Sunday, January 11, 2015

Negotiate, Demonstrate, Resist

Some movies just need to be seen.

Last February, I'd gone to the VMFA to see the Oscar-winning documentary "King: A Filmed Record...Montgomery to Memphis" and upped my MLK knowledge significantly. So naturally after seeing a treatment of the entirety of King's work, I was dead curious about a film focusing solely on the Selma portion.

As I got out of my car at the Bowtie, I was surprised to hear a train whistle very nearby and looked up to see a freight train skirting the edge of the parking lot. In all the times I've been to that theater, I have never once seen a train on those tracks.

Simple pleasures.

After sitting through a succession of movies you couldn't pay me to see (a J-Lo thriller, a new Terminator with an aged Arnold, a cheesy time travel teen film), we finally got to "Selma," which started quietly and triumphantly with his being awarded the Nobel Peace prize and then scared the pants off the audience with a heartbreaking flashback scene of the church in Birmingham being bombed and the four little girls dying in the rubble.

There was really no comparison between the black and white documentary I'd seen, which mainly used news reel footage and tonight's beautifully shot color film with its intimate angles focusing not just on the big events but all the small, private moments of King's life during that period.

Hardly surprisingly, it only alluded to King's marital infidelities, fine with me since the story of his non-violent protesting was the focus of the movie.

Considering it was Sunday night and that the film was showing in multiple theaters every hour, there was a pretty good crowd in the theater I was in. During scenes of King giving speeches, many in the theater reacted as if they were in the room with him, testifying and responding to what he said.

Surely actor David Oyelowo will win an Oscar for his spot-on performance of King, all the more notable because he's a Brit and both his accent and cadence were nearly identical to what I'd seen in the documentary. Someone did his homework.

But like in the real footage, the scenes of the marches were awe-inspiring while watching simulated beatings of marchers was not quite as horrific as watching the real thing. I'll never forget seeing a dog bite into a protester's arm in that documentary.

In a brilliant move, the final march to Montgomery fades from the fictionalized version to actual black and white newsreel footage for an emotional wallop to close things out.

I was surprised when the crowd didn't clap at the end, although, like me, most people stayed through the credits, during which epilogues were given for many of the characters. Besides King himself, probably the most heartbreaking one was the white civil rights worker who was killed by Klansmen five hours after King's speech on the steps of the Montgomery courthouse for driving other protesters home.

I've been on a surprisingly good run of films for grown-ups lately. "Selma" packed enormous emotional power, even for someone who knows about the events of the film, offering a look beyond the events to the man himself. For someone younger or less studied, it would probably be a revelation.

One of my recent goals is to become more informed, not just about current events but also about history. As it's resurrected in "Selma," it's an invaluable lesson. Bonus: buttered popcorn while I learn.


  1. Something to consider about "Selma."

  2. Watching the film, I suspected that the LBJ portrayal was not completely accurate. From just the limited reading I've done on the subject, it didn't all ring true. It does spur me to do more research on LBJ's presidency, though.