker
Wow. This is a war film, and the best depiction of the Iraq War I’ve seen, but first of all it is a character study. A study of the kind of adrenaline junkie operator who can handle the job of Explosive Ordnance Disposal- defusing bombs and IEDs in a war zone. Kathryn Bigelow has made a documentary-style masterpiece that takes the opening sequence of A Touch of Evil, where we see a bomb put in a car’s trunk and follow it, knowing it must go off, and makes it into a gripping war thriller. The movie is over 2 hours long, but felt like 90 minutes. Like the heroes of a Michael Mann film, these are men who define themselves by what they do, and there is a paucity of dialogue. Sgt. James leads a small squad after their leader is killed; they’re short timers who just want to go home, but he actually seems to love this job. And he’s incredibly good at it. The story unfolds like a memoir, with little structure, jumping from a sniper battle in the desert to an Iraqi base rat kid who James takes under his wing, to his men wondering if he’s going to get them killed. He’s a mystery; but in the end, we see his heart, and what makes him tick. It’s a brilliant character study of the kind of man it takes to do this insane job, disguised as a satisfying thriller. It is one of my favorites of the year, and it’s a toss-up to me whether it or Up in the Air is the better picture. Both make great entertainment out of prescient issues we’d rather ignore.

5 out of 5 Best Director Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow, Dammit

The Ghost Writer
Fuck you, Polanski. Come let justice be served. Stop being Noah Cross. Have you made a great movie since then anyway? You’re not getting my money until you pay your debt.

Temple Grandin
Excellent biopic of an autistic woman who revolutionized the beef industry by making slaughterhouses more humane. I read her story in the Star-Ledger years ago, and Claire Danes portrays her amazingly in what will surely be an Emmy-nominated performance. This is playing on HBO, and you should see it. It tries to give us the view of the world through her eyes, and while some of the direction is a bit indulgent and lazy- a montage set to guitar as she figures out how to get on a cattle lot that won’t let women in for example- the story itself is compelling and touching. It’s a TV movie for sure, but Danes performance, and David Strathairn as the teacher who understands her genius, make it worth your time.

3.5 out of 5 moo moo everywhere a moo moos

Dirty Ho
No, not porn! One of the better humorous kung fu flicks of the ’70s. Pita-San and I watched this and One-Armed Boxer vs. the Master of the Flying Guillotine, which has some cool fights and great kraut-rock music by Neu!; Dirty Ho is a kung fu comedy from ’79 starring Chiu hiu “Gordon” Liu, best known as Johnny Mo/Pai Mei from the Kill Bill movies. I’d recognize that bald noggin anywhere! He plays a prince with many brothers who’re trying to kill each other off for Dad’s inheritance, and he tricks a scheming thief named … Dirty Ho… to help him. Let’s face it, the name is what makes you watch this movie the first time, but it has great training sequences and fights, and plenty of laughs and slapstick. Plus a great scene where Gordon “fights” using his servant. An underappreciated classic, if you love kung fu flicks, you must find this one.

4 out of 5 dirty ho’s

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Tyson

“it’s like a Greek tragedy, only I’m the subject”
The moment that sold me on James Toback’s excellent documentary, Tyson, was when the former heavyweight champion of the world was holding back tears, murmuring about when he became a fighter, after trainer Cus D’Amato took him under his wing: “He spoke with me every night about discipline and character, and I knew, I knew nobody, noboby physically, um was gonna fuck with me again.”
I don’t have sympathy for a rapist, but you get a good idea of Tyson the man after watching this film, and he has only just begun to stop being the 12-year old boy who got into his first fight after bullies broke the necks of his homing pigeons. His father abandoned the family when Mike was 2; his mother died when he was 16, when he was still a street tough. Sent to reform school, he thought he was a fighter until a boxer knocked the wind out of him with one shot. When he proved himself through good behavior and discipline, the man taught him to fight, and hooked him up with trainer Cus D’Amato on the outside.
But Mike was a fat little boy who was teased mercilessly in a tough neighborhood, and childhood tears still spring to his face when he talks about it. Much has been said about bullying in schools, and many people still think “it prepares you for life,” but unfortunately it also helps make more bullies. When the heavyweight champion of the world has crushingly low self-esteem, it tells you that this isn’t something that “prepares you for the unfairness of adulthood.” You know what prepares you for that? Good role models, not bullies. Adults who make the difficult choices, who stick their neck out. If Cus D’Amato hadn’t died in 1985- the year Mike exploded into stardom- he might have had a moral center to continue his education from boxer into a man.

But instead, fame, fortune, entourages of sycophants, and predatory “wretched, slimy reptilian motherfuckers” like promoter Don King were there as influences. I believe we all know right from wrong by a certain age, and know that we don’t like being bullied, and should be able to extrapolate that we shouldn’t bully others; but I also know that the wounds of childhood left by emotional abuse and abandonment run deeper than logic, and often leave us broken and hurtful beasts that lash out at those most able to help us. So while I can never forgive Iron Mike for being a rapist and a wifebeater, I can see the desire for redemption in his eyes, now deep set in a puffy face that displays the decades of abuse from opponent’s fists and drugs he took on his own.
Toback’s documentary is a no-holds-barred look at the man. It was decided that Mike would have no say on the final cut, and filming began as he got out of rehab, in a fragile emotional state but a clear-headed one. It’s telling that his tattoos are of Ché Guevara and Mao, revolutionaries who became monsters. Mike revolutionized boxing in his own way, with a lethal combination of power and speed, but in the end he made a mockery of himself. I had no idea that Evander Holyfield was head-butting him- a fact I’m sure he disputes- but can completely understand how a wounded child like Tyson would take that disrespect with such fury that he’d ruin his career by biting the guy’s ear. Was it smart? No. But it was an emotionally stunted man lashing out, as he spiraled into self-destruction.

Does this absolve him? Hell no. But it helps give us a view of the man. It was something that should have been so clear, this huge pit bull of a fighter, with the lispy, high pitched voice, that he was fighting every bully who’d ever made fun of him. And like a pit bull, he was probably a friendly guy before they got hold of him, and beat him into something that could only react by lashing out. The film doesn’t just dwell on the bad, or his origins; we get to re-live his fantastic rise to stardom as one of the world’s premier athletes. 8 second knockouts. The Holmes fight. The Spinks fight. Getting all 3 heavyweight titles and becoming undisputed champion of the world. Mike was a perfect ’80s icon- he was tough, and he didn’t have the personality of a Muhammad Ali. His opponents could run, but they could not hide.
But this is mostly a picture of a man, like Mike himself said- a Greek tragedy, except he’s the subject. Director James Toback- famously independent- decided to show the movie to the opposite of its demographic, older white women who didn’t like boxing. According to the IMDb, he offered them $100 if they left in the first 5 minutes; if they stayed longer, they had to watch it all, and discuss it. Not one left, and many were in tears by the finale. I was never much of a fan; the media lingered too much on his “brutality,” and ignored the fact that under manager Kevin Rooney, he was actually a skilled fighter who took his opponents down with speed and power. But our casually racist attitude toward black athletes at the time encouraged his portrayal as a beast. Something he would live up to.

like a baby stillborn,
Like a beast with his horn,
I have torn everyone who has reached out for me
-Leonard Cohen, “Bird on a Wire”

a hell ride through Asbury Park in a crowded theater

Hell Ride
Quentin Tarantino wanted Larry Bishop to make the “greatest biker movie ever” and produced this for him. They don’t succeed. It’s a good one, however. Bishop was in The Savage Seven back in ’68 and Tarantino Lazarus’d him into Kill Bill Vol.2, and this came of his current grindhouse obsession. It’s not a bad movie to catch on cable, but don’t expect much or you’ll be disappointed. Bishop plays Pistolero, an aging biker Pres dealing with mutiny from within, and vengeance for the murder by fire of his woman, Cherokee Kisum, still on his mind 30 years on. His compatriots The Gent (Michael Madsen) and the new blood, Comanche (Eric Balfour) deal with internal coups driven by the rival gang the Six Six Sixers, while Pistolero does peyote and commits acts of biker badassery. We learn of Kisum’s murder through flashbacks, and this Tarantino-inspired fractured storytelling doesn’t work in Bishop’s less able hands. And the dialogue feels inspired by the producer as well, and could have used a few rewrites; a lot of it just doesn’t work.

What does work is Bishop himself, who is believable as the old silverback; Vinnie Jones as the maniacal leader of the Six Six Sixers, and cameos by Dennis Hopper and David Carradine. Peter Fonda said he was done with biker pictures- they did try to get him. There’s a bounty of breasts and biker chicks acting like women do in biker pictures. Cherokee (Julia Jones) gets a lot of flashback time and is the one strong female role. The action is good, if sporadic, and the story ends a little shorter than you’d expect, but if you go in expecting a sleazy biker movie, it’s easy to watch. Just don’t expect a re-imagining or some sort of modern update.

Rating: Worthy

Greetings from Asbury Park
A heartbreaking documentary detailing the attempts by politicians and developers to “revive” Asbury Park by kicking old people out of their homes to build luxury condos through eminent domain. Certainly biased, but this grassroots documentary is the Roger & Me of eminent domain. It is showing on New Jersey local public broadcasting this month and is a must see for New Jerseyans and anyone who owns property, especially property that billionaire developers think they can make a buck on. Does it serve the public good to tear up perfectly good homes to build condos that start at $500,000 for a studio, just to give more waterfront property to the elite? Asbury Park has had blighted areas for many years, but going after neighborhoods where working families can afford to live is not right. Eminent domain abuse is the forgotten scandal and it is only going to get worse. It didn’t revitalize Detroit, and it won’t fix Asbury. The documentary is well made and worth your time.

Rating: Worthy


Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech

Fine documentary on free speech in America. It is playing on HBO this month and makes for good viewing if you’re interested in the subject, and you should be. It’s not just about government censorship, but also how the media reacts and is manipulated to have chilling effects of its own. They touch on everything from the recent “intifada” brouhaha in NYC to the ACLU defending the Klan’s right to march in Skokie. It’s not all-encompassing, nor does it try to be. This isn’t a top-notch doc, but it is worth watching. By Liz Garbus, who also directed the well-regarded The Farm: Angola, USA.

Rating: Worthy

Trouble the Water

In 1927 there was a great flood in Louisiana; the National Guard came to rescue the white landowners, but left the black sharecroppers to tend to the crops. Immortalized in Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” some fleeing landowners sang “Bye, Bye Blackbird” to the doomed farmers. In the end, the “blackbirds” won; nearly 700,000 people were homeless, and they left for the cities, mainly Chicago. This gave birth to the Chicago blues, and the influx of new voters dumped Republican Hoover and his empty promises. The Party of Lincoln was abandoned for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. History repeating. It’s a bit more complicated, as Hoover got both elected and rejected due to how he handled the refugee camps for the displaced. The Wikipedia article makes for interesting reading.
Trouble the Water is the record of a family weathering Katrina, video camera in tow. 24-year old Kimberly Roberts and her husband Scott don’t have gas money to evacuate, so they hole up in their 9th Ward home as the storm hits. We get to see the terror of opening your front door to see a raging ocean where your yard once was. They survive, and we see them survey the wreckage of their neighborhood, the remains of those less fortunate, and the utter lack of any government response. The Indonesian tsunami a few years earlier- we had people on the ground faster for that.
They reenact their survival tales, and interview their neighbors. Kimberly reports on the scene like guerrilla news anchor, signing off with her rapper name, Black Kold Madina. It’s easy to roll your eyes, but this is what we didn’t see. Instead of pointing at a man in water up to his neck, holding a single loaf of bread and crying “looter,” like our talking heads did, this is embedded reporting from inside the hell hole. Jean Valjean would get torched these days, wouldn’t he? Their footage is interspersed with news bites, 911 calls, and factoids. But the real meat of the film is just following Kimberly and Scott through the wreckage of what was once their lives.
What’s most distressing is the interview with the soldiers who guarded empty base housing. They talk of protecting “government interests,” and how “civilians don’t know how to survive.” Quotes were cherry-picked I’m sure, but they are damning enough. When even a few soldiers are more concerned with protecting the government than saving fellow Americans, the leadership of their superiors is morally bankrupt. Maybe the best of our men were too busy overseas. On the other hand, the neighborhoods pulled together. “My enemies helped me,” one man says. They help each other navigate the bureaucratic mess FEMA imposed.
Trouble the Waters was nominated for Best Documentary last year, and lost to the cheerful Man on Wire; personally I thought Errol Morris’s excellent Standard Operating Procedure should have won, but it didn’t even get nominated. Trouble may not be a great movie, but it is worth seeing to see what our news media missed and ignored about the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the second disaster of our government’s inept response. I think it might have been better as an episode of Frontline, but it got more exposure this way. If you’re interested in seeing one couple’s story of surviving Katrina, it should not be missed.

Rating: Worthy

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