Monday, January 27, 2014

After years, decades really, of elaborately ignoring the D.W. Griffiths epic silent film, Birth of a Nation ...

... last night I found it among the offerings on NetFlix under classic films, and finally sat myself down to view it in its entirety; and what an experience it was!  I cannot imagine how the country survived the Woodrow Wilson administration.  And if you've never read Ann Hagedorn's Savage Peace, you've missed a most harrowing description of the era just after WWI which was 1919.

When D.W. Griffith's ambitious film The Birth of a Nation came out in 1915, Wilson not only agreed to have a private showing at the White House but afterward expressed how fascinated he was by it.  "The White men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation ... until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South to protect the Southern country." (a direct quote by Wilson.)

Some years ago I attended an event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco where Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, presented his Rebirth of a Nation, an alternative version of what is considered by some to be among 100 of the greatest films ever produced.  Using the techniques of cutting and pasting together then projecting this new montage from a large screen, he created a present-day edition that made a very different statement out of the material Griffith had produced long ago.  It was an interesting and in some instances an arresting use of the controversial footage, but was not very revealing of the boldness -- and the distortions of reality of the original piece.

Had I taken the time to view the original prior to seeing Miller's adaptation, I might have come away with more than I did at the time.  I was puzzled by much of it, but attributed it to being of another generation with little to bring to a Hip Hop treatment of the material.  After seeing Griffith's wildly provocative work, it seems unlikely that anyone could successfully satirize it in any way.  The black-faced (white) grinning, jigging, "negroes", alone, should have barred the film from serious consideration for the acclaim it enjoyed at the time.

Find myself wondering if Birth of a Nation shouldn't be required viewing by every high school student -- along with the reading of The Warmth of Many Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson?   Together, the two works provide powerful contrasting lessons in our nation's great narrative, and a foundation against which to measure just how much progress we've made over the past century; and perhaps a way forward into a more compassionate future.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Recently -- while sitting at my computer -- the phone rang and the familiar voice of our park superintendent came on ...

"Betty?"  I answered, "yes?"  Tom answered in a strangely tentative voice, "I just received a call that you had died."  This explained the tone.  He was in shock -- both at the news, and at my unexpected voice on the other end of the line.  I suppose he was expecting my "next of kin" to be answering.

The call was a short one.  I immediately hung up.  My first thought being the need to call my family before the rumor reached them and needlessly caused havoc!

I was able to toss the incident off swiftly and return to my work, but over the next few days the thought would return both to me -- and I'm sure, to Tom.

A week or two later he called to ask if I could be free to meet with him and several others to discuss the making of a film that would capture my park history -- since it also would serve as the history of this national park's earliest days.  In effect, most of that history has been embedded in this blog since I became associated with the National Park Service as a consultant during the first years of this journal's creation (September of 2003).

By now it's far too lengthy to serve in its present form, but with major editing, there are enough relevant posts to at least get the flavor of the early days through the subjective eyes and ears of at least this ranger.

But this is something quite different:

Over the next several months, much of my work (bus tours, theater presentations, outside speaking events, etc.) will be filmed for the purpose of archiving my experiences over the past decade as related to Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.

The first of those filmings occurred last Wednesday when Producer Doug McConnell (Bay Area Backroads) and cameraman, Carl Bidleman, arrived with their cameras and documented my two-and-a-half hour bus tour of the scattered sites throughout the city which defines this park.  Once "wired up," about a dozen visitors boarded and we were off to Kaiser shipyard 3 and the SS Red Oak Victory -- to end up at the Rosie the Riveter Memorial before returning to the Visitors Center for a showing of the 15-minute orientation film, "Home Front Heroes," and my usual talk which completes the experience by filling in any gaps in the story that might have been missed by my improvised interpretation.  Those bus tours occur twice-monthly, and are generally booked at least two months in advance.  Right now we're booking April.  They're by reservation, only (510.232.5050).

Later in the day, as I felt the onset of those familiar feelings of emotional fatigue that come in the first few hours after a bus tour, I found myself becoming quietly aware that we're really all preparing for the inevitable; the day in the not to distant future when Tom's awesomely disturbing telephone call will become a reality, and I won't be here to answer.

It will be some loving "next of kin."

... a sobering thought ... .