654. Thoughts on the Amy Winehouse documentary

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Last night I saw the film Amy. It’s a documentary about the life of Amy Winehouse, the jazz singer from London who died of alcohol toxicity at the age of 27 years. I knew little about Winehouse before I went, and so what I know about her now is largely what I learned in this film. I learned enough to weep inside at the tragic trajectory of her life. It could have been otherwise given her verve, her voice, her giftedness for music and lyrics. See for yourself, here, in this recorded video with Tony Bennett.

The 2-hour film is nearly exclusively live shots and video from her life. The footage covers it all from the innocent excited moments of her first gig to her spiral downward into drugs and alcohol. Lots of the footage probably came from the paparrazi who relentlessly followed her when she became a superstar, but lots of it also was from her own camera and that of her friends. This is not the Ken Burns effect, where a single picture zooms in and out only to move to the next one. This is the era of selfies and by the film’s end, I couldn’t help but feel as if she was someone I knew even though she was so very different from anyone I know.

Yes, while making her music she made her own terrible choices. But also yes, the adults in her life, with the exception of her paternal grandmother, failed her from the time she was child; her boyfriend-turned-husband manipulated her and pulled her under, even bringing her heroin while she was in rehab; the people who made her albums and planned her tours chose money over her well being; we, the public, laughed at jokes the late-night TV stars told about her and wanted pictures on magazine covers and online of her spiral downward.

Leaving the theater last night and waking up this morning I kept thinking of the writing in Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker about how the creator of a literary work loves the creatures he creates and sometimes must watch them do and become things on the page or on the screen that he had never intended. I kept thinking about the scene in the Gospels where Jesus speaks – and I imagine him choking back tears while he does so – of his beloved Jerusalem, saying how he had longed to gather its children under his wing.

#HateWon'tWin: "Charleston," a song and video by my friends Benjamin Tucker and David Vessel

My friends Benjamin Tucker and David Vessel made this video in honor of the Charleston Nine and their families. Ben wrote the song and David put the video together.

Both of these guys have day jobs but do creative work in after hours. They each have a deep love for God and people and creative juices that flow beautiful and bright.

You can find Ben's music on his website: http://benjamintuckermusic.com. We have a number of his CDs and have been known to play them on repeat. David's photography is here: http://davidvesselphotography.com/

#HateWon'tWin. Please listen and consider sharing. (If you're reading this via email subscription, you may need to click through to play the video.)

Memorial Day reflection – the unknown and unknowable extent of heroism and sacrifice

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Memorial Day.

I’m reflecting on all that I don’t know and will never know about the extent to which men and women have sacrificed for this country’s freedoms.

Here’s an example. In late April of this year, my husband and I watched several television programs that aired commemorating the 40-year anniversary of the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam war in April 1975. One program in particular stunned me. Rory Kennedy's film, "Last Days in Vietnam," seen on PBS American Experience, was about the evacuation of the the U.S. embassy, which was actually the evacuation of Saigon from the place of the U.S. embassy. I had no idea the extent of heroism, sacrifice, and drama related to this evacuation.

April 29-30, 1975: I was just about to graduate from high school. I remember watching the news about Saigon on television – we’d been watching the news about the Vietnam war for years – but I don’t remember taking in the details or the scope of the event. Certainly, much of what was in the documentary has come to light over the years and wasn’t on the nightly news. But also, certainly, and sadly, I probably was more focused on what I’d wear to graduation and making final college decisions at the time.

Here are only a few examples of what I learned from the documentary. The Marines made 75 helicopter runs, within 24 hours, in and out of the embassy to bring South Vietnamese (men, women, children) and Americans out to waiting ships. The helicopters were crammed full of people; the ships were crammed full of people. Marines on the ground were going around Saigon trying to find food and clothes for the refugees on the ships. No one wanted to stop evacuating people from the embassy grounds until the last person waiting for his or her turn on the helicopter had a spot and was airborne, but eventually a line had to be drawn after which no more people could be lifted it. It must have been a devastating moment in real life; it was a devastating moment in the documentary. The documentary was full of statements from the servicemen flying the helicopters, on the ships, and in the embassy. You can hear the heartbreak in their voices that people were left behind, but all they did to get as many out as they did had me choked up.

There was a story about how a couple Americans - not sure if they were embassy personnel or Marines - went around Saigon personally picking up the tailor who had helped them sew uniforms, and his family, the cooks who had fed them, and their families, and so on; they picked up all kinds of workers for whom they were grateful, and their families.

One South Vietnamese pilot took a Chinook helicopter and landed it near his home in Saigon to rescue his family. It was too big to land on the ship, however, and so they each jumped out of the helicopter from high up. The Marines on the deck caught – caught! – each one, including the baby wrapped in a blanket. The father hovered the Chinook over the water while he got out of his flight suit and stepped out just as it rolled into the water; he lived and boarded the ship with only his underwear, and his saved family.

There was a story about a boatload of South Vietnamese and a few Marines traversing a small river through enemy territory to get to the waiting ships. Just as they entered the area where they thought they would get shot at, a huge storm came out of nowhere and shielded them in sight and sound by the rain. When the storm passed they were out of enemy territory.

There was a scene where the ships loaded with thousands and thousands of people approached the Philippines. The ships with South Vietnamese flags weren’t allowed in. They had to take down their flags, and Americans put up their flags instead. The documentary showed the South Vietnamese lowering their flag and singing their national anthem, saying goodbye to their country, saying goodbye to everything.

The documentary’s website is here. You can read a review of the documentary in the New York Times here.

I’m sorry I didn’t know all these things before.

~~~

[Photo: taken of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington D.C. during a family vacation years ago; this particular section includes the name of a friend's father.]