". . . 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, May 26, 2010

HBO "Treme," Ep. 7 -- "Smoke My Peace Pipe"

This, the darkest episode so far, was co-written by Davis Rogan, upon whom the Treme character, Davis McAlary is based.  It's the saddest, the scariest and the sweetest.

We're up to early February, which is when we came back to New Orleans for the first time after the Flood, at the end of January. What's been missing is the eeriness of the city at night, which was still in place at this first return (we came back almost immediately after that, for two weeks prior and after Mardi Gras). Until Mardi Gras, New Orleans was mostly dark at night. The sheer spookiness of night New Orleans, which has always been present at times, that instructs you, among other essential information, that trees can be something other, something more, than trees, for instance, no matter emergency or not, is also missing.  Gigs in Mid City were played by candlelight. The cops were not there. The violence was perpetrated by mysterious others -- Blackwater, etc. Who you saw patrolling on the street were the National Guard, the Reserves.

The Goodman character is not like any of the members of the Tulane English Dept. we know – they're much hipper, for one thing,. His style of teaching? That's been gone from English depts. everywhere, one might think. It's the kind of English professor David Simon maybe had when he was an undergrad, but man, English academics don't hold forth like that these days (well, maybe, some older members, somewhere, but not at Tulane).

Everything that's not going right, everything's that going wrong, all that isn't being done, is converging. The police dept. covered up the deaths of many prisoners – some of whom shouldn't even have been arrested; LaDonna discovera that Daymo is dead and has been dead a long time. She can't tell her ailing mother, at least not until after Mardi Gras.

It's the depiction of the relentless wearing down, the constant doing it wrong, getting it wrong (particularly by the politicians and media) the checks that don't come or arrive too late, the choice between restoring your home or restoring your business, the lost and the missing, the lack of health services, the trek to get to a place that sells groceries, the lack of mail, the lack of electricty and water, struggle to find, buy and bring in the materials to clean up and rebuild, the work sabotaged by thieves, the lack of work because the construction jobs go to subcontractors who use undocumented labor, not you, who live here, whose family has always lived here, here, where you and your family always did your work as builders, restorers, plumbers, electricians (while playing as much music as you can, very likely), the endless, relentless lying -- that's the terror of Treme, built up out of the previous six episodes. In this episode it is reaching the tipping point.

But this terror is leavened by the sweetness and tenderness that is also living in New Orleans, even at this time. In this episode the sweet and tender are provided by Antoine Batiste, particularly with the dying Danny Nelson. That teeny, silent scene of Antoine putting one of his earbuds into Danny's ear, sharing a final listen of Jelly Roll's "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say" was all sweetness and tenderness, without sentimentality. This is the face of love, the face of respect. This is understanding another person, down to the bottom of his soul. This is the heart of New Orleans. If you don't understand this you don't understand New Orleans, past and present -- and the terrifying implications for the future. This scene wasn't about the hotshots, the lucky ones, the world class traveling artists of New Orleans. It was about what they are rooted in. And when / if this goes, so does their next generation, and so does the New Orleans we all love and value. So does a fundamental treasure of the history of this nation.  Later, another few-seconds-only scene -- Antoine returns. Danny's bed is empty.

Additionally, every scene in which Antoine interacts with a woman in this episode, his eyes, his face -- we understand why there are so many baby mamas. That scene at the airport, with the woman who is returning to New Orleans, her home, who asked who they are playing in honor of? He gives her those eyes, that face, that touch to the cap, and says, "We're playing in honor of you, Ma'am." She melts. So do we.


K. said...

Wendell Pierce is a wonderful actor. We saw him last night in a supporting role. The film is called Night Catches Us; a former colleague of mine produced it. Jamie Hector is also in it, playing another sinister type (although with a tad of a heart this time).

I'm sure that current pedagogical took a back seat to Simon's desire to have Goodman read that passage.

I wish that Annie would dump Sonny.

I hope that Janet Desautel and Jacques get to work together again.

I thought that Melissa Leo was especially notable in Ep 7: She simultaneously expressed compassion and composure.

The earbud scene is the best scene so far. Although it's almost unfair to compare any non-Pierce scene to the ones he's in. BTW, the producer of Night Catches Us knows Pierce well and says he's a terrific person.

Foxessa said...

This is what others who know Mr. Pierce have said -- and that was prior to the Flood catastrophes. Lots of New Orleanians know him because that's where he's from, and his family is still there.

What I would like to figure out is why some so-called critics insist that Treme is boring, the characters are cliches and what they are hoping for is some good crime and murder like in The Wire ....

Can they really not enjoy or appreciate anything that isn't about killing?

Is that why people seem fixated on the Annie/Sonny arc?

In my case the Sonny/Annie characters and Janette's carry the least interest.

So far Delmond's a stiff outline.

Creighton becomes less and less believable for me, because no matter how like a great New Orleans's personality he may be, that personality wasn't a Tulane professor, much less in the English dept., and I know those people very well, personally. I also know personally very well how Tulane operates. I additionally know what a large part Tulane played for both better and worse in those months after the Flood. Simon-Burns-Overmeyer conceived of this character AFTER they began shooting -- and before The Year Before The Flood came out, which speaks a great deal about these Tulane people. They got it wrong. It also could have been better, I think, if they'd made him a faculty member of another college, of which there are many in New Orleans. Those people performed and operated in many ways far more heroically as an institution, because they had so much less to work WITH, are poor, whereas Tulane is quite wealthy.

I love all the others, but Batiste the most, of course. I think.

Love, C.