Saturday, December 27, 2014

Haitian Fight Song

Chris Rock in "Top Five"
I recently wrote about my disappointment in regards to a movie I went to see with my wife; part of my lament was that I don't get to actually go to the movies often. Well, I actually was able to get out again to see "Top Five," a hilarious film starring one of my favorite comedians of all time, Chris Rock. I was a fan of his HBO program in the late 90's, although he hasn't made a ton of great films. I really enjoyed this one, especially one scene with a famous rapper surprising us with some of his "unknown" talent( don't want to spoil it for you). Rock  and supporting actors Rosario Dawson, JB Smoove as well as a host of other surprise comedians really made this one work for me.

Rock is great with observational humor, but he's not afraid to push the political envelope. Rock's character, Andre Allen, is a comedian turned actor who had financial success with a string of "Hammy The Bear" films. Allen, a recovering alcoholic, decides he wants to make "serious films" (perhaps a nod to one of my favorite Woody Allen films, "Stardust Memories") and ends up starring in "Uprize," a movie about the Haitian Slave Revolt of 1791-1804 in which thousands died and Haiti gained independence from France. It's amazing to me how Chris Rock is able to make the idea of this film ( which I'm fairly sure no one, even a Hollywood superstar would have an easy time financing) into something hilarious. It's kind of a complex idea; it's funny because it's such an intense departure from the silly "Hammy The Bear" character; it would be like Tyler Perry doing a movie about Nat Turner.....( actually I would pay to see that!) During a scene where Allen sneaks into a theater to see whether people like his new movie,  I was pleasantly surprised to hear Charles Mingus' "Haitian Fight
Song" as the background music. ( I wonder if Questlove, who is credited with the score, was responsible for that choice?)


All levity aside, the Haitian Revolution was no joke; considered the most successful rebellion in history, it culminated in driving out the French and appointing governor-general Jean-Jaques
Haitian Rebellion
, who in 1804 ordered the massacre of almost all of the remaining whites on the island. I guess I can't help but wonder why we study the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Russian Revolution in school- but not the Haitian Revolution? It seems like this would have been interesting to mention.....

In the fake "Uprize" movie within a movie, the Allen character plays Dutty Boukman ( which I hate to say but it sounds like somebody from the Pootie Tang bits from the Chris Rock Show......never mind, I'll be quiet...) who was a voodoo priest and leader of the Maroon slaves. Haitian voodoo religion originates in Africa and uses mystical dance and music ceremonies where spirit possession is involved. This reminded me of a recent performance I saw while visiting Birmingham, U.K. A young composer named Bobby Avey recently released an album entitled "Authority Melts From Me." This is a large form suite which is inspired by the Haitian Uprising; Avey actually traveled to Haiti and recorded actual voodoo ceremonies, transcribed them, and used the musical and political inspiration to create some incredibly intense music. Pianist Avey and his all star band of Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone, Ben Monder on guitar, Jordan Perlson on drums, and bassist Michael Janisch created a dense musical jungle full of dense chromaticism and brain-bending odd meters; the severity of the music made me see things differently upon completion of the performance. 

I need time to study the Haitian Rebellion. I think it's strange that such a striking and significant event seems to be relatively forgotten. I'm under the impression that the tragedy of modern day Haiti may have a lot to do with the circumstances under which it became a nation. I didn't expect a history lesson this evening, but I'm glad to get to laugh and also learn something.

Hey, what about Tyler Perry as W.E.B. Du Bois? Ok, never mind, I'll shut up.....

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