Title: Blackout Release Date: 14 July 2015 Director: Callie T. Wiser Production Company: A Five O’Clock Films Production for American Experience. Summary/Review:
This documentary tells the story of the night New York City hit rock bottom, July 13, 1977, when the power went out and the city’s poorest neighborhoods erupted in looting and arson. There’s a lot of great archival footage in this movie, much of it filmed by flashlight and candle lending an eerie sense of a city crowded with people operating in the darkness. The filmmakers eschew experts and show interviews with people who experienced that night – a firefighter, a police officer, shop owners, a man who witnessed looting and arson as a child, and an employee at Windows on the World who witnessed the city lights blink out, and then see the high-class clientele remove their coats and ties and enjoy the free champagne.
The Window on the World stories offer a perspective into the often-forgotten reality that in many parts of New York, the blackout was a convivial occasion and most New Yorkers were unaware of violence occurring in other parts of the city. All the same, this documentary doesn’t do a good job of explaining that looting and arson were heavily localized to particular areas.
On the other hand, the lesson that many took from the blackout back in 1977 – that New York was a dangerous place full of bad people – receives a more nuanced take in the documentary. They do a good job of detailing the effects of white flight, the financial crisis, and the austerity programs forced on the city by the Ford administration had created a sense of abandonment and desperation among the poorest people of the city. Many of the people arrested that night had no criminal record, they just wanted some diapers for their babies. There’s also a curious decision by the NYPD to have off-duty officers report to the precinct closest to where they live, and since police officers didn’t live in the poorest neighborhoods, those areas were left with practically no police protection.
I feel that 53 minutes is not enough time to tell this story. A longer documentary would’ve allowed for more interviews offering more perspectives, more details on how Con Ed caused and recovered from the blackout, and more on the long term outcomes of the blackout (such as the emergence of hip hop). Still it’s an illuminating depiction of New York’s darkest night.
This historical novel set during the early days of the American Revolution focuses on 13-year-old Isabel, an enslaved girl promised freedom on the death of her master, but finds she has no recourse when she and her sister Ruth are sold to cruel new masters in New York. Working a Loyalist household she finds herself drawn into spying for the revolutionaries, but soon learns that despite promises from Loyalists and Patriots alike, that neither side is concerned with freeing Africans from the bonds of slavery. Anderson captures the anger of Isabel, but doesn’t neglect to also characterize her as having many concerns typical to a young teenager as well. The author also really captures the uncertainty of the Revolution, the people of New York taking different sides in 1776, with some among them willing to shift loyalties to whomever has the upper hand. She also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war on the civilian community from a brutal fire to depictions of captured Americans cruelly held in cold, overcrowded, and disease-ridden prisons. The book is the first of a trilogy of books called The Seeds of America and ends on a cliffhanger at a momentous occasion in the narrative so I will be sure to read the rest of the series.
“Momma said that ghosts couldn’t move over water. That’s why kidnapped Africans got trapped in the Americas. When Poppa was stolen from Guinea, he said the ancestors howled and raged and sent a thunderstorm to turn the ship back around, but it was too late. The ghosts couldn’t cross the water to help him so he had to make his own way in a strange place, sometimes with an iron collar around his neck. All of Momma’s people had been stolen too, and taken to Jamaica where she was born. Then she got sold to Rhode Island, and the ghosts of her parents couldn’t follow and protect her neither. They kept moving us over the water, stealing us away from our ghosts and our ancestors, who cried salty rivers into the sand. That’s where Momma was now, wailing at the water’s edge, while her girls were pulled out of sight under white sails that cracked in the wind.” – p. 25
The woman in the yellow head cloth worked the pump for Grandfather. “The British promise freedom to slaves but won’t give it to the white rebels,” she said as she pushed the handle up and down. “The rebels want to take freedom, but they won’t share it with us.” She set down the first bucket and picked up the second. “Both sides say one thing and do the other.” – p. 166
Sofi Tukker is a New York City based dance pop duo consisting of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern. You may have heard it before because apparently it’s being used in commercials, but since I don’t have tv I’ve come to it with no preconceptions. Anyhow, a song about friendship is ideal for Thanksgiving weekend, and it also has some nice beats.
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson Title: Allegedly Narrator: Bahni Turpin Publication Info: HarperAudio (2017) Summary/Review:
Mary is a teenager living in a group home in Brooklyn after several year of serving time for murdering a baby when she was 9-years-old. Allegedly, as is Mary’s frequent refrain. When she falls in love with a man at the nursing home where she volunteers and becomes pregnant, she begins to reevaluate her past so that she can have a future with her baby and boyfriend. The incidents of the night of the murder and her mother’s role in it as well as other facet’s of Mary’s past are slowly revealed while in the present time Mary has to deal with case workers, psychiatrists, and her hostile companions in the group home. The book is good at showing the horrors of the modern day carceral state and Jackson does a great job at developing Mary’s voice. However, the twists in the story seem unnaturally injected into the narrative to build suspense, especially the biggest twist at the end of the book, make it hard to recommend this book.
Title: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Release Dates: 2017 Season: 3 Number of Episodes: 13 Summary/Review: The third season of the Netflix comedy series continues to be laugh out loud funny and thought-provoking. Despite having her name in the title, at this point the show is about more than Kimmy Schmidt, but equally the stories of four major characters. Kimmy continues to seek her place in the world attending college at Columbia University, but really wants to become a crossing guard after a test says it’s her most suitable job. She finds a new romantic interest in Perry (Daveed Diggs) but her past with the Reverend (John Hamm) continues to haunt her. Titus (Titus Burgess) returns from performing on a cruise ship unwilling to talk about what happened there and breaks up with Mikey (Mike Carlsen) in a ploy to win him over that backfires. Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) continues to use her privilege for good and attempt to get the Washington Redskins to change their racist name, but hits a snag when an accident makes her fiance Russ (David Cross) more handsome causing him to become more shallow. Lillian (Carol Kane) becomes a city councilor fighting gentrification, but ends up falling for Artie (Peter Riegert), the owner of the new high-end grocery store in the neighborhood.
There are a lot of funny plots and gags, but not everything goes well. One of the most publicized gags of the season is Titus “Lemonading” but there seems to be no joke here other than a large, black man reenacting Beyonce’s music video. There have been times in the past when I’ve wondered if Tina Fey is secretly Republican and that continues here. The depiction of Columbia University students as social justice warriors who suppress free speech comes straight from Fox News and Breitbart. Artie is presented as a compassionate millionaire bringing groceries to the poor and Lillian a loony leftist (although I do appreciate Reigert’s performance with his charm and dry humor). On the other hand, the attempt to depict the NFL team owners as rightwing loons also misses the mark, so maybe Fey just can’t do political humor without being ridiculous and over the top.
All the same, I love these characters and their stories. Excluding the “Lemonade” gag, Titus Burgess remains one of the funnies people on tv. I look forward to seeing where the show goes in its next season.
I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge through all of April 2017. Every day (except Sundays), I will be posting a new, original photograph (or photographs) related to the letter of the alphabet.
The letter “M” is for “Manhattan.”
Yes, we’re visiting New York this weekend, so enjoy this glimpse of a jumble of buildings in the lower Manhattan skyline!
Author: Chad Millman Title: The Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and an Epic Hunt for Justice Narrator: Lloyd James Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2006) Summary/Review:
This work of history unravels an overlooked incident in American history: the Black Tom explosion. This munitions depot on a spit of land on the New Jersey side of New York Harbor was detonated by German saboteurs on July 30, 1916, before the United States had entered the World War. Debris from the explosion damaged the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge and shattered windows in Manhattan, so it is surprising that it is not a more well-known event. Millman traces the actions of the network of German spies who caused the explosion. But the better part of the book is dedicated to the legal efforts to hold Germany responsible for the explosion and the series of legal proceedings that occurred over decades until Germany was forced to pay legal damages in 1939, just before another war was about to begin. The book is plodding at times, and the explosion occurring so early in the book makes the rest feel anticlimactic, but it is a fascinating incident in American history that deserves greater awareness Recommended books: The Day Wall Street Explodedby Beverly Gage Rating: ***
Author: Tara Clancy Title: The Clancys of Queens Publication Info: New York : Crown Publishers, 2016. Summary/Review:
Tara Clancy is one of my favorite storytellers from shows like The Moth, Risk, and Snap Judgment, so I was delighted to receive a free advanced review copy of her memoir through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.
Clancy describes her childhood in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s moving around to live with her cop father in a repurposed boat shed in Broad Channel, a virtual commune of elderly relatives at her Grandparent’s house in Brooklyn, and weekends at her mother’s wealthy boyfriend’s estate in the Hamptons. Young Tara navigates these three different worlds with aplomb and even with the tough challenges of poor kid in the city manages to maintain a sense of humor and adventure. This is an inspired memoir and a joy to read. Favorite Passages:
“By then, age ten, I was already a tried-and-true child chameleon, a real-life little Zelig who knew how to go from being barfly at a Queens local hangout to a summertime Bridgehamptonite to an honorary septuagenarian at the drop of a dime. Despite all that (or maybe because of it), there was one role I didn’t always like to play: kid. More specifically, rule-abiding kid.” – p. 111-112
Author: Jim O’Connor Title: What Were the Twin Towers Publication Info: New York : Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Random House,  Summary/Review:
Following on the Hurricane Katrina book, my son and I read this history of the World Trade Center in New York City. The book is a full history of the Twin Towers dating back to its conception by David Rockefeller in the 1960s and deals with controversies such as the removal of Radio Row by eminent domain. There’s a lot of detail about the design and construction of the buildings, and fun stories such as Philipe Petit’s walk on the wire. The book also dedicates a chapter to the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. The September 11 attacks are of course a major subject of the book, and again done in a clear manner appropriate to the age of the reader. There is also a chapter on the memorial, museum, and new One World Trade Center building. On the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, this was a good way to remember the events of that day with someone to young to remember it himself. Rating: ***1/2