Thursday, February 3, 2022

Bob's Cinema Diary: 2/4/22 -- 'Who We Are' and 'Conductor'


Who We Are
Jeffrey Robinson once served as legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. In the documentary Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, Robinson serves as a guide through a subject made clear by the movie's subtitle. Directors Emily and Sara Kunstler build their documentary around a 2018 lecture Robinson delivered in a theater in Manhattan's Town Hall. The talk stemmed from Robinson's personal life when, unexpected circumstances, found him explaining race to his 13-year-old nephew. Robinson reveals anger, compassion, and a knowledge of the past as he talks about pivotal points in American history. Watch his face when he visits the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, S.C. You'll see a  mixture of amazement, disgust, rage, and pain evoked by a pair of shackles designed for a child. He talks about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and about his own upbringing in Memphis. He meets a 107-year-old survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, a sorry chapter of American history that only recently has begun to receive media attention. Robinson also makes it clear that the North wasn't immune from the enslavement process as he calls attention to what might be called our paradoxical burden: America has accomplished great things but is also steeped in racism. You might think of Robinson's talk as that of a lawyer making a case -- and he's good at it. Not just because he’s a compelling talker, which he is, but because he’s gathered abundant evidence. The point: We must look at the ugliest piece of American history and acknowledge that we're responsible for facing it -- even if we didn't create it. 

The Conductor

Marin Alsop made her mark as a woman in the male-dominated world of classical music. Not only is Alsop a musician but she also became a conductor at a time when she received little encouragement. Her ambition derived from seeing a children's concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein, a great proselytizer for classical music. Alsop later met  Bernstein who encouraged her pursuits. She once formed an all-women swing bad and spent time in Denver pursing her dream. She now works to help young aspirants find their way into a highly competitive field and remains music director laureate of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where she served as principal conductor. She also conducted in São Paulo, Brazil, among other places. You'll learn about Alsop's youth and her non-conducting life but what makes The Conductor memorable is director Bernadette Wegenstein's understanding that Alsop's talent is supplemented by a ferocious determination. Alsop's magnetic personality might be the movie's best asset. You also get to hear a bit of good music in the bargain.

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