". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Screening: Bayou Maharajah - The Tragic Genius of James Booker

One of the perks of being in NYC in July and August is the number of film festivals.

Of the two screenings to which we were invited Monday was this one, Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker.

It is very good technically as documentary film working with so little archival film television materials. Fortunately, there are still many people in New Orleans -- and elsewhere, like Joe Boyd -- who knew James Booker, who worked with him. These are all deeply informed and articulate.  The audience enjoys their screen time as well.

Beyond that, Lily Keber (director, producer, cinematographer) remained focused on subject.  She communicates clearly James Booker, who suffered from so many demons, is of interest because he was a very great musician, not because he suffered from demons. The Harry Connick Jr. on-screen illustrations of what Booker on the piano, which so few musicians can,  drove that home. We felt that Lily Keber had put no more and no less emphasis on Booker's gay aspects than was appropriate to tell his story. Evidently there were sources she couldn't utilize because they objected to the homosexuality being in the film at all.

Thanks to el V, by now I've spent a lot of time with great piano players, more than one of them 'professors,' from the Valdez father and son, Bebo and Chuchu, to Mac. El V's been blessed with friendships with some of the best.  But most of all this film kept me thinking about a great composer and pianist, Julius Eastman, who Ned met in that failure to continue on with academia at the U of Buffalo, and with whom the friendship continued here in NYC. Julius too was a gay black man in that same era, deeply steeped in the White European classical music traditions, sharing so many of the demons that rode James Booker.  He too died tragically too early.  El V mourns him to this day.

As another friend, who spent much time with James Booker, and saw the film on Sunday, said, the film did seem to attract the converted. It was a good house for a Monday afternoon, with most of us claiming a prior knowledge of Booker. But these were also film heads, who spoke to the filmic aspects of it during the Q&A.

We had to leave before then though, because there was a screening of another film at the Cervantes Institute to which we were invited, ironically, from the makers of Chico and Rita.

Lily Keber is to be congratulated, for making a film about an iconic figure of New Orleans, who could only have grown his music out of the musical culture of this city.  This film is another installment in the musical history of New Orleans that makes me wish so much I had known New Orleans far earlier than I did

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