Pop Picks

Poverty, suffering, art, and healing

Posted on April 13, 2011

Over the weekend I watched a movie I absolutely loved when I saw it in 1983, the year of its release: Tender Mercies. Set in rural Texas and starring Robert Duvall as a washed up country western singer, it just has a ton going for it.  Duvall wrote and performed many of the songs (I know country western is a pretty damn low bar, but he was still impressive).  A young Ellen Barkin plays his daughter.  It was directed by Australian Bruce Beresford (who did one of my favorite courtroom/war/justice movies: Breaker Morant).  It was written by Horton Foote.  I was almost afraid to watch it in case it seemed dated or fell short of my memories, but it did not disappoint. I highly recommend it if you have not seen it.

The movie has a lot to say about sin, redemption, and the power of art to heal.  A contemporary take on those themes, very powerfully rendered, is the video you can find at: http://www.genderacrossborders.com/2011/04/12/masculinities-hip-hop-and-how-i-got-schooled-at-the-clpp-conference/#more-18118.  Scroll down to the video with the kid on the street corner in Oakland (can’t decide whether you should read the text before or after — you’ll watch it more than once I’m sure).  It reminded me of a very moving 60 Minutes story I recently saw on gospel music (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/03/31/60minutes/main20049243.shtml?tag=contentMain;contentBody), in many ways also about the power of art to heal. 

One of my very favorite students at Marlboro College when I was there was Anna Vogler, from Ashville, NC.  Her little sister was stricken with luekemia and Anna went home to help care for her in the pediatric oncology ward of the local hospital.  Anna, a talented artist, started doing art and photography with her sister and then the other kids in the ward and she discovered that A) the kids often did very moving and sometimes startling work making meaning of their pain, fears, and hopes and B) that it seemed to lift their spirits.  Revelation grew into something more when she created an organization called Arts for Life (http://www.artforlife.org/), now 13 years ago.  Arts for Life is now in 8 states and DC and an integral part of many children’s hospitals.

I guess the idea of art bringing solace and dignity to the pained is nothing new.  The best music this country has produced and most of its best artists came out of suffering and of poor disenfranchised communities.  Think about gospel and soul and the blues, all with their roots in slavery.  Think of rock and roll with roots in the blues, poor southern communities, and the industrial blight of post-war Britain.  Hop hop and rap out of urban ghettos.  How much great music has come out of Bel-Air, Westchester, and Palm Springs?

A final pop culture recommendation:

The new “nordic noir” series on AMC, The Killing, is as perfect a police drama as you will see.  The two-hour pilot aired two Sundays ago and the third episode was last Sunday.  It’s an American remake of a Swedish series, 13 episodes long, and it  is one of the most perfectly crafted dramas we have seen in a while.  It moves slowly and focuses on one case from three vantage points: the detectives, the grieving family, and the politican impliacted in the case.  Set in Seattle with perpetual drizzle and gray skies, it evokes Twin Peaks a little bit (especially with its soundtrack) without the goofball metaphysics which rendered TP first a comedy and then just silly. 

MC rebroadcasts the previously shown episodes.  I highly recommend you catch up with it – -you’ll be thrilled, though you will never be satisfied with another episode of Law and Order again.  Sort of like eating your first steak after years of Spam.

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