I worry about the members of A Place to Bury Strangers. First, they instructed us to fix the gashes in our heads, which suggests that we all did something that resulted in us receiving gashes in our heads. Then, they wrote a record about exploding heads. And now, they are directing us Onwards to the Wall. Dudes, we here in the USA still haven’t quite worked out all the kinks in all that universal health care stuff. Therefore, you might want to go easy on the head-bashing-wall-running-into thing.
And all of you, PopMatters readers, should probably turn down your speakers as you watch the following video for the band’s newest single “So Far Away”. The band is still unbearably loud, and we here in the USA still haven’t worked out all the kinks in all that universal health care stuff.
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.
“The block is quiet,” remembers Ameena Matthews, “And I’m looking down the street, and here come the sisters of the guy that got his tooth knocked out. They came to defend the brother’s honor with a butcher knife.” She means to make a difference in this all too common scenario. A Violence Interrupter, Matthews works with the group CeaseFire, whose efforts are at the center of the magnificent documentary, The Interrupters. Following the experiences of several Interrupters, the film reveals how the group is taking a different approach to gang violence, how it works to intervene in usual cycles. “People believe in punishment,” says epidemiologist and CeaseFire co-founder Gary Slutkin, because when “you punish a young person, he stops. But he actually learns to mimic the punishment.” If the task is daunting, CeaseFire members remain courageous, determined, and brilliantly flexible when necessary. In spite of missteps and steps back, in spite of the many times that the interrupters attend funerals and console grieving parents, they try again and again. If they can stop one act of violence, they might stop another.
Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, winner of the 2011 Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary, and also two 2012 Cinema Eye Awards, for Outstanding Achievement in Direction and Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, the film is screening on 12 January at Stranger Than Fiction as a Pre-Winter Season Special Event, followed by a Q&A with producer/director Steve James. It will also be airing on Frontline on 14 February as part of OBS’ broadcast schedule for Black History Month.
“Unity is strength,” says Albertina Sisulu of the African National Congress. “There is no way we can succeed as a single organization to fight his battle.” Describing the inception of the people’s movement in South Africa in the 1950s, she makes clear an overarching theme for Have You Heard From Johannesburg, namely, that this movement “has inspired every other people’s movement since,” including 2011’s Arab Spring and OWS. The history of the movement is chronicled in Connie Field’s sweeping documentary, featuring interviews with participants and an incredible collection of footage and photos. Premiering on PBS’ Independent Lens on 12 January to commemorate the centennial of the ANC, the film is reduced from its original seven parts to five (airing on 19 and 26 January as well).
Tonight’s chapters (“The Road to Resistance” and “The New Generation”) underline the ANC’s early understanding that the movement would need international support, following the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the decision to send Oliver Tambo to Europe to insure the movement would continue no matter what happened to organizers in South Africa, the decision (urged by Nelson Mandela and others) to embark on an armed struggle, and the crisis created when Mandela and seven others were sentenced to life in prison for bombing power lines. Interviews with international supporters of the movement—including Soviet officials who saw an opportunity to back an anti-imperialist struggle—reveal Tambo’s efforts to keep the movement alive despite such setbacks. The film also considers the US and Britain’s continued support of the apartheid government against the people’s movement, a decision premised on a global economic calculus. Sir Sonny Ramphal Vice President of the UN General Assembly, laments, “That really was a tragedy because apartheid was hostile to every Western value. It was the absence of democracy, it was a police state and tyranny, it was racism in its most blatant form. And yet, the West aligned itself with South Africa by refusing to condemn it.”
Heads up! Time to cup a lug around the long-awaited first hear—and single release—from the re-Roth’ed Van Halen: “Tattoo”. Up on the net today, this tease-of-a-track accompanies the obligatory news of a major tour of the United States. And while it would be easy to assume that any new material from a rock band now the best part of two-point-five decades past their prime time would be nothing more than cover for a hit & run soak up of serious dollars along the revival road…
Fair due – Tattoo is no “Jump”, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” or “Jamie’s Cryin’”. Neither is it “Yankee Rose”, “Crazy From the Heat” or “Just Like Paradise”. It is, however, Diamond Dave, Eddie Van Halen; loud, gonzo – and about bloody time. They’re in one place—and despite not being straight up instant classic VH—neither is “Tattoo” some disgrace.