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catch a fire is....

my favorite bob marley song of all time. so when i heard that they were doing a movie by that same title i thought, please, don't let this just be random cultural commodification, especially for the sake of a craptacular movie.

and let me just say, catch a fire is definitely NOT that. went to a screening of it last night, and really really really enjoyed it, which is saying something because one of the projectors at the screening room broke (who knew bryant park hotel would have such poor equipment?) so we had to watch the film on one projector -- and films come on many reels, in the case of catch a fire, there were 5 reels, so that meant five breaks to switch the reels on the one working projector. these breaks were more than mildly annoying, but to think of it another way, it also means five moments when the audience might lose interest and leave. and that did not happen.

i found myself riveted. catch a fire is the story of what ordinary people are driven to do/become under extraodinary circumstances. many movies recently (syriana and paradise now come immediately to mind) examine what is it that makes pushes an ordinary human being (and let's face it, most human beings are quite ordinary) to become a terrorist. catch a fire makes a similar examination, but with two glaring differences. (1) the context for catch a fire is not the current middle eastern conflict, but the struggle to dismantle/maintain apartheid in south africa, and (2) this film is based on the true story of an actual individual, patrick chamusso. chamusso is played by derek luke, (antwone fisher in the eponymous film) who was brilliantly convincing in this role. his work stood up to comparision to the south african actors about him. bonnie henna played his wife precious, and the two had remarkable chemistry. chamusso is like the most typical suburban husband and father, loving, hardworking, not particularly political though not politically ignorant, even coaching a neighborhood soccer team. but is he capable of resisting apartheid? what would drive him to that point, when his life was so (comparatively) good?

tim robbins played a most deliberative police official who's job it is to suss out the "terrorists," anc activists. i thought it interesting that the word terrorist occured several times throughout the film - it seems that, since 9/11 terrorist is a word that everyone throws about freely. after the screening there was a q&a with the producer, robyn slovo, who said that there was no intentional insertion of the "war on terror" motif into the film - that's just the way that period in south africa played out.

robyn explained that the film was quite a personal labor of love. it was written by her sister, shawn slovo, based on the story of patrick chamusso, which mr. chamusso related directly to shawn. robyn and shawn's father, joe, was an anc activist who knew mr. chamusso personally, and remarked to his daughters that if ever a film about the struggle against apartheid was made, it should be about patrick chamusso. and his daughters obviously listened.

with films like this, it's deceptively easy to pick out your hero and villian conclusively. patrick chamusso is still alive, and at the end there is footage of him meeting derek luke, who plays him in the film. tim robbins's character, nic vos, is a composite character based on two security inspectors, who, as it turns out, refused to tell their versions of events to the truth and reconciliation commission. so i guess, in this case, mr. chamusso's version of events gets to be history (which is always written by the victors.)

i had to ask robyn about the title, why catch a fire? she said that bob marley's music resonated with anti-apartheid struggle of the era, and it resonated with the filmmakers personally. but i found it odd that the song catch a fire was never at all used in the film. o sure, there was plenty of bob marley music at the most climactic moments, especially could you be loved? and exodus. but catch a fire didn't even play during the credits. i suppose there is something to be said for the subtle tie-in...and i suppose there is something to be said about the fact that the title will also resonate with bob marley fans who may not know anything about south africa.

anyway, catch a fire opens oct 26 nationwide, and in feb 2007 in south africa. (ms. slovo said she believes it will be well-received in south africa, especially given the national climate/attitude that resulted from the truth and reconciliation commission, but south africa suffers from a severe dearth of cinemas in the rural areas.) go check it out. and if you care nothing for its social implications, it also has some good action sequences.

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About me

  • I'm call me aja
  • From nyc
  • 20something, black, woman, reader, writer, about to be a student again. i think i'd like to be heard (or read). child/grandchild of immigrant folk. yearning to travel. desirous of wisdom. a little bit ordinary, but working at being less so.
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