I am, though, a Yat. And I also lost my New Orleans home and almost everything in it to Hurricane Katrina, which happens to be the general theme of the film.
But please note that term “general theme.” This isn’t a movie that centers on the disaster. It doesn’t show the thousands of people hiding in the Superdome or sobbing outside the city’s convention center, unlike the many other Katrina flicks that have come and gone. It doesn’t use that old Randy Newman song about the ’27 flood as background music. You won’t see footage of bodies floating around in the flood waters, either, which many of those other movies thought nothing about impersonally displaying. It’s not a tabloid-type of documentary.
And if “The Big Uneasy” had been anything like that, I’d have had the same response I gave to those other Katrina films – I would have walked right out in the first 30 minutes, mad as hell, throwing popcorn at anybody who looked at me while I stomped up the aisle, grunting and cursing.
What this film does show, and make sort-of official for the very first time, in my opinion, is the cause of the flooding that followed Katrina. And it does so with historic recollection, too, including the development (and consistent mis- and un-development) of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, those so-called levee renovations, and the development of Army Corps of Engineers’ responses, which started as hush-hush only to expand to push-push (and nearing shove-shove, too).
And I give “The Big Uneasy” a thumbs-up, four-star, six-pack rating for doing so. It told the facts – the information that mass media didn’t acquire for many reasons, and which nobody was going to tell them, anyway. It was explanatory, not exhibitionist. It provided me – one who was directly affected by the hurricane – the information I really needed to know, to confirm, to bring the whole ordeal to a closing point of sorts.
My wife and I lived in Gentilly Ridge, one of the few areas above sea level in the city that has an average elevation of six feet below. The street was maybe an only inch above, that’s true, but the lawn was built up about two feet from the street. The house was raised about four feet from the lawn.
We wound up with two feet of water inside the house, and it stayed there for 12 days.
But my home was not flooded by Hurricane Katrina. The winds took out some awnings and a patio covering, ripping a hole in the rear door frame in the process, okay, but … just like my 70+ year-old neighborhood survived Betsy and Camille back in the ‘60s without any flooding, so too did my street remain fully drained and un-flooded when Katrina came through.
My neighborhood and its homes were flooded a couple of hours later, when the levee wall of the London Avenue canal broke. (One of many such breaches and breaks to occur all about the city after the hurricane was gone, leaving 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.) That first breaking point was just north of Mirabeau Avenue; our house was less than one and a half miles due east on Baccich Street. An entire section of a recently modified and “improved” levee just lifted up and floated back, letting the water from Lake Pontchartrain gush out.
And gush it did, down Mirabeau, onto Baccich and then inside my house, and after Katrina and all her raindrops had already come and gone. It was the faulty levee that took my home, my possessions, my keepsakes and my memories – not the hurricane.
He’s well-known around the globe, mostly for This is Spinal Tap and as the voice of animated characters in popular series, but New Orleanians still find him regularly featured in small local rags like Gambit and Offbeat. That’s because he’s really a part of the Crescent City. He lives there like a local, not a tourist on extended vacation, unlike some other folks.
There’s a common series of superstars the city gets from time to time, like Trent Reznor or Nick Cage, who claim uptown mansions as temporary homes which they use as either 1) Mardi Gras frat houses until they’re arrested for juvenile, tourist-like behavior, or 2) reclusive hideaways from which they only step outdoors to complain about New Orleans’ true culture. Then they leave, eventually, and badmouth the city to media while standing behind an entourage of press agents and personal assistants.
But you won’t find Shearer in the NOPD’s central lockup, and you won’t see him chasing tourists away from a Garden District home. You’ll see him chowin’ down a muffuletta, maybe, or at City Park or strolling down Magazine or atcha mama’s jernt ovah by da lakefront, hawt. Harry’s an adopted Yat, meaning this story was personal for him, too. And I knew he would know what us Yats wanted to know.
For that reason did I sit throughout the showing last Friday at James Island’s Terrace Theater. I trusted “The Big Uneasy” to tell me a unique and insightful story, unlike those shock flicks, and directly from the perspective of one who knows and loves the city, who calls it home.
And it didn’t try to shock me with tragic images or pull my heartstrings; it told a factual, insightful story that I wanted – needed – to see and hear and confirm.
Shearer stayed around after the showing to answer questions. There were a bunch I wanted to ask, but thought better of when I admitted to myself I would probably only use that experience as opportunity to release personal tensions, or maybe even just to point out to the crowd that a N’Awlins dude was amongst their Lowcountry selves. I kept my hand down.
I did mention it to Shearer directly, though, in the personal conversations he spent much time having with the audience after the Q&A. “I’m from Gentilly,” I said, which he responded to with a wide-eyed “Heeeeyyyyy!”of recognition, which I’ll egotistically claim to indicate the comfort I bestowed by letting him know a true Yat, my honorable dudeness, had selflessly attended the showing of his film.
I could tell you very many other details about the movie, but I won’t. Again, this is not any official review by any official critic. I will, though, urge you to see “The Big Uneasy” to learn those details yourself.
It will tell you very many details that will answer very many questions. It will tell you of folks who provided those details, and even though they paid both professional and very personal prices in the process. (And it will tell you of many topics you can bring up for conversation next time you buy me an Abita!)
It told the story that no one else is telling, and from a perspective that no one else could tell it from. And for that, I am truly thankful.
Okay, let me apply a few details that some might expect to find in a movie review (which I still swear this is NOT). It’s 98 minutes long. It’s unrated, but at worst would get a PG for a mild adult utterance or two. It’s mid-way through a single-showing schedule, which you can check by clicking here. And you’ll find it on DVD for rental and sale before too, too long, too.
It still bewilders me that mass media (and yes, big movie studios, too) remain absent from insight on this issue, and why we have to rely solely on the fortitude of brave individuals like Harry and the folks he features in his film to give us the details.
Shearer’s press release asks the same question, although with much better wordage, and which I’ll use in closing: “Of course, why it took the bass player from 'Spinal Tap' and the voice of Flanders, Smithers and Mr. Burns to reveal these tragedies is a story unto itself.”
Thank you, Harry.