SBIFF Two Stunning Films, Three Inspiring People

There are good and decent people in the world who make an impact through individual effort.  That's what I'm feeling about the festival today.

Sorry I didn't get reviews out yesterday.  I had a lot to say about a couple of films, and I had said most of it when the computer ate my homework.  Serious bummer.  I was too beat to redo it, so I'll just recommend without saying more.

Sound City is easily my favorite film of the festival.  It's funny and interesting and has a lot of amazing footage of musicians working during a session, planning what to do, etc.   Just a lot of fun and very interesting.  This film is cool, and I don't mean hipster cool, I mean cool like we all wish we could be.

The Sapphires is just for fun, and it's a lot of fun.  I have a couple of critiques, but who cares, it is enjoyable.  Lot of singing, and I mean that in a good way.

Greenwich Village:  Music That Defined a Generation is also very interesting and fun.

On to today, which was amazing.  Charles Lloyd: Arrows to Infinity was infinitely more than I expected. I had intended to watch about a half hour--I'm no jazz afficionado--then sneak out and go to another film but I was hooked right away.  For anyone with a spiritual bent or a fascination with the art of music, this qualifies as must see.  If you have both, I have to ask why you haven't seen it already.  A theme comes here that was examined in some detail in Sound City, that of musicians working together.  The board in Sound City was analog, which puts a lot of pressure on musicians to get it right the first time.  No overdubbing or electronically fixing things later.  The result is musicians discussing how to deal with various aspects of the piece, working things out together as they go along rather than sitting alone at a laptop.  With live jazz, of course, the tight rope is that much higher.  There are transcendent moments aplenty in this love-filled doc.  Here's Lloyd early in the film:  "I got off the bus and got real still.  [pause]  You can't shoot arrows into infinity if you're moving all over the place.  You have to pull the bow back, then the arrows have wings."  This is a sliver of an example of the wonderful use of language and turn of phrase that characterizes the film.  There is also the aspect of character.  When Lloyd first arrived in New York, Booker T. advised him, it's not about technical stuff anymore, it's about character.  Lloyd has that in spades.  Something about his open style made him popular with hippies, who placed his album Forest Flower on the record rack next the the Grateful Dead and Steppenwolf.  His label thought they had a formula, but Lloyd is nobody's trained seal.  At the height of success, having played Europe and Russia, Lloyd withdrew and spent time in isolation and stillness.  The label had him blackballed, well the story is a long one, but it is a picture of how to live a life with integrity, how to refuse to allow corporations to steal your soul.  There are many many profound, moving, instructive, and beautiful moments in this.  The principles were there to speak after the film including Lloyd, who is a delight.

Here is one example of a moment.  It must be seen to fully appreciate, but this is to give a notion without the eloquence and elegance.  Eric Harland is talking about playing with Lloyd and tabla player extraordinaire Zakir Hussain.  He refers to Lloyd, who plays with utter freedom, then Hussain, whose technical skills could take "generations" to develop.  He's listening to them and thinking what should he do.  Will he be the one who just sat petrified and never played a note?  There's nothing for it but to stand up and play (metaphorically, because he plays drums sitting down).  He is trying to fit in, then suddenly he has a moment, he becomes himself and plays what is coming through him, then the other two players thank him.  The thanking he speaks of comes in the music, while they are playing.  Harland says without that moment, if he had never had that moment in his life . . .  He apologizes for being overcome by emotion.

Blood Brother is more emotional but equally inspiring--you don't have to be a musical genius to change the world with your love.   This film is an extended lesson in humility and simple commitment.  Reading what I've written so far, I realize i can only make the film seem less than it is.  Follow the link to the preview and think how that movie would be if it were the best that can be imagined from watching the preview--that's this film  Ordinary people with ordinary problems and ordinary life skills doing what needs to be done.  Deeply moving, yes, but what makes this stand out is its utter authenticity or rather, the raw authenticity of the experiences it depicts.  The film-maker and a couple of crew were there for Q and A.  A really cool thing is that the film was paid for with donated money, they have no debt and all the crew donated their three years of work.  All profit will go to support the work at the refuge for children and women with infected with HIV.  This may be a significant amount in that last Sunday, this film won best documentary at Sundance.

Hannah Arendt may not be great cinema, but it enlightens a topic that has been much on my mind as I've been involved in the white privilege fights.  I have read quotes from her that have opened my eyes, but I never knew before the extent to which she was vilified for insisting on a more nuanced view than the evil nazi individual.  She was struck by the mediocrity of Eichmann in comparison with the enormous nature of the crimes he was accused of.  She came up with the notion of the banality of evil:  "The worst evil in the world is committed by nobodies."  Because the system of nazism could not be put on trial, all the blame falls on individual cogs. As Arendt put it,  Eichmann simply was not thinking.  I think she meant the same thing I mean when I say that the consequences aren't real to people.  Being unconcerned about children dying from drone strikes seems to me comparable in kind to Eichmann's being unconcerned what happened to his train cars filled with Jews once he efficiently set them on their way to Auschwitz.  I remember vividly a moment dealing with a former principal at the high school where I worked, I suddenly understood that it really would be all the same to him were he running a concentration camp.  He wasn't an evil man, just a very small one.

Arendt also stated that fewer Jews would have died if Jewish leaders had not cooperated with the nazis--that chaos would have been better.  A discussion of her views did not break out; instead she was accused of hating her race, of self-hatred, of being arrogant, of lacking feeling and all manner of character assassination.  She lost life-long friends and received hate mail.  Everyone knew she was wrong.  Watching how people could not own their shadows, could not bring themselves to allow subtlety, I felt I was seeing the stage was being set for Israel's current shameful treatment of the Palestinians and others. We even see an early effort of Israel to control its self-image as permanent victim, never aggressor when Arendt is visited and threatened by Israeli intelligence personnel.

Here are some Arendt quotes that I find frighteningly pertinent to our time.  I'm sure many people will be willing to applaud their wisdom in theory while being adamant about not applying them to their own behavior. It is sobering how determinedly she was attacked for saying these things.

The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.

The greatest evildoers are those who don't remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back.  For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur-the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

Here's my take away wrt to my adventurese in blogging--evil is battled by creating a society of thinkers.  This is the opposite of insisting that everyone think the same way we do.

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A couple of stories from the films

geomoo's picture

On Greenwich Village, Pete Seeger corrected an apochryphal story that I saw told on another very good documentary.  The story was that people were so upset when Dylan went electric, playing Maggie's Farm at some outdoor venue, that someone tried to cut the electric cable.  Pete said he was the sound was bad and you couldn't hear the words.  He went to the sound and said these are great words, fix the sound.  The sound guy, misunderstanding, said, "They like it like that."  It wasn't being plugged in that Seeger wanted to fix, it was that you couldn't hear the words of one of Dylan's best songs.

Here's a Neil Young story from Sound City.  The first time Neil came, he was driving up in a horrible old beater, burning oil and marijuana smoke coming out all the windows, and here come 2 cop cars behind him.  Cut to Neil, "I always attracted a lot of cops because of my cars.  I didn't have a license because of [something or other]"  Back to story.  So the cops pull him over, jump out and draw down.  They go to Neil's car and, about two minutes later, they all get back in their cars and drive away.  Without Neil. That's the studio guys' introduction to Neil Young.

A woman from the audience in the Q and A after Greenwich Village said she was surprised there was no mention of Harry Belafonte.  She said she lived there during that time and that Belafonte sort of underlay all of it.

Finally, here's an interesting thing someone who knew Charles Lloyd said.  He said, speaking only of Lloyd's playing, that everyone was doing the street corner and down in the garbage can blues and Lloyd came in with his creases straight.  That it was like a question, is that cool?  He said it in a loving way--they all worship this man, think he's the most loving, connected person to come along.  Lloyd was successful at a terrible time in jazz, when even Monk was dropped from a label--it was going out.  Here's the part I found interesting.  Guy says the brothers knew the hippies were looking to get in touch with their "white skin privilege" (the only precise part is in quotes--I cannot emulate the jazzy way all those cats talk) and that they were all looking to Jimi and Taj and Charles to get across.  He was respected because of his reaching out.  It occurred to me how stuck it is in hippie time to be acting like since that started 40 years ago, nobody learned nothing.  The hippies been working on it all that time from then to now, making it incredible that they be picked on for it and understandable that they're not interested in the shallow game playing around it.  Uh, yeah, it's a real issue and has been all along.  Where have you been, under a rock?

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