Treme: the power of music to heal

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina ripped across the Gulf coast of the USA, taking a terrible toll on the city of New Orleans.

I’ve been taking a great deal of heart, particularly in light of the devastating floods hitting Australia at this time, from a HBO program called Treme (trem-ay), set in a neighbourhood of New Orleans where it’s all about the music, man.

There are a couple of things that make this show exceptional.

For starters, it’s so understated. There is no melodrama, no great conspiracies or car chases. It follows the lives of various residents trying to cope in post-Katrina New Orleans. A bar owner trying to get repairs made on her club. A restaurateur trying to keep her head above the financial waters. A uni professor struggling to deal with the reality of the destruction and the general poorness of the nation’s response. Musicians, trying to make a living in the empty city. And so on. It rings true. Victory is not guaranteed.

I love the way the lives of these people intersect, by circumstance and by happenstance. I love the way the story can move me to tears in one beat and have me laughing out loud in the next. I love the compassion. I love the way it deals, from a street level, with government inaction, corruption and ineptitude, and yet, it’s pretty even-handed, showing the good and the bad of the NOPD, for instance.

The acting from the main players is superb, so natural and measured, so dignified in the face of nightmare and frustration. When they blow, you feel it.

And there’s the music, of course; unifying and restoring pride, an anchor when all else is swirling. It’s not by chance the series opens and ends with second lines (funeral processions led by bands). Jazz, jazz and jazz, a touch of Cajun, but it’s the brass and the bass that’s driving this beat, with plenty of identities (Dr John, Elvis Costello, Kermit Ruffins and more) sprinkled in the mix.

It’s simply some of the best television I’ve seen: no vampires, no explosions, just … real.

New Orleans is one of my favourite cities, one I’ve visited most often: one that does indeed live in the heart and mind. It’s so refreshing to see such a portrait on the TV. I hope all of America is watching.

Ahem. Twilight. And on Being Human

While in New Orleans in October, I was asked by the Aussie ABC Online to offer some thoughts on the popularity of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga and the state of the vampire mythos today. The article has appeared here, in a preview of the latest movie’s opening.

If ever there was a city in which to talk vampires, it’s New Orleans, or at least the French Quarter, with its uneven, gas-lit sidewalks and classic architecture, and the legacy of Anne Rice never too far away.

Meanwhile, my local cinema is filled with Twilight posters, standees and even a merchandise table that includes, I kid you not, an umbrella for $50. Can someone please make it stop now?

Fortunately, as some kind of counterbalance, however unbalanced that balance might be, there are shows such as Being Human: cleverly scripted, well acted, an engaging take on the supernatural trying to co-exist with the mundane. The premise sounds a little like a gag — a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost all live in this house and… — but it’s not a laughing matter. Think Ultraviolet in a sharehouse. Yummy. Maybe there’s hope after all… even if it doesn’t have a brolly.

Here’s a taste, about how the show approaches its bloodsuckers:

And a trailer for Ultraviolet, truly superb viewing if you can get your hands on the series.

life on mars, take 2-WTF?

life on mars uk version

life on mars uk version

life on mars, US version

life on mars, US version

Life on Mars is an awesome police drama out of the UK, in which the main character is essentially sent back in time from the present day to the 1970s. The conceit is, is the trip real? Or is he in a coma dreaming he’s in the 70s? Or is he simply insane? It is, for the most part, compelling viewing; even if the story goes a little wonky here and there, the acting is uniformly superb.

In the most recent Rolling Stone magazine, there’s a copy of episode 1 of Life on Mars. Life on Mars, US-style. Yup, the cousins across the Atlantic couldn’t quite cope with England in the 70s, so they had to go make the show all over again, set in New York. Which is, based on the first ep, where the only interest lies. But even then, the atmosphere is pretty similar: hippies, a growing drug culture, racial tension, women’s rights, thuggery in the cop shop, the boy’s club at the boozer. The US show is an echo that seems pale by comparison, even with Harvey Keitel in the cast. (The effects are pretty cheesy, too.) It feels as if the actors are just repeating others’ lines, which in some respects they are.

My question is: why? Is imitation really the most sincere form of flattery or just a travesty?

At least the US soundtrack is rockin’, though I’m mildly surprised they didn’t use a cover of David Bowie’s theme song, rather than the real thing 😉