what i watched last week
blast from the past: hot moms

by request: brooklyn boheme (nelson george and diane paragas, 2011)

This was suggested by Neal, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it. It’s a documentary about the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, where George has lived for many years, and where an artistic community appeared in the 1980s and 1990s. There is nothing flashy here. George interviews many of the people from the community, all of whom are engaging, and gradually a picture emerges of a place where the presence of artists fed on itself, resulting in many important works.

A lot of famous names turn up, starting with Spike Lee, who has often used Brooklyn as a base for his movies. We also hear from the Marsalis brothers, Wynton and Branford, Rosie Perez, Chris Rock, and others. It’s a nostalgic look back, and it’s a useful way to look at the ways these various artists’ work intertwined.

Points are not hammered into the ground. As the movie progresses, these people remember those early years with fondness. Recent gentrification is targeted, but even here, the approach is rather gentle. Rock and George visit the first place in the neighborhood that Rock lived as an adult, and the current resident, a nice ex-Californian named Sasha, shows them around the place. You know we’re supposed to notice that Sasha is white, and that the neighborhood changes as gentrification takes hold, and that this is not necessarily a good thing, but while the point is perhaps too obvious, the friendly conversation between Sasha, Rock, and George reminds us of what neighborly behavior is about, and so that point, too, is presented in a more subtle fashion than you’d expect.

There’s no reason not to catch Brooklyn Boheme if you can. It’s short (75 minutes), informative, and entertaining, with enough things to ponder that it’s not just a piece of fluff.

(Here is a letterboxd list of movies with African-American directors.)

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