A little while back, I wrote about an exciting new documentary called Let Fury Have The Hour. Since then, DG was able to get a hold of an advance copy of the film. I just screened it a couple days ago. It’s epic in terms of scope – there’s interviews with artists from several genres and mediums. It’s a film that raises the importance of questioning authority and fighting back against a flawed system through positivity. It’s all about how creativity can change the fabric of society and shape the world we live in. It’s a film that everyone should see. If you’re a teacher, show it to your students. If you’re a student, go see it with your friends. The world needs more films like this one. Director Antonino D’Ambrosio took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us. The answers he gave were as thoughtful and compelling as the film itself. Check out the full interview below, along with a brand spanking new trailer.
Your movie starts out around the time that Reagan and Thatcher rose to power. Do you think that fear will always be used as a tool to manipulate the population and is there any hope for the future?
Fear has always been used as tool to manipulate, divide, and pull us apart and as long as there are those in pursuit of power not democracy, fear will be the main weapon in their arsenal. Fear is the last resort of the desperate, of those with narrow thinking, devoid of good ideas, who give-in to reactionary ideologies in service of undermining collective provision, compassion, citizenship, and community. Since I believe that fear is a bad idea rooted in an imaginary past that only the Reagan’s and Thatcher’s uphold as a time we need to return to, it cannot endure. Art, and more specifically creative-response, is about creating a new language that speaks to us all, which translates into the future. So I remain steadfast in my hope for the future because there are people working everywhere in the world who are using creative-response to make the work better for everyone. From Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiorostami to Pussy Riot and Manu Chao to authors Edwidge Danticat and Hari Kunzru. All demonstrate what I believe real hope is: not the feeling that things will turn out well but that there is hard work to be done and this hard work is democracy.
Do you think that there will always be a counter culture movement as strong as it was in the past, like during the Vietnam war? in other words, do you think more recent younger generations are any more complacent than in previous ones?
Well, let me say here that since my film takes the pulse of the movement of creative-response, itself is at once a timely and timeless endeavor, we must remember that the social movements of the past—free speech, civil rights antiwar, economic justice, labor, etc—are still thriving today. Just because they may not be part of the mainstream media narrative—itself an intentional censoring and suppression of what really is happening in communities on the ground around the world—doesn’t mean that they are not happening. This is part of the great con trick that the likes of the Reagan‘s and Thatcher‘s throughout history (insert many other names here) pull on society. They breakdown the sensibility embedded in humanity that we are in this together and that we must look out for one another. They replaced our true strength—compassion—with a cynicism that dictates our political and cultural thinking leading to passivity and a harmful indifference to history, all making people feel ridiculous if they choose to speak to the human condition. There’s been a marginalization of empathy to the point that it’s seen as a weakness, a foolish pursuit of those who believe in utopia.
The media refers to this current generation as the “Me Generation,” which demands a creative-response to reject. Refusing the labels that discourage us from accepting our most basic responsibility, which is taking active participation in the world around us. They said similar things about my generation during the Reagan era (it was called the “Me Decade” and “Greed is Good” era). But during that time, writing in a basement in Long Island was a young Chuck D. He put the thoughts and ideas that many of us couldn’t articulate into songs changed the consciousness of an entire generation (and continue to). The same could be said of skateboarder Tommy Guerrero with his innovative approach to using a piece of wood and urethane wheels as a way to re-imagine the physical world around him. It all inspires us to rise to the extraordinary challenges that living in this world presents. These examples of creative-response move us to act but also serve as a challenge to remain vigilant.
If we look at the young generation as complacent or disengaged, then we must point the finger back at our own generation as well as those that came before. Perhaps we’ve let them down and we all need to dream bigger, speak out more, and act more courageously. That’s why my film is a metaphor representing what is happening today through the lens of what first shaped our politics and culture starting in the 1980s. My intention is to put forth the grand idea that ultimately we all need something to strive for and that we must be reminded that history is made by those who see the world from a perspective not just our own. It rouses our collective consciousness to awaken in each of us a deeper sense of compassion. It responds to life’s obstacles by converting them into creative possibilities. Yet in the end, many young people today like the Russian punk band Pussy Riot are demanding each of us to go further than before by reminding, rousing and responding to the fact that freedom of expression is our mast basic and important freedom and without it no other freedoms can exist. As artist Ai Weiwei explains, “Without freedom of expression there is no modern world, just a barbaric one.”
Chuck D. – Hip Hop legend from Public Enemy gave his thoughts on Hip Hop’s early revolutionary days.
Your film explores several distinct subcultures, from punk rockers, to skateboarders, to b boys, to visual artists and writers, would you qualify them all similar in terms of a cultural response? Are some more relevant or politically significant than others?
Since they are all forms of creative-response and I see creative-response as one movement much in the same way that we are one people—not a different people—each flow together and are equally culturally, politically, socially relevant to me. In their different approaches they are united by a similar worldview, one that grasps our connection and our interdependence. Each allowed me to freely express different parts of myself and for that reason they continue to be a source of self-discovery, exploration, affirmation, and validation insisting that I can indeed contribute something worthwhile.
Here’s an example of what I mean, taken from my essay “Bend the Notes: A Creative Response Initiation” from my book Let Fury Have the Hour:
“Basquiat’s artwork captured an aspect of living in the modern world otherwise unknown to many, particularly the insular—mostly white—elite art world. Basquiat’s hand moved with the melody of the jazz giants he celebrated in his art.
In addition to jazz, Basquiat’s work carried with it the posture of punk with a dash of new wave and hardcore mixed in to add bite. When I look at his work, I hear Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, the great punk bands Death and Bad Brains, and the hardcore group Minor Threat. “Don’t care what they may do we got that attitude,” Bad Brains sang. “Hey, we got that PMA (positive mental attitude). Hey we got the PMA.” This could have been Basquiat’s anthem. “When I got into punk rock, I turned the radio off forever, for real!” Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat tells me. That’s what I felt and did. In the same way, Basquiat’s paintings were keys unlocking the doors to the gallery residing in the streets, my imagination, and the unknown world.”
Which of the movements in the film were personally significant to you on a personal level growing up?
Each movement is very important to me. While in some ways it started with my discovery of punk (specifically The Clash) it’s impossible for me to separate one from the pack. They each tap into the unlimited resource of human possibility and that is what my film is ultimately about. And for me it’s one creative-response, one people. If I had to pull one example of creative-response as the most significant it actually comes from my Italian immigrant, bricklayer father, who died when I was fifteen. I discuss this in greater detail in later question.
You wrote a book with the same title, correct? Did you have a film in mind while writing it, or was it all part of a plan from day one? How organic was your process in making the film?
I did write a book called Let Fury Have the Hour: The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer and it’s my essays from that book that inspired the film (and essentially led to a new version of that book titled Let Fury Have the Hour: Joe Strummer, Punk, and the Movement that Shook the World). I originally wanted to do a documentary series on punk, reggae, jazz, and hip-hop with Strummer serving as the narrator. Sadly, he died not even a year after we met and instead I transformed my work with him into a book. Yet the film that I wanted to make, at its core, remained the same. Yet it’s concentric circles spread out constantly, shifted and changed as I shifted and changed during the seven years it took to make the film. Since I consider all forms of creativity as a form of writing—and I consider this film a visual essay—I was always expanding the film’s script to address the obstacles that made it difficult to finance and to account for the changes in history over that period. At its heart, the process of filmmaking can only be organic because it’s a human endeavor but there was a constant tension with “inorganic” situations (i.e., financing). So I often say that the film is about creative-response but itself is a creative-response—how it was made, financed, how it’s being presented to the world. Also, it’s an example of independent filmmaking (away from the dominant economic model) and dependent filmmaking (reliant on all those who have supported and continue to support my work).
You’ve mentioned in the past that you’ve largely been influenced in your work as an artist from your childhood, namely growing up raised by Italian parents in Philadelphia. Can you explain how this influenced you as a creator, and what other specific influences you’ve had over the years? Like, specific world events, artists, or works?
At some point in my work as an author, filmmaker, and visual artist, I realized that my first model for creative-response were my parents and their struggle to survive first when they were children during the second world war in Italy and then when they immigrated to Philadelphia in the 1960s. Growing up in this beautifully intense immigrant enclave enveloped by culture—a culture of creative-response—I was exposed to an unwavering approach to living in this world: to never give-up and never give-in. I spoke only Italian with my parents, family and friends, and this cultural practice, this adherence to tradition and ritual, instilled in me a deep respect for history. This coupled with my experience working alongside my father from a very young age as both his laborer and interpreter, I was witness to the forward-thinking actions he and his fellow workers—mostly Italian immigrants as well—took to get the job done no matter the obstacles, the weight of uncertainty, the shock of the unplanned for, the disappointment of the broken promises or incompetence of others. These are moments—the spaces in between—that I learned we can slip into and search for something greater creatively. This, I realized later in life, was my first profound exposure to creative-response.
Shepard Fairey – Designer/Illustrator of the OBEY sticker campaign and the famous Obama HOPE poster, is one the many featured artists in the film.
The archival footage in the film is pretty great, I noticed you had a couple of seconds of one of my all time favourite movies, John Carpenter’s They Live… How involved were you in the post production process? It seemed like a monster of a film to cut.
I was deeply involved in the editing, as it was important for me to use every second of the landscape of the film to ensure that my all the ideas were fully realized. If I was going to make this film I was going to make they way I wanted with nothing left out. From the beginning, I wanted to use what I describe as counter-intuitive archival material. Since we are bombarded with images to the point they become banal, the counter-intuitive footage ranges from the 1930s through the 1980s, a mixture of beautiful and degraded industrials films, military propaganda films, commercials, PSAs, newsreels, and much more would seem new and fresh, absorbing people deeper into the narrative. And that’s what the feeling from audiences have been at screenings across the world after they watch. [I must also add the John Carpenter‘s They Live clip always has special resonance for me—a great film really capturing the clever, linguistic trick that Reagan pulled (consume=OBEY).
What’s a perfect world to you. Is it possible to exist with humans in the mix?
I want to live in this world. I just want it work better for everyone and that’s what I strive for with creative-response. Human history is bursting of examples with humans joining together, energized by a good idea, to change how society is organized. It’s also important to never lose sight that we are part of an evolving history, that it’s not static, it does keep moving forward—sometimes fast and slow, sometimes hard and easy—but there have been and continue to be significant social gains. As musician Billy Bragg says in my film, “We sometimes forget just how far we’ve come.” What the real questions are for me are what kind of world do I want to live and what am I willing to do about it. As I mentioned, I’ll take this world because the human spirit has never been defeated and what I am willing to do about is create work that starts a dialogue where once there wasn’t one. Again, something in included in my essay “Bend the Notes” seems appropriate, this from Picasso regarding Guernica, a creative-response touchstone for me: “What do you think an artist is? He is a political being, constantly aware of the heart breaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image…[it’s art as] “the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” And so yes, it’s possible to exist with humans in the mix, because history and the movement of creative-response provide the incontrovertible evidence that when we work together, look out for one another, establish a dialogue where there is a real exchange of good ideas, rally around the human condition, we endure and evolve.