Because this blog isn’t nearly adorable enough…
Here’s my 2-year-old niece, doing adorable niece stuff. To read more about her adventures, check out Circus Queen.
I admire the creative tonal modification at play here. No, really…
To foreground all of this. Yes, I am a Christian. No, I’m not an idiot. And no, I’m not keen on long-winded theological debate. And above all, no, I’m not religious.
I’ve heard countless times as an argument against Christianity, that religion is dangerous, or religion kills. Now the latter may be extreme, but the former is absolutely true. Jesus was one of the least religious people in the Bible, the foremost religious text of Christianity. And one of the most potent illustrations of the dangers of religion leads to Jesus’ suffering and death.
For those who don’t know, Pilate saw no criminal reasoning in holding Jesus, and offered to release one prisoner to the Jews, according to his Passover tradition. The people chose Barabbas, effectively condemning Jesus to death. Now this is not an anti-Semitic sentiment, because for all intents and purposes of this post, it does not matter who condemned. It’s just historical context.
But the reality is that these were the same people who, just a week earlier (Palm Sunday), welcomed and worshiped Jesus on his arrival. These were the people who, through their own experience of Jesus’ teachings and works believed him to be, at worst a thoroughly good human being, who spent all of his time helping people, without discrimination. At best, he was Christ, the Saviour, the Son of God. And for some, a superstar.
Many of these people also would seen Jesus through Old Testament teachings of a promised Messiah. He fit the profile.
Yet a week later, the religious men in authority had convinced the people of the complete opposite of their own experience. In fact, they had effectively contradicted some of their own teachings to do. And so strong was the influence of religion and religious authority over the masses, they crucified a man whom they had experienced personally as undeserving of any such suffering.
That’s what I’ve been thinking on lately.
Now none of this is to say that religion is evil, or any such extreme. But religion is dangerous. Yet so many dangerous things are useful and even necessary, but all should be approached and exercised with caution and noble purpose.
With Carnival season in full swing and the actual event around the corner, a final free screening of ‘Come With It Black Man’, Tamara Tam-Cruickshank’s short biography of the musical career and ‘consciousness’ of one of the legends of Calypso, Dr. Leroy Calliste, a.k.a The Black Stalin, will take place at Alice Yard on the night of January 31st. Having missed the premier (and most likely going to miss the Alice Yard screening), I purchased a DVD from the director herself so that I could watch from the comfort of my couch.
What is Calypso? Not immediately jumping into Black Stalin’s life, the documentary instead starts off with an introduction to calypso and soca that lays the foundation for the rest of the film. Some may find that this initial 11 minutes of interviews with both young adults and more seasoned members of the calypso/soca/intellectual fraternity may be too long and somewhat drawn out but I think it sets the tone quite well, offering just the right opening act for the main attraction.
Judging from the stated disconnect to calypso evidenced by young people in the introduction, I would understand if the average 18 – 20something year old asked ‘Why do a movie about Black Stalin?’ By the 20th minute and footage of Stalin singing the documentary’s title song, ‘Come With It’ however, I believe this question is aptly answered. Black Stalin’s importance and relevance to culture and society is revealed through various interviews with friends, colleagues and the man himself. These interviews are supported by great footage of some of Stalin’s historic performances and by the effective editing of Liam Camps, whose use of subtle text graphics ensures that key points maintain their impact. Indeed, it is the combination of intelligent direction and editing that keeps the film rolling; it never feels like a succession of interviews but rather as one enthralling story of short chapters being told.
This is where my first criticism comes in though, in that while the film is (or especially because it is) well shot, directed and edited, it feels a bit on the short side. Indeed, by the time Black Stalin is shown on stage delivering his powerful performance of ‘Bun Dem’ I am disappointed with how little time of the total 71 minutes there is left. Related to this is the second critique I have; while being engaging, informative and clearly well thought out, there is a feeling that certain aspects of Stalin’s life and career, such as his musical influences and writing method can be further explored. My girlfriend, a calypso enthusiast, agrees, adding that she wishes the film would go a little deeper into the local source material feeding Stalin’s ‘consciousness’, such as the people and situations being lambasted in ‘Bun Dem’. I believe this actually alludes to the fact that the film, while being about Black Stalin, shows (inadvertently? but appreciatively) noteworthy glimpses of our cultural and societal history; the context of Stalin’s consciousness. The film becomes more than ‘just’ the biography of a great Calypsonian; it offers a look into our nation’s past, using Black Stalin’s music and persona as the portal.
A final personal comment on the documentary is the order in which the chapters are presented. This isn’t a criticism per se, as I think the layout serves the film well, but I wonder if the honest and candid descriptions of Stalin that come towards the end might have better overall impact at the beginning, with a build up towards ‘THAT’ song, being Black Stalin’s most popular.
That being said, the material covered indicates a careful attention to detail lies behind the scenes, as every segment, from the introduction to the footage of Black Stalin receiving his Doctorate, does its valuable part in telling the whole story.
There is also a general sense of relevance and importance throughout the film, giving you the feeling that although you didn’t necessarily long for this movie to be made, you’re definitely grateful that it now exists. Moving at times and delightful at others, footage gems of Black Stalin’s performances and interviews with the man himself make you laugh, make you nostalgic, make you long to know more about this legend. Examination of some of his lyrics proves Stalin’s continued relevance and supports the value that a movie of this kind has, in illuminating his significance, especially to an audience that may have been unaware of such. Certainly the University of the West Indies’ honorary Doctorate awarded to Stalin underscores his importance and represents society’s recognition of the legend’s service to our nation.
Great films, no matter their length, change you in some way by the end credits. They leave you somehow transformed from the person you were as you sat down to watch. I believe ‘Come With It..’ achieves this, if only by giving one a much better appreciation of not just Dr. Leroy Calliste but also of facets of our cultural history. One of the best praises I can give this film is that it leaves me with a desire to see more of its kind (and the urge to listen to more calypso.)
Accessible, entertaining, charming, funny, relevant, enlightening and moving. Nothing is perfect and so to, there are a couple shortfalls but these are minimised by how successfully the film does what it sets out to do. I would highly recommend it to anyone, from the young generation with disappointing awareness of Black Stalin’s life (and calypso in general) to the older heads that grew up with Stalin. Most people can take something from this film and I would urge the reader to see this film (legally of course) as soon as they can.
Free to see? Where? For those of us who cya make it to Woodbrook on Thursday, nah!
Unfortunately this is the last free screening. In Trinidad, at least. Not sure what the distributor has planned in terms of screenings, but you can email them for a copy.
All I do at the moment is the odd poster design.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who likes film. The kind of person who goes to the cinema to see explosions and movie stars and CGI vampires, or people in fancy dresses, speaking expired English.
Here’s an independent film with a micro-budget, zero vampires, no scripted drama, with no pretense to a box office taking. It’s free to see, and loaded with Caribbean culture, humour and great music.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who’ll enjoy this film.
Last year, i cut a documentary film, based in Trinidad and Tobago. Yesterday, it was reviewed for the Trinidad Guardian, by B.C. Pires.
…Tamara Tam-Cruickshank’s short film about Black Stalin, Come With It, Black Man is a complete success. In the industry phrase, she has “told her story.” Apart from a handful of perhaps overly picky criticisms, in only her second outing as a filmmaker (after 2008’s 31-minute Rastafari in Trinidad documentary, A Culture in Motion), Tamara Tam-Cruickshank has turned in a solid film, carefully planned and strongly edited (by Liam Camps).