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When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

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on: July 13, 2006, 07:27:30 PM
Spike's peek
HBO will pull out all the stops for the premiere of Spike Lee's film about the flooding of New Orleans

New Orleans Arena will host the world premiere of Spike Lee's cable-TV documentary about New Orleans' devastation by failed levees, described by one network executive as "one of the most important films HBO has ever made," on Aug. 16, five days before it airs on the cable network.

The two-part TV premiere of the four-hour film, titled "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," will be Aug. 21 and 22. All four hours will repeat on Aug. 29, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall.

Only the first two hours will be screened at the New Orleans Arena event. Admission is free, though tickets are expected to be distributed by the Arena box office (starting Thursday) and Ticketmaster, according to HBO, which is expected to announce the premiere formally today.

An estimated 10,000 seats will be made available for the New Orleans event, which Lee is expected to attend.

If only the people interviewed by Lee show up, the Arena should fill up quickly.

More than 100 interviews were shot, including with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco; New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin; musicians Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard and Kanye West; TV reporter Soledad O'Brien; the Rev. Al Sharpton; actors Wendell Pierce and Sean Penn; as well as many local residents and news-media members.

Blanchard, a New Orleans resident and frequent Lee collaborator, composed the score for the film.

Lee has done two prior documentaries for HBO: 1998's "4 Little Girls" and 2002's "Jim Brown: All-American."

Today, Lee will field questions about the project from members of the Television Critics Association and screen a clip of the documentary.

Preview discs have not yet been distributed to critics, mostly because Lee is still working on the film, according to HBO.

Sheila Nevins, chief of HBO's documentary unit, has seen it all. She commissioned the film and is listed as an executive producer.

"I believe . . . it will be the film of record of Katrina," she said in a telephone interview. "And it will be Spike's 'The Sorrow and the Pity' or 'Shoah' or whatever.

"I think he didn't have to make this film. He didn't make real money on this film. It cost less per hour than most of my docus. It's a big, enormous commitment on HBO's part to put four hours of television on about Katrina, but it's worth every minute of it."

Describing the work as "operatic," Nevins said the four hours divide into acts.

The first captures Katrina's approach and landfall, the second the official emergency response failures once the city flooded.

Act three places Katrina in the context of New Orleans' social and cultural history, she said.

"It became this historical look at the culture and the uniqueness of this particular part of the United States," she said. "The whole love for New Orleans and passion for this city and its incredible history became the third act in the middle of everything.

"And then the fourth act really is about starting again, and the fact that you must preserve this city at any cost."

Referencing "The Sorrow and the Pity" and "Shoah" might spark anxiety in some Crescent City hearts.

One is a documentary about the Nazi occupation of France, the other a 9½-hour documentary about the Holocaust.

In Lee's first public utterances about this project -- during an October appearance on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" -- he seemed to be embracing evidence-free but persistent local folklore that the levees had been "blown" to achieve aquatic ethnic cleansing.

Nevins has said previously that the project is "not a conspiracy film." Critics will try to determine today whether that's true.

"The takeaway really is that a man shouldn't have to float away from his home," Nevins said. "He should be rescued from his home, because this is America.

"And a mother should not watch her child drift away in water, or a husband watch his wife disappear.

"It was a failure of man to protect man, which is really what America is about.

"To me, it's probably one of the most important films HBO has ever made."
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Reply #1 on: July 14, 2006, 06:56:21 PM
Lee Offers His Take on Hurricane Katrina

Spike Lee was at the Venice Film Festival in Italy watching on television as Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans last August.

"I was just really mad and sad," he said. "I said, `This is going to be a major moment in American history, and I want to do something about it.'"

The result is a four-hour documentary called "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" airing Aug. 21-22 on HBO. It shows how New Orleans survived Katrina against a backdrop of performances by Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard at the Superdome, the French Quarter and the levees.

"What I was really amazed by was the spirit of the people of New Orleans," Lee said this week at the Television Critics Association's summer meeting.

"Another thing I found amazing was the humor. They're profane. We wanted to record the raw feelings of these people. That's what makes New Orleans the most unique city in America, and that's tough for me to say, being from New York."

Lee said it's important to remember that similar disasters could happen anywhere in America.

"Volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods. It's not just New Orleans," he said. "We should be scared because if FEMA you saw what they did. Pray to God you don't have to depend on FEMA. This stuff affects all Americans."
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Reply #2 on: July 15, 2006, 02:05:09 PM
I'm sure Lee will be honest and examine all sides of the disaster -- which includes New Orleans residents shooting at rescue workers, so that looting could continue.
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Reply #3 on: July 15, 2006, 02:22:05 PM
I'm sure you've just typed something dumb.
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Reply #4 on: July 15, 2006, 02:48:46 PM
I'm sure Lee will be honest and examine all sides of the disaster -- which includes New Orleans residents shooting at rescue workers, so that looting could continue.

Haha!  Those pesky blacks!
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Reply #5 on: August 07, 2006, 02:32:54 AM
From the NY Times.

Agony of New Orleans, Through Spike Lee’s Eyes

Published: August 3, 2006
NEW ORLEANS — From the beginning Spike Lee knew that Hurricane Katrina was a story he had to tell. Watching the first television images of floating bodies and of desperate people, mostly black, stranded on rooftops, he quickly realized he was witnessing a major historical moment. As those moments kept coming, he spent almost a year capturing the hurricane’s sorrowful consequences for a four-hour documentary, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” to be shown on HBO this month.

The film, which Mr. Lee directed and produced, comes 20 years after the August 1986 debut of his first hit, “She’s Gotta Have It,” about Nola Darling, a Brooklyn graphic artist, and her three lovers. The provocative films that followed (“Do the Right Thing,” “Jungle Fever,” “Malcolm X,” among others), with their searing cultural critiques, cemented Mr. Lee’s reputation as his generation’s pioneering black filmmaker. This year he had a commercial and critical success with “Inside Man,” about a bank heist.

Like him or not, Mr. Lee, 49, is an artist many people feel they know. People, black and white, approached him and the “Levees” crew here, he said, imploring: “Tell the story. Tell the story.” “It becomes like an obligation we have,” he said.

Mr. Lee’s reputation helped get his camera crew into the city’s water-soaked homes, he said. It allowed him to stretch out a complex story, with themes of race, class and politics that, he said, have too often been sensationalized or rendered in sound bites. He received permission, for example, from Kimberly Polk to film the funeral of her 5-year-old daughter, Sarena Polk, swept away when the waters ravaged the Lower Ninth Ward. “She came to me in a dream,” Ms. Polk says in the film. “She said, ‘Mama, I’m falling.’ ”

“Levees” opens with the Louis Armstrong song “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” and offers black-and-white images of the city’s Southern-with-a-twist past — Mardi Gras, Confederate flags — interspersed with scenes of children airlifted from demolished houses, a door marked “dead body inside.”

This gumbo of a film lingers on the politics of disaster response, the science of levees and storms, the city’s Creolized culture, the stories of loss. Many faces are familiar: politicians like C. Ray Nagin, the city’s mayor, and Kathleen Blanco, the governor of Louisiana; celebrities like Harry Belafonte, Kanye West, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Sean Penn; and the native son and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who talks about New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz. “It’s like somebody violating your mama,” Mr. Marsalis says of the flooding.

Mr. Lee said he intended most of the “Levee” stories to come from the ordinary people who endured the Superdome’s makeshift shelter or long searches for loved ones. So “Levees” includes many people like Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, depressed and outraged after her family was evacuated to different places around the country and she waited four months for a government trailer. “Not just the levees broke,” she says in the film. “The spirit broke.”

And there’s Paris Ervin, a University of New Orleans student, who fled Hurricane Katrina but left behind his mother, Mary Johnell Morant. Months later, after their home was officially searched and marked empty, the police found Ms. Morant’s remains in the kitchen, under a refrigerator. It took two more months for the coroner’s office to identify her officially and release the body.

As a kind of thank-you to the many residents like Mr. Ervin, the first half of “Levees” will be first shown free on Aug. 16 to 10,000 people at the New Orleans Arena. HBO is to show the first two hours of “Levees” on Aug. 21 at 9 p.m., the last two on Aug. 22 at 9 p.m. It will be shown in its entirety at 8 p.m. on Aug. 29, the anniversary of the hurricane, one of the country’s worst natural disasters.

The critics and audience will have the final say on whether “Levees” is the thorough examination that Mr. Lee intends. His views are clear. “What happened in New Orleans was a criminal act,” he said, a tragic backhanded slap to poor, black or politically insignificant people. “The levees were a Band-Aid here and a Band-Aid there. In the famous statement of Malcolm X, the chickens came home to roost. Somebody needs to go to jail.”

Douglas Brinkley, the author of “The Great Deluge,” a book about Hurricane Katrina said: “When I heard Spike Lee was coming down, I felt grateful. I thought the media perspective — while good — still showed that a lot wasn’t being asked.” Mr. Lee is “grappling with the larger question of why so many African-Americans distrust government,” said Mr. Brinkley, a professor of history at Tulane University, who appears in the film.

Just as Michael Apted’s “7 Up,” documentary series followed a group of people, filmed first as children, Mr. Lee said he hopes to return to the people profiled in “Levees.”

One 90-degree Saturday, some of those interviewed gathered in a big meeting room at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, not far from the Convention Center. Each person was photographed within a frame, intended to convey the idea that each interview is a portrait.

“It’s really just a mood,” Cliff Charles, the cinematographer on “Levees,” said of what he was trying to capture in the various portraits.

“Levees” has no voice-over narration and is stitched together by the witnesses and commentators. Sam Pollard, the producer and supervising editor, said they had made 30 or so versions of the documentary, wading through hours of film for the moments and the elements that best tell the story.

Mr. Pollard, who like Mr. Charles is black, has worked with Mr. Lee on two other documentaries, “4 Little Girls,” about the girls killed in the bombing of a black church in Birmingham in 1963, and “Jim Brown: All American,” about the former pro football star. Mr. Pollard said Mr. Lee came up with the film’s title last year, before they started shooting.

On the set Mr. Lee asked all the questions from a typed list. (“You have to say the question in the answer,” he said to those he interviewed. “Don’t look at me, keep looking at the lenses.”)

The interview lineup on that day in May included Joseph Bruno, a lawyer, talking about the complexities of flood insurance, among other topics; the musician Terence Blanchard (who also did the score for the film); Calvin Mackie, a mechanical engineer; Brian Thevenot and Trymaine Lee (who had Mr. Lee autograph his videos), reporters from The New Orleans Times-Picayune; and Mr. Brinkley.

Mr. Lee’s direction was terse, although he is more soft-spoken than his public image suggests. He told Mr. Mackie, whose father had lung cancer and was supposed to start chemotherapy the day the hurricane hit: “Talk about your father and stepmother. Say their names too.”

Mr. Mackie, 38, a professor of engineering at Tulane, was mourning their deaths. His 43-year-old stepmother Linda Emery Mackie’s breast cancer had metastasized in the weeks after the hurricane. His 63-year-old father Willie Mackie’s cancer treatment was delayed for six weeks, his health records lost. They died days apart in March.

“I hope that the documentary opens America’s eyes to how we continue to struggle here,” Mr. Mackie, who is black, said after his on-camera interview. “No matter how you feel about Spike, and I don’t like all his movies, people know about his integrity and his unrelenting commitment to African-American people, to tell our stories. You talk about street credibility, well, he has a cultural credibility.”

“Levees” started out as a two-hour, $1 million film. HBO executives looking for a Hurricane Katrina project snapped it up. Mr. Lee and his crew were able to get into New Orleans after Thanksgiving, Mr. Lee said, and he quickly realized that he needed two more hours and $1 million more to give the story a full airing. He got it.

Sheila Nevins, the film’s executive producer and the president of the documentary and family division at HBO, said “Levees” was an easy sell, at both prices.

“I realized this would be the film of record,” she said. “When Spike interviews a forgotten American whose kid floated away in the water, he lets them raise up their poetry. They’re able to express to him what they’re not able to express to anyone else.”

With all those hours of conversations and interviews, he certainly ended up with themes that went beyond the floodwaters, Mr. Lee said.

“Politics. Ethics. Morals,” he said, when asked what Katrina and in turn “Levees” was really about. “This is about what this country is really going to be.”

Charlie Varley/HBO
The filmmaker Spike Lee in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. “What happened in New Orleans was a criminal act,” Mr. Lee said of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

David Lee/HBO
The trumpeter Terence Blanchard is featured in “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” for which he also composed the score.

A scene from “When the Levees Broke,” showing some of the destruction in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
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Reply #6 on: August 21, 2006, 02:18:33 PM
Reminder for tonight and tomorrow:

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

As the world watched in horror, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Like many who watched the unfolding drama on television news, director Spike Lee was shocked not only by the scale of the disaster, but by the slow, inept and disorganized response of the emergency and recovery effort. Lee was moved to document this modern American tragedy, a morality play witnessed by people all around the world. The result is WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS. The film is structured in four acts, each dealing with a different aspect of the events that preceded and followed Katrina's catastrophic passage through New Orleans. Acts I and II premiere Monday, August 21 at 9pm (ET/PT), followed by Acts III and IV on Tuesday, August 22 at 9pm. All four acts will be seen Tuesday, Aug. 29 (8:00 p.m.-midnight), the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

HBO: Can you talk a little about the title, and its significance?

Spike Lee: Well, titles are always important for all my films. That's the first thing the audience hears. Even before I had written the script for Do the Right Thing I had the title. I can't remember exactly when we came up with the title for When the Levees Broke but it was early on.

HBO: It's very open-ended, and almost leaves the viewer to finish the sentence themselves.

Spike Lee: I've tried to progress past the point with my films where I'm giving a five-word description. One of the significant things about the title is that most people think that it was Katrina that brought about the devastation to New Orleans. But it was a breaching of the levees that put 80 percent of the city under water. It was not the hurricane. And last week the United States Army Corps of Generals went on record and finally 'fessed up, and said that we fucked up.

HBO: What was the thing that devastated you more than anything, about what happened in New Orleans?

Spike Lee: The thing that's very hard for me, and I think'll be hard for any filmmaker who has to ask difficult questions, especially when you're asking people who've lost loved ones, is that, as a filmmaker and as a storyteller, it was my job, it was my duty to ask some difficult questions that I knew would stir up feelings...that would make people break down. Now, that was not my intention. But we have people talk about how their whole life has been changed.

So it's very important that the audience, not just here in the United States but all over the world, hear these stories from these individuals, these witnesses, who saw the horror of what happened in New Orleans.

HBO: There were so many stories, and I'm sure even today you still hear stories that you haven't heard that just horrify you. How did you decide which you were gonna go with?

Spike Lee: Well, when you choose the stories a lot of it depends who's telling the story and who can convey that story. Everything you shoot cannot make it into the final film. So, myself along with my editor and producing partner Sam Pollock, we thought long and hard about what goes, and what stays.
HBO: When did you know you had to do a film about this?

Spike Lee: When Hurricane Katrina went through New Orleans or around it, I was in Venice, Italy at a film festival. It was a very painful experience to see my fellow American citizens, the majority of them African- Americans, in the dire situation they were in. And I was outraged with the slow response of the federal government. And every time I'm in Europe, any time something happens in the world involving African-Americans, journalists jump on me, like I'm the spokesperson for 45 million African-Americans, which I'm not. But many of them expressed their outrage too. And one interesting thing is that these European journalists were saying the images they were seeing looked like they were from a third world country, not the almighty United States of America.

It was around that time that I decided that I would like to do this. And as soon as I got back to New York, I called up (HBO's) Sheila Nevins, and we met, and she agreed to go forward. What many people say in this film is that what happened in New Orleans is unprecedented. Never before in the history of the United States has the federal government turned its back on its own citizens in the manner that they did, with the slow response to people who needed help.

Recently, there was another horrific earthquake, a national disaster in Indonesia. And, once again, the United States government was there within two days. Now it's great that we were in Indonesia in two days. But...let's get a globe [LAUGHS], and see what the distance between the United States and Indonesia, and to New Orleans, and the people in the whole Gulf region.

HBO: When you first set foot on the ground, was it what you expected? Were you prepared for what you saw?

Spike Lee: Anyone who has been to New Orleans will automatically tell you that what you saw on television, the pictures, they can't really describe the scale of the devastation. When you go to the Lower Ninth Ward, it looks- Hiroshima must have look like that. Nagasaki. Beirut. Berlin after it was bombed in World War II. That's the way the Lower Ninth Ward looks like, and a lotta other places in New Orleans.

People in New Orleans are up in arms about progress. People wanna move back. New Orleans was a predominantly African- American city, and its black citizens were dispersed to 46 other states. People wanna come home, but there's nowhere for them to live. They wanna work. The thing is just all messed up. I would not wanna be Mayor Ray Nagin. That has the next hardest job in this country besides the President of the United States, being the mayor of New Orleans.
HBO: Why do you think the response was what it was?

Spike Lee: Well, I would just say, what Kanye West expressed, that George Bush doesn't care about black people. Many people think it had nothing to do with race, it had more to do with class. You have a large population who happened to be poor, and if they did vote they didn't vote Republican anyway. Everybody was on vacation. Ms. Rice was buying Ferrigamo shoes on Madison Avenue while people were drowning, then went to see Spamalot. Cheney was on vacation. Bush was on vacation, and even when the President cut short his vacation, he did not fly directly to New Orleans. He did not fly directly to the Gulf region. He had the pilot of Air Force One do a fly-over.

Politicians do many things that are symbolic. And people might say well, what's the good if it's just symbolic? Sometimes there's a lotta good in symbolism. In 1965 with Hurricane Betsy, then President Lyndon B. Johnson flew to New Orleans, and went to the Lower Ninth Ward. He shined a flashlight in his face in the dark and said, I'm Lyndon B. Johnson, I'm the President of the United States and we care about you. George Bush did not feel he had to do that. He showed up late, and the damage had been done already.

One of the things I hope this documentary does is remind Americans that New Orleans is not over with, it's not done. Americans responded in record numbers to help the people of the Gulf Coast, but let's be honest. Americans have very, very short attention spans. And, I'll admit there was eventually a thing called Katrina fatigue. But if you go to New Orleans, only one-fourth of the population is there. People are still not home. So hopefully, this documentary will bring this fiasco, this travesty, back to the attention of the American people. And maybe the public can get some politicians' ass in the government to move quicker, and be more efficient in helping our fellow American citizens in the Gulf region.

HBO: Has this forever changed the way people think about New Orleans?

Spike Lee: I think when we look back on this many years from now, I'm confident that people are gonna see what happened in New Orleans as a defining moment in American history. Whether that's pro or con is yet to be determined. And that's one of the reasons why I wanted to do this film.
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Reply #7 on: August 31, 2006, 11:52:59 AM
I guess none saw this.

I actually only saw the first part. Real powerful, ppl  kept saying that it looked like a 3rd world country but those receive aid within two days, I hope ppl don't forget about this around election time...

My girlfriend was saying, 'I don't get this country, ppl were so mad at Clinton because some girl blowed him and they were asking for indictment cuz he lied about it, this current idiot made a war for the wrong reasons (lies) and he never gave a shit about the ppl in new orleans until it was too late, how come he's still on office?'

I'll eventually will see this in its entirety and all of you should too.


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Reply #8 on: September 01, 2006, 12:56:00 PM
Spike Lee launches attack on Bush policy

US film-maker Spike Lee says his documentary on Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans has had a political spinoff by helping to "open the American people's eyes" to the incompetence of President George W. Bush.

Showings of the documentary on cable television in the United States have had a "profound effect" said Lee, at the Venice Film Festival to present the European premiere of "When the Levees Broke: A Requim in Four Acts."

"We feel we have embarrassed Bush and his administration, so hopefully they'll move quicker" to rebuild the city.

"He returned to New Orleans on August 29 to do a couple of lame, bogus photo opportunities to say that New Orleans is being rebuilt, that it's on the way back. Do not believe this. Much of New Orleans looks like it did the day after Katrina hit," said Lee.

His four-hour film should not be seen as a "kind of historical document," he said.

"What happened in the film is happening now. That's why I say that it is an incomplete work. It can't be complete while the city is incomplete."

Shown on the anniversary of the hurricane in a city which has long faced the same flood risk as New Orleans, the movie provides a detailed chronology of events through the eyes of survivors and documents the anger of America's black underclass, the real victims of Katrina, at government inaction.

While the destruction is well known to viewers from television news footage, what Lee's film does best is to allow people to linger with the victims, to wade through Katrina's putrid detritus, and hear and see their desperation, anger and, ultimately, their resolve.

"I wanted this film to be a vehicle so that people could testify to the world what happened," said Lee, who has a home in New Orleans.

"Katrina, coupled with the fiasco in Iraq, has definitely opened people's eyes in America" to the extent that sections of Bush's own Republican Party were turning against him.

"George Bush is at his lowest approval record," but was "back on the offensive," said Lee. "He's trying to bamboozle the American people now by trying to equate Hitler, communism, fascism with what's happening in Iraq.

"I hope the American people don't go for the old okey doke and believe that hogwash. This guy's gotta go."

"And it's the same for (Defence Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld, (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice. Terrible human beings, in my opinion."
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Reply #9 on: September 01, 2006, 01:28:24 PM
finally Spike is going to pick on Bush.  go ahead Spike, finish him!  Finish what Michael Moore started.
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Reply #10 on: September 01, 2006, 05:26:32 PM
I'm sure Lee will be honest and examine all sides of the disaster -- which includes New Orleans residents shooting at rescue workers, so that looting could continue.

haha, so true...

or maybe the rapings
or maybe the fact that they were told to get the fuck out of new orleans before katrina hit

but i'd imagine lee will "edit" this out

he intends to make america feel like this:  " :yabbse-cry:"  during the show

I'm sure you've just typed something dumb.

pete, havent you seen crash..minorities suck too :therethere:


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Reply #11 on: September 01, 2006, 06:39:23 PM
you haven't seen the four hours of comprehensive footage and information contained in this film. you know absolutely nothing about it. when you make statements like that you make yourself look like an idiot. as someone who saw both parts of the doc when they first aired, i can tell you that the documentary DOES cover the looting, and the "raping", and the evacuations. it's a completely honest look at what happened.


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Reply #12 on: September 01, 2006, 11:23:50 PM

pete, havent you seen crash..minorities suck too :therethere:

pyramid, have you seen a real "minority" before?  no?  well, I once had sex with your mother, and her face...man, I know you're not into modern art, but imagine jackson pollock and imagine her face as a canvas.  and then another minority guy hi-fived me, which, in minority, means TAG TEAM.  and man, your dad tossed a dog's salad.  and as if that wasn't good enough, hurrican katrina hit all of us at once in the ass, and your whole family LOVED IT!
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Reply #13 on: September 02, 2006, 12:14:42 AM
You forgot to add the, "what do you call that?"  "THE ARISTOCRATS!"


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Reply #14 on: September 03, 2006, 04:52:45 PM
this was, for the most part, excellent. Oral history documentaries are the best, and Lee got very interesting interviewees for this, not to mention that Blanco and Nagin agreed to be interviewed too. That was cool cos it makes them look better than republicans. anyways, the interviewees, damn. even if some parts of the documentary seemed off-topic or repetivitive , like the part about global warming or the countless tours to destructed houses and streets, there was always an interesting insight coming from the people. there was a lot of crying and shit but it's understandable and i never sensed a disgusting sense of manipulation coming from lee.  When Garland Robinette is talking about the Nagin interview and starts crying completely out of the blue,  that was intense. i guess the best thing i could say about the whole four hours is that they resemble grizzly man.
context, context, context.