Monday, April 14, 2014

Poetry in the Movies Blogathon!: Louder Than a Bomb

As you may know, I've decided to host my very first blogathon. In honor of National Poetry Month, it's all about acknowledging the elegant art getting some overdue credit for being a major contributor to cinematic history. If you would like to participate, please check out my original post on the matter. I'm going to jump in with my first of what will be at least two posts (maybe 3?). No messing around with ancient verse just yet. We're going with a contemporary documentary, Louder Than a Bomb.

Directed by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel.
2010. Not Rated, 99 minutes.
Kevin Coval
Adam Gottlieb
Nate Marshall
Nova Venerable
Lamar Jorden
James Sloan
Charles Smith
Jesus Lark
She'Kira McKnight
Elizabeth Graf

"Louder Than a Bomb," which takes place in Chicago, is the nation's largest high school poetry slam. For the uninitiated, poetry slams are spoken word poetry competitions. Poets are scored on a scale of one to ten on each poem they perform. Here, we focus on students from four of the nearly fifty competing schools in 2008. Most prominently featured are the kids from Steinmetz Academic Academy. They won the previous year despite it being their first year competing. We spend lots of time with Mr. Sloan, one of their coaches, as well as with students Lamar Jorden, Jesus Lark, She'Kira McKnight, and Charles "Big C" Smith. We get a little time with some others on the team, too. These are the kids that go against the grain. Judging books by their covers, you'd be hard pressed to peg these as poetry buffs. They're the most "urban" group, to use a code word. Yet, these are the defending champs. They are also struggling to get it together for this year's slam.

For the other three schools, our focus is limited to one student each. Adam Gottlieb attends Northside College Prep. He's the kid who loves everyone and everyone loves him. He is the ultimate diplomat, giving shout outs to his competition in his own poetry. Nova Venerable goes to Oak Park and resides at the opposite end of the spectrum. I don't mean that people don't like her. That's not the case. I mean that she's tougher to get close to with her guarded personality that stems from her hard childhood. She writes more as a cathartic exercise and with an underlying anger. She might be in the competition, but she's really purging her soul. Nate Marshall is the happy medium between Adam and Nova. He goes to Whitney Young Magnet School and is known as "the grandfather" of their poetry program. He loves teaching others and has fun with his art. However, he does carry with him the memories of growing up in a rough environment.

With the Steinmetz kids, we go through the trials and tribulations of a team trying to prepare without always having everyone on the same page. Their ups and downs make for an intriguing roller coaster ride. With the others, we delve into their backgrounds, getting to know them more intimately. Adam and his family makes us laugh. Nova's might make us cry. True to form, Nate's does a bit of both. The movie works itself into a fun carousel that stops rotating come competition time. That doesn't mean the ride is over at that point. Directors Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel do a wonderful job playing up the natural tension of the competition without it feeling forced. By the way, movie buffs will find this interesting. Jon Siskel is the nephew of none other than the late and now legendary movie critic Gene Siskel.

As for the poetry itself, it's a solid mix of funny, personal, and socially relevant pieces. Like lots of spoken word, the majority of what we hear relies heavily on rhythm, rhyme, and passionate delivery. We get that in spades and enjoy listening to it. For me, there are three pieces that stand head and shoulders above the rest. There is the crowd-pleasing ensemble poem "Counting Graves" from Steinmetz. It's a superior piece of performance art, timely and powerful. The other two are both by Nova. Her first, "Apartment on Austin," details her relationship with an often drunk and needy father. The other, "Cody," is named after her younger brother who has special needs. Both are exceptionally well written poems with strength completely independent of the theatrics of her recitations, which there really are none. They just punch you right in the chest and rip your heart out through the hole.

You may or may not be into poetry like I am. Still, the human stories on display reach out and grab the viewer. We become invested in their fates and root for the tens to go up after they've read. We're disappointed when they don't. However, we learn that what the slam organizers repeat numerous times is true. The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.

No comments:

Post a Comment