In the documentary “Let Fury Have the Hour,” a roster of musicians, writers, filmmakers, and artists approach their plea for a utopian society in two distinct ways. One is to argue against the overall social and economic changes brought on by Reaganomics and Thatcherism, both of which essentially valued individual success more than the welfare of society. The other is to give personal accounts of how they found solace and liberation in their creative outlets, and then to explain how free speech and artistic expression can and should be used as tools for reform – a sociopolitical movement the film’s director, Antonio D’Ambrosio, has dubbed Creative Response. Ultimately, neither approach ends up working. I give D’Ambrosio and all his interviewed subjects credit for being so passionate about their art, but I’m hard pressed to say that they convinced me of their importance.
Part of the problem is that we’re never provided with any evidence to support the claims that are made. While it is indeed true that both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher imposed strict economic policies that favored regulation and tax cuts for the wealthy over social programs for the needy, not a single tangible fact or figure is projected on the screen for us to read. We’re not told, for instance, about Reagan’s Tax Reform Act of 1986, which, among other things, sought to significantly raise taxes on those earning less than $50,000. Nor are we told that, during her premiership, Thatcher successfully put cash limits on public spending and reduced funding for social services such as housing and education. The best we get are short film clips extracted from speeches, which in and of themselves say little.
The same problem applies to the interviewed subjects; they all give personal anecdotes in regards to their art, but they don’t provide specific historical examples of creative expression changing any given society for the better. Either that, or D’Ambrosio edited those portions of the interviews out. Whatever the case, while there’s no denying that the subjects are passionate and opinionated, it’s obvious that many of them aren’t authorities on the subjects they criticize. They’re merely public figures with a point of view. This is all well and good, but how do we know where they got their information from? I would much rather listen to an economist or politician point out the failures of the Reagan Administration than an artist, simply because the former would have both their first hand experiences and the facts to back up their views. Some authorities are featured, including labor advocate Ana Burger, historian Sanislao G. Pugliese, and economist Richard D. Wolff, but not as prominently as they should be.
To be sure, the subjects are expert at explaining why they love their chosen forms of expression. Billy Bragg, Wayne Kramer, Stephen Harris, Tom Morello, Ian MacKaye, and Eugene Hutz, for example, all espouse the creative freedom of punk rock, which is known for its anti-establishment sentiments and its ethic of self production and informal distribution. Chuck D. and Boots Riley have similar things to say about hip hop, which gives a voice to the oppressed typically found in inner cities. Eve Ensler, Edwidge Danticat, Suheir Hammad and Staceyann Chin express themselves through writing, John Sayles writes and directs socially relevant films independently, and Lewis Black airs his political and social grievances through stand up comedy. I admit, some of the subjects’ beliefs seemed to border on anarchy. This is especially true of musician/skateboarder Tommy Guerrero and street artist Shepard Fairey, the latter seeming to advocate the vandalization of public and private property.
D’Ambrosio repeatedly inserts stock footage into the film, although most of it is so general that we’re forced to question whether or not it actually can apply to what the subjects are saying at that given moment. The more specific stock footage is sometimes out of step with the era and policies the film speaks out against. Consider the moment when Tom Morello notes that fear has been an effective propaganda tool; immediately, we cut to clips from a 1950s educational film about how to protect yourself from a nuclear blast. If memory serves, the only relevant clip D’Ambrosio provides us with is taken from one of Reagan’s 1980 political ads, in which the slogan “It’s morning again in America” played against images of a flag being raised, a tractor on a farm, a paperboy on his bicycle, and newlyweds running in slow motion as wedding guests throw rice.
It isn’t until the end of the film that the subjects all agree that art alone cannot bring about change; it must work in tandem with actual political and social strategies. As true as that is, it comes at us far too late in the game. I think that if D’Ambrosio wanted that idea to sink in, he would have been better off delivering it at the start the film. To be as fair as possible, I don’t object to the message of “Let Fury Have the Hour.” Truth be told, I generally agree with it; society should be founded on helping those in need rather than leaving everyone to fend for themselves. And give D’Ambrosio some credit – he allows his film to end on a note of positivity and optimism rather than hopelessness. Still, the message is not delivered in the right way, and that’s what I object to. Here is a documentary that’s emotional when it should be factual.