Although I know that the Gulf Coast represents a hotspot for hurricanes and other tropical storms, I did not have any knowledge of Hurricane Betsy in 1965. Although many of the older interviewees detailed their memories of this natural disaster as it ravaged the levees of New Orleans over 50 years ago, I found it striking that the younger generation of subjects chose to reference it with similar detail. As if this disaster was built into each and every residence’s DNA, the historicity of Betsy’s impact. One moment in particular really put the ancestral nature of Betsy within a cyclical context.
Phyllis Montana LaBlanc (easily my favorite subject of the film), details her attempts to call for help thirty-five minutes into Act I of WTLB. While she describes the frustration with being unable to get through to anyone that could help her in the wake of Katrina, she notes a moment where she “lost a sense of intelligence” and dialed zero for the operator. As we all know, this represents an archaic technique of telecommunication, one that early telephone owners utilized to connect with anyone they would like to call. To me, Ms. LaBlanc’s decision to dial zero does not simply convey her desperation amidst crisis; it almost reads as an instinct derived from the extant memory of Betsy in 1965. Lee even punctuates this moment with a zoom similar to my previous post, bringing the viewer closer to Ms. LaBlanc as she defends her decision to stand her ground and remain home.
This moment enhances one of my favorite quotes from the film in Act III: “I’m not leaving New Orleans, Louisiana because I was born here in 1963 on December 24th. And this is where the fuck I’m going to die at.” – Ms. LaBlanc
Ancestral experience, roots and memory override authority.