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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Louder Than a Bomb

Louder than a Bomb (Three and a Half Stars)

U. S.: Greg Jacobs & Jon Siskel, 2011
 
 
 
 
 

 

Louder than a Bomb made me feel good about some of the kids of today, made me feel that they’re probably being maligned, at least in part, by most other America movies that try to show us use contemporary American teenagers.

The movie, a multi-award-winning documentary co- directed by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel (Gene‘s nephew), takes us into the high schools of contemporary Chicago, and shows us something besides the usual teen-sex shtick: all those nerds, babes, studs, clowns and bullies swaggering down the halls, and the glam rock and the worm turning. “Bomb,“ on the other hand, is a celebration of real teenagers and of a whole other art form — not a new one, really, but one that was fairly new to me in this form: the “Louder than a Bomb” Poetry Slam.

Specifically it’s about the 2007-2008 Louder than a Bomb that pitted poetry teams from over 60 Chicago area high schools against each other. The movie concentrates on four teams — from Oak Park/River Forest (Ernest Hemingway‘s alma mater), Whitney M. Young Magnet High School (Michelle Obama‘s alma mater), Steinmetz (Hugh Hefner’s alma mater), and Northside College Prep (which may some day be known as Adam Gottlieb’s old high school).

Adam is one of the kids the movie follows: an unusually sweet, smart, gifted guy, with a little of the elfin charm of the young “Alice’s Restaurant”-era Arlo Guthrie. Jacobs and Siskel make a real protagonist of him, along with the absolutely incandescent Novana “Nova” Venerable of Oak Park/River Forest, the beguiling, smiling Nate Marshall of Whitney Young, and virtually the entire eloquent and powerful Steinmetz team, tagged the “Steinmenauts” — especially Lamar “Tha Truth” Jorden, Jesus “L3” Lark, and Kevin “KVO” Harris.

No, let’s make that all of the Steinmenauts: Jonathan “Freaky” Carillo, Lauren Iron, She’Kira McKnight, Charles “Big C” Smith and Travell Williams too — with James Sloan and John Hood coaching. Watch them go. They’re a real team.

The nicknames of the Steinmenauts point up the relationship of the poetry contests here to rap, a musical form that‘s never much appealed to me, except for Grandmaster Flash‘s “The Edge.” But this is more than rap: It’s something maybe akin to the old beatnik coffeehouse readings (including the one where Allen Ginsberg read “Howl”), and to spoken poetry as it’s been passed down though the ages, since the ancient Greeks.

These kids howl, chant, recite, tell stories (mostly drawn from their own lives and the things they know), and they storm the heavens of language and self-revelation. Some of them, like Nova and Lamar, become truly spellbinding.

There’s a wonderful documentary of a few years ago, whose name temporarily eludes me, about a South Bronx parochial high school that turned around its discipline and low-grades problem by instituting a heavy arts program for all students.

I thought, when I watched that movie: Of course. The arts, music, drama, literature, painting — all those “humanist” areas often given short shrift because of our national obsessions with science education and later, with business education, are exactly the things to trigger imagination and a love of all learning and communicating. You see it here when Nova spews out all that sadness and anger and pity in her family stories, when Adam tells us about Maxwell Street, and when the Steinmenauts go on their final tear.

You should see this movie. At its worst, it’s still inspirational. At its best it’s maybe like watching the young Allen Ginsberg, howling.

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