Perhaps it was because I’d been up since 6am. Perhaps it was the fact that my friend Derek and I mistook north for south, then east for west, in trying to get to our destination in TriBeCa, and walked almost two miles (me in heels) as a result. Perhaps it was because our dreamt-of glass of wine before the show turned out to be a fruity Cabernet in the foodhall of the Winter Garden – part of the World Financial Centre – instead of an Italian varietal in an interesting bar. Whatever the reason, I was unimpressed with DJ Spooky’s live re-mix of a seminal 1915 racist propaganda film called Birth of a Nation, which was a special event at this year’s TriBeCa Film Festival.
DJ Spooky introduced his work as an attempt to subvert the white-supremacist ideology of the film’s Civil War-era plot. In the film, the central protagonists’ white faces express various types of fear as black men, given the vote, run riot and use their newfound political influence for evil rather than good, wreaking havoc on the status quo, only to be put back in their respective place by saviours wearing white uniforms with matching hoods, ie the Ku Klux Klan. If only we could all just get along …
It was certainly an eye-opener for me to see the film. Unfortunately by the end of the l o n g evening I remained unconvinced that cutting and splicing segments of the film, repeating and looping them accompanied to a live soundtrack of beats, achieved anything close to what DJ Spooky was aiming for. He did not interrupt or subvert the plot of the film: the whites still reign supreme at its end. He could have used the footage and cut it to shreds and rearranged it to offer a much more dramatically compelling counter-narrative, so that the images no longer depended on the plot. And the point of the soundtrack being live was lost on me … as was the function of the music generally.
As Derek said to me on our way back to Brooklyn, “I learned more about the human condition from watching Grindhouse than I did from that.”
The TriBeCa festival is also hosting the premiere of yet another limp Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, and an outdoor screening of none other than Jaws 3. Sadly this seems to encapsulate the triumph of hot air and hyperbole over substance that seems to be on offer this year.