Future Foretold

DVD Movie: Walker — Took me some time, obviously, to get around to seeing director Alex Cox’s 1987 film about William Walker, the American adventurer who invaded Nicaragua in 1855 with a small band of men and installed himself as president. At the time it was made by the director of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, the film served as a piece of agitprop in support of the Sandinista revolution and opposed to the US-backed Contras. But it holds up outside the time in which it was made (in Nicaragua while the conflict between the two sides was still very much active), that is, if you have a taste for the strange and sometimes absurd in your movies. I like to think of Walker as a bit of cinematic magical realism that verges from the sometimes horrible to the quite hilarious. Time periods are elastic, especially at the film’s ending, so don’t expect anything even close to the historical record. I see this movie as a somewhat wild and at least noble-in-intention experiment that largely worked if you can dig the surrealism and touches of zaniness. And the political point of American power being exercised outside our borders in the internal politics of other nations still has some traction, alas. The DVD includes a quite interesting documentary extra that was finally finished to go with it, and the soundtrack by rocker Joe Strummer is an utter delight.

Book & CD: One Man’s Music by Vince Bell — Two separate creative works by Texas folk singer Vince Bell, who came up in Houston and Austin alongside such other artists as Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett and Townes Van Zandt. What makes the autobiographical book more than just another memoir is the fact that Bell was involved in a 1982 car accident — struck by a drunk driver — that left him with shattered bones, internal injuries and brain damage that he wasn’t expected to recover from (the Austin paper actually ran an obituary at the time). It starts out rather breezy, so much so that one is almost tempted to set it aside. But once Bell gets smashed up in the accident (just as he was making what was to be his first album), it becomes a gripping tale of his struggle to not just recover his ability to walk, think and live like the rest of us, but his music and being able to make it again as well. At times heartbreaking and at others utterly inspiring, it’s a story that’s all but impossible to put down from his tragic accident on forward. And in the process, Bell emerges as not just another guy with a guitar and some songs, but a quite admirable, heroic, wise and quite likable figure, especially given his admission and acceptance of his fragility and foibles. Against all odds, he regained control of his battered body and literally bruised brain and began to make music again. The album of the same name is like a “best of” collection of Bell’s songs — and one cover, titled “Frankenstein,” which suits a man who was patched, sewn and bolted back together — recorded very simply with just the artist and his guitar and a piano. It certainly makes for quite good listening even if one isn’t aware of the backstory. Add that context and the music resonates even more deeply.

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2009

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