Monday, February 05, 2007
Humanity, Real And Imagined

In recent months I've developed a serious walking habit -- four or five days a week I go out and cover a few miles. I finally "got" walking for pleasure while living in London, where I would ride the Tube to an unfamiliar part of town on empty afternoons, then head up to street level and wander aimlessly for hours through centuries-old lanes and alleyways, looking at the range and depth of humanity, and the amazingly detailed landscape of an ancient city. No museum was ever as compelling as Brick Lane on market day.

But Memphis isn't a pedestrian-friendly town, so in order to walk you have to go to designated walking areas, which are too controlled and truncated to really scratch the walking itch. Usually I go to a nice squirrel-filled park, or sometimes I go walk by the river. But sooner or later walking in even the prettiest circles gets incredibly fucking boring.

So yesterday I departed from the official river walk, and headed into downtown. It's all but deserted on Sunday afternoons, and in February even the tourists stay away. I went up the bluff, through the bizarre, Thomas Kinkade-esque planned community that makes no sense, and out into the warehouse district along South Main. I walked up and down Beale for the hell of it, then back to Main, following the trolley line to the Pyramid. In the long ago, my first boyfriend and I used to walk the same route together late at night; that was before the area was "revitalized" and the trolley line restored, and the place was populated almost solely by vagrants back then. Over the intervening years, that strip briefly became one of the most rapidly re-developed parts of town and for a while was bursting with trendy businesses. Now it's starting to look more like it did ten or fifteen years ago. They're still desperately restoring everything in sight, but the shop fronts are emptying out again, and while lots of upwardly-mobile types now inhabit the tall buildings, the only people out on the street are the crazies and vagrants -- how I love them. Especially the old black guy carrying the box of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies and singing scat at the top of his lungs, scaring the tourists. Same as it ever was.

Anyway, it felt incredibly good to do some city-walking again, to be operating on a human scale, to be down on street level. I always know, but still manage to forget, how much of your environment you miss when you stay in your car. From a moving car, a city might as well be a movie backdrop; on foot, you can perceive the tiny signs of human habitation that gives the world a sense of depth and substance; in a car you can get the general idea, but you miss the detail and nuance that give a place its soul. In fact, I enjoyed my walk so much, I think I might try to make it a regular thing. Memphis doesn't offer me many options, but there are still plenty of alleyways that I haven't walked through yet -- I can probably squeeze a few months of Sunday afternoon walks out of the place before I exhaust its possibilities.

(Don't... just don't. I know you're tempted. Don't.)

So, I guess it's time I got around to mentioning something that I've been thinking about for several years, but have generally avoided for various reasons. And I can foresee getting some guff from several corners over what I'm about to say. But I just can't keep my yap shut any longer:

Seriously, Craig Brewer... what the fuck?

Now, in my limited, personal experience, Craig is a thoroughly decent guy. These days he's a little stand-offish and aloof (which is only what you'd expect from a guy who's recently made huge wads of cash in a competitive and highly-desirable business while living in a broken city), but he still looks after his Memphis friends and so far as I can tell he has yet to turn into the epic asshole that most recent Sundance darlings quickly become. So big respect to him for staying reasonably down-to-earth in the wake of his success.

But I've been seeing billboards around town for his most recent film, Black Snake Moan, and I can only say that I'm somewhat bemused. And I say that very reluctantly, because I don't want to be; I want to welcome a Memphis director's success with open arms. Furthermore, since I haven't had the opportunity to actually see the film yet, I reserve the right to amend or contradict anything I say here -- this is more about Mr. Brewer's self-presentation than any specific film. But, but... well, I mean, look:

- in the film, Christina Ricci plays a blonde nymphomaniac
- and Samuel L. Jackson plays a blues musician
- who chains Ricci up in his house to "cure" her
- and this is the poster
- and it's called "Black Snake Moan" for fuck's sake.

The blanket response to which, apparently, is "it's not what you think!" And yeah, maybe it's not. I understand that the film is supposed to be about subverting our assumptions about race and sex, but still... dude, what the fuck? Why do women always have to be strippers, whores and nymphomaniacs in your films? If this were a film about, say, a white woman keeping a black thug chained up in her house to "cure" him of his evil ways, would "it's not what you think!" really suffice?

And my discomfort with Brewer's work goes further than his female characters. The man makes "black" films, but is not black himself. Which is fine -- he can tell any story he wants. But it bothers me a bit that in a city that's roughly 65% African-American, and supposedly one of the most prosperous cities in the country for blacks, we have yet to produce a black director who's able to tell black stories from a black perspective. Which isn't Craig Brewer's fault, but I hope he at least spends some time thinking about it.

And my final thought on the matter: it may indeed be hard out here for a pimp. But at least he doesn't have to come home every night with his breath smelling like strangers' penises. I'm just sayin'.
1:04 PM ::
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