Sunday, May 16, 2004
Why Memphis Sucks

(Warning: bitterness ahead)

Tonight was the big fundraising party for the film we're commencing to shoot in barely over two weeks. It was quite a spread... we managed to wriggle our way into one of the nicest reception spaces in town (a vintage industrial building-turned-art space), we had enough booze to completely incapacitate more than a hundred and enough food for twice that many. We had poets, dancers, a band, DJs, even an opera singer who regularly performs at Carnegie Hall. We had art and other assorted goodies up for auction, we had the entire cast and crew, everybody dressed up in their bohemian finery, and for what?

Fuck all, that's what.

First of all, thanks to the handful of non-cast-and-crew who did show up, and as a party, it was fun. But as a fundraiser, it was 75% failure. The hope was that the event would snare us around $20K -- and that should have been perfectly possible. As a director, Morgan's got potential, and his last film did well enough to arouse the interest of most people who saw it. If he's lucky and persistent, he could be quite big one day. In any respectable city, that should be enough to snag a measly 20 grand for a friggin' movie.

But here in Memphis -- which, as I've pointed out, sucks ass -- there is no such financial support upon which to rely. I'd be surprised if we cleared more than $2000 tonight. Which is absolutely pathetic.

I've believed for a few years now that some places just aren't conducive to certain activities. Places seem to almost have a will that partly determines what kind of things go on there... I first stumbled upon this theory in Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography. My film school in London was located right in the middle of Covent Garden, a stone's throw (literally) from the West End theater district and very near Soho. But to get to Soho, you had to cross a patch of pretty rough turf along Tottenham Court Road. Soho was already a bit rough -- by day it was the media center of London, but by night it's a world-class red-light district -- but by and large it's as safe as anyplace else in the city. This patch along Tottenham Court Road, though, was nasty... it seemed that when prostitutes and junkies could no longer hack it in Soho, they rolled into the gutters along this bit of unhappy real estate.

But I was stunned to discover that -- completely in spite of human intervention -- this small triangle of land, no bigger than three of four city blocks total, had been the home to much of the city's human refuse for nearly two thousand years. Even back when London was just a collection of shacks by the river, the land that it now beneath Centrepoint Tower was a leper colony; later on it became known as St. Giles after the church that once sat where Centrepoint now stands, which was primarily a mission serving prostitutes, those consumed by gin, the sick, and any other derelicts who wandered by. Today, Centrepoint is one of the largest homeless shelters in Europe. None of this was intentional, but this patch of London has always been, and still is, a place where society's outcasts gather. And there are lots of other such sites in the city; clearly some locations are just meant to fulfill a specific purpose.

But to get back to my original point, by this logic, clearly Memphis is not meant to be a place where anything terribly creative happens.

I know what you're thinking: "What about music? Isn't Memphis completely overrun with musicians? Al Greene? B.B. King? W.C. Handy? Elvis Presley, for crying out loud?" Well, yes... but in terms of supporting any meaningful innovation in music, Memphis hasn't produced jack shit since the early sixties (at the latest). Which isn't to say there aren't good musicians here; there are some great bands currently inhabiting Memphis. But not one of them has found success in this city, they've all had to go elsewhere to make their mark... which is really, really sad. (Memphis' biggest musical product in the last ten years? Justin Fucking Timberlake. That pretty much sums it up.)

There's an enclave of creative types in Midtown, clinging to their incestuous little outpost on the barren tundra that is the Memphis art scene. They're good people, doing their best considering how little they receive for their efforts. But in terms of vibrancy and genuine creative life force, these folks can't begin to approach the situation that exists in other places. Two coffee shops, a bar, and an independent bookstore does not a Bohemian Paradise make. But without a support structure for creative people, a city can only descend into suburban wasteland. A decade or so ago, people took to Midtown with the hopes that they could create a pocket of urban vibrancy; a decade from now, if things continue as they have so far, they'll give up on the task. We can keep building sports stadiums (we currently have three sitting within a single three-mile area), or we can drop a fraction of that cash to make Memphis a more culturally interesting place to live. It's a pretty simple equation.

Not that it matters to me... fuck this city, I'm gone at the first opportunity.

(BTW, sorry I've been kinda depressing lately... obviously I'm not too thrilled with my lot at the moment. I've been in one place way too long; clearly it's time to start seeking some new opportunities.)

(Correction: the road in London I'm referring to isn't Charing Cross, it's Tottenham Court Road. Look, I haven't been there for over two years now, my mental map is getting a little fuzzy. And hey, I was close.)



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