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by Cynthia Fuchs

23 Jan 2012


“Here’s me in pink stretch pants,” notes Mary Bubb. She’s a space reporter in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at the moment sharing some of her memorabilia with filmmakers Ross McElwee and Michel Negroponte. She smiles as she remembers a friend telling her, “Not everybody has their pink ass on the cover of Newsweek.” Mary’s recollections as a pool reporter provide something of a background for Space Coast, a film McElwee shot while he was still a graduate student at MIT in 1979. Like his subsequent, more famous documentaries, this one appears mostly observational, with subjects occasionally speaking directly to his camera, addressing him as Ross. As it shows the early version of what came to be his signature visual style—handheld, amiable, incisive—the film also indicates his inclination to see in everyday stories the significant rhythms and substance.

And so: even as Mary pursues her work, showing up at each launch (always with a new hat of her own devising, fashioned to be “very symbolic of the mission,” she explains), the film follows two other residents of the Space Coast, Papa John Murphy and the Reverend Willie Womack. All offer their wisdom on the landscape changing around them, the declining economy, the closing of launch pads, the frustrations of the community, the way the world works. For the most part, Papa John keeps himself distracted with TV and his family, wrestling with his daughter Diane (currently unable to find a job) and watching Happy Days and religious programming. “Jesus had to have been an extremely rugged individual,” he submits, “He lived the life of a fisherman, he wasn’t no pansy.” Willie takes his sons hunting, narrates McElwee, in “an abandoned housing development.” Each scene in the film offers a small glimpse of the various lives in Cape Canaveral, and together, they reveal the reshaping of a culture, built on ambitions unmet and options unknown.

Space Coast screens on 23 January at The DocYard at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, followed by a Q&A with McElwee and Negroponte. It’s the first in this season’s terrific biweekly documentary series, conceived to showcase “what is innovative, interesting, and inspiring in documentary.” Space Coast is all of that.

by Cynthia Fuchs

20 Jan 2012


When St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe Project was completed in 1956, it seemed an answer to many prayers, affordable and respectable housing designed (by Minoru Yamasaki, also the architect of the World Trade Center Towers) to lift its residents out of poverty and serve the surrounding communities as well. When it was torn down just two decades later, Pruitt-Igoe had become an example of how poor, uneducated, and “rural” communities inevitably go wrong, and don’t deserve help—especially from the government. This sort of story resonates today, of course, revived in the current Republican presidential campaigns. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth shows how the story evolved and why it lingers, still reductive, destructive, and tragic.

by PopMatters Staff

18 Jan 2012


Here’s a great video that explains why the SOPA strike is necessary.

by Cynthia Fuchs

13 Jan 2012


Sing Your Song‘s focus on political activism—its relationship to celebrity, whether a star owns it or not—mirrors that of its subject. As Harry Belafonte recalls here, his inclination to activism was ignited early, as a boy whose mother worked as a domestic, and who sent him and his brother to live with relatives in Jamaica: “Almost all the songs that I later came to sing,” he says, “were songs that I heard among the people, the peasants, my family, at the time.” The film shows photos of Jamaican workers, children and the shoreline, as he credits his mother for making him believe “There was nothing in life that I could not aspire to.” Belafonte took Paul Robeson as a model, and the notorious official efforts to suppress Robeson’s “song”—the blacklisting, the FBI and CIA surveillance, and the revocation of his US passport in 1950—hover over Belafonte’s story, along with Robeson’s advice to him: “Get them to sing your song, and they’ll want to know who you are.” Belafonte used his popularity—his appeal to “white teenyboppers” along with other fans all over the world—to show the intersections of art and politics.

See PopMattersreview.

by Cynthia Fuchs

10 Jan 2012


“I think he thinks, ‘Somewhere, I’m gonna get out of this.’” “He” is Billy the Kid, the legendary American criminal who is the subject of American Experience: Billy the Kid. Opening on a close-up of a noose hanging over a dusty (re-enacted) street, the show speculates repeatedly as to what the man born in New York City as William Henry McCarty might have been “thinking” at any given moment. He was “extremely intelligent,” says one expert. “Escaping was always on the agenda,” says another. Billy the Kid “came of age,” says narrator Michael Murphy, “at the moment the Wild West was forged, at a time when outlaws were made famous overnight in the pages of dime novels.” Because so little evidence remains (the only known tintype of Billy the Kid appear again and again here) and because much history is built on these fictions, it’s difficult now to piece together what did happen when. As Bill Richardson puts it, “He was made into a mythical character.” The show doesn’t question the myth so much as it presents it step by step, via historians and aficionados’’ testimonies, and , American Experience‘s familiar, richly mounted reenactments to fill in the gaps. Tight shots of boots and clinking spurs, shovels digging into dirt and rifles cocking, long shots of riders astride galloping horses and men shot dead, hitting the ground in slow motion. The imagined details can be evocative and even romantic (Billy is “blending into the darkness of the New Mexico night” or “framed by the moonlight”), as can the imagined motivations: he remained devoted to his girlfriend Paulita Maxwell, to the point of endangering his life. The natural and social environments were equally harsh, indicated by wind on the soundtrack and gavels banging. “The kid is a consistent rebel,” all the way,” say historian Paul Hutton. And such, he’s been absorbed into a national self-image.

Watch Billy the Kid preview on PBS. See more from American Experience.

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