Imnotsayin watched the premiere of Brooklyn native Spike Lee's poignant Hurricane Katrina documentary "When the Levees Broke" last night on HBO. Parts I and II of the "Requiem in Four Acts" covered the leadup and the storm itself, as well as the immediate aftermath: the inexorably slow reaction of state and federal government agencies and the tangible suffering and death that resulted.
The program seems likely to become the essential memoir of the tragic event. It is a non-narrated collage of video, stills, audio clips and interviews, woven together with a haunting soundtrack of New Orleans jazz classics. The show opens with Louie Armstrong singing "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans", and that sets the melancholy tone for much of the first two acts.
But it is the human stories that resonate loudest: Lee's choice of interview subjects, from the poor resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, who calmly recounts his mother's death in her wheelchair while waiting for evacuation buses outside the convention center, to Mayor Ray Nagin, to a clearly affluent white couple, who reflect on the fact that they discovered their neighborhood was flooded while vacationing at Pompeii, the program cuts a wide socioeconomic and cultural swath.
Hearing about the horrors from those who lived through the event, seeing the devistation covered by an incredulous British news crew, and reliving the initial laissez-faire reaction of the Bush administration (Condoleeza Rice went shopping for Ferragamo shoes, Dick Cheney went fly fishing, and Bush himself played air guitar with a country singer while thousands awaited rescue and dozens died in the Delta heat) are important reminders of an event that should never be repeated nor forgotten.
"When the Levees Broke" concludes with Acts III and IV tonight at 9 pm. All four hours will be rebroadcast on the anniversary of the storm - next Tuesday, August 29th at 8 pm.
"When the Levees Broke" HBO Site