Nov. 8th, 2013

starlady: (agent of chaos)
Let the Fire Burn. Dir. Jason Osder, 2013.

I went to see this documentary, about the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia, because I'm from the Philadelphia area (I went to high school in the city, in point of fact) and because the MOVE bombing is undeservedly forgotten--so much so, in fact, that when I was explaining the incident to someone while explaining the documentary ("the city police bombed a house where a radical group was holed up"), they said, "What do you mean, 'bombed'?" There's only one definition of that word that applies here. As someone from the area, it was somewhat interesting to see figures I can remember from childhood, such as the Channel 6 newsheads and Ed Rendell, who became mayor in 1992, in their younger days. From the documentary you can see why Rendell in particular had such a successful political career (in 2003 he became governor of Pennsylvania)--even as you know his hands aren't clean, you watch him say the right things in a charming and mollifying way, and you don't think as badly of him as you do of other players in the tragedy.

I knew about the MOVE bombing because the only novel I know of about it, John Edgar Wideman's Philadelphia Fire, was the summer reading book my freshman year of high school. (If you've read that book, its assignment will tell you a lot about my high school.) The book focuses on the child survivor, Michael Moses Ward alias Birdie Africa, but it also focuses on the person who allegedly, rather than try to escape the house to safety, turned and went back into the fire.

The documentary mostly takes a cinema verite approach, meaning that it's largely constructed out of archival footage, principally news video, photographs, the deposition of Michael Moses Ward, one of the only two survivors of the bombing, and the public commission hearings held in October 1985, five months after the bombing, that attempted to investigate what happened.

What happened is largely predictable, until it wasn't )