Let Fury Have the Hour

As part of its “Snag the Vote” series, pegged to the election season, Snag Films is airing a bunch of political documentaries, including Let Fury Have the Hour as part of a social screening. (The film will stream live on Tuesday October 9, 2012 at 6:30 PM ET from Paley DocFest.) I caught the film at this year’s CBGB Film and Music Festival. It’s well worth checking out, but let me warn you, I’m highly biased.

Some documentaries just speak to you like an echo in your head. Let Fury Have the Hour had that impact on me. It’s about the politically-charged 80’s music and art scene that coalesced in response to the Reagan and Thatcher eras, which is another way of saying it is the story of my teen years. The film champions seminal bands that were huge influences on me — The Clash, Fugazi, Public Enemy — and inspired my own political awakening through music.

Director Antonino D’Ambrosio, also known as an “acclaimed author, visual artist, and filmmaker,” whom I’d never heard of, interviews a lot of interesting, cool folks, like John Sayles, Chuck D, Shepard Fairey, Lewis Black, Billy Bragg and Tom Morello. The film feels long — too long — taking 30 minutes to get through a leftist’s Cliff Notes history of America before it gets to the good stuff about the artists’ response to those times.

There are some incredibly lucid moments, several provided by Stephen Duncombe, a professor raised on punk who speaks cogently about knowing “the terrain so that you can use it to your advantage.”

Or there’s Van Jones, an environmental lawyer and activist. He relays wisdom from his father, who told him not to take simple things and make them complicated to enrich himself but to instead use his intelligence to break down complicated things to explain them and help people. Deep and righteous, right?

And there’s more… Let Fury Have the Hour (the title comes from a Clash song) shows how skateboarding was a revolutionary act by claiming the streets in the same way that punk did, and that you could extend that concept to street art. In the same way that punk pounded on three simple chords, artist Shepard Fairey realized he could take basic materials like spray cans and stencils to reclaim the visual art world.

D’Ambrosio stretches at times, and doesn’t go deep enough at others — to let Public Enemy own political rap without giving BDP its props seemed particularly egregious. But that’s quibbling. Bigger question — Is D’Ambrosio looking at the current political-cultural scene with the limitations of a Gen X’ers vision (which I share, by the way)? The generation that’s coming of age during the Obama presidency is far different from mine. Their political muses will be different. They don’t really listen to music in the way that we did. Maybe they don’t need to follow the messages of musicians.

I’m not saying D’Ambrosio gets it wrong, but I wish he’d engaged the new generation’s musical-political awareness in a different way. Today’s young rockers’ rage against the machine may be more subtle, but Let Fury Have the Hour doesn’t really go there. I look forward to Part II.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen