When The Levees Broke: Off-Beat

Early on in WTLB (I’m sticking with this acronym from now on), it became clear that the combination of talking-head interviews and found footage would represent the aesthetic crux of the documentary. Yet, with each passing interview, I noticed Lee’s particular attention to primary colors. Much like a yearbook graduation back-drop, many of the interviews throughout the film were cast in front of these deep, fluorescent backdrops that begged attention from the eye of the viewer. Initially, this aesthetic did not strike me as a crucial element of the “docu-saga” (totally made that up, just roll with it). It wasn’t until the introduction of young musician Glenn Hall III did I begin to understand and appreciate Lee’s attention to and control of color and music, especially as it pertains to a collection of interviews with politicians, musicians, residents, and social leaders.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 5.42.15 PM

While seated in a bright red chair against a beige background, Glenn began to play his brass trumpet. Then, with a series of well-timed cuts, Lee absorbed this diegetic moment into a non-diegetic score, layering the struggle of black New Orleanians with a tone of quiet despair. Along with the deep blue behind Wynton Marsalis’ heartfelt acapella performance (the featured image of this post), the dozens of interviews that spanned the color and racial spectrum become sutured together with the Jazzy score that spans the entirety of WTLB. Akin to the collision of instrumental solos that define Jazz music, the varied perspective of each interview works to collide with the others, creating a syncopation of shared trauma that moves the film into a kind of offbeat spectacle, complete with contrasting color and individuals that move in and out of centerstage throughout the film. No wonder Lee titled this film as a requiem.


Author: marquezdoee

Amherst Class of 2016. Media Studies Major. Katy Perry Enthusiast.

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