When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

When hard-hitting, groundbreaking director Spike Lee announced he was taking on Hurricane Katrina, we knew we were in for good stuff (as much as a poignant portrait of human suffering can be called “good stuff”). But he exceeded expectations with the four-hour opus When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.

Lee took mostly short but profound quotes from average New Orleaneans, city officials and national and local reporters, and then strung them together like a opera chorus bellowing out a story of tragedy. He gathered enough eyewitness accounts to put the viewer right in that flooded parish, rooftop island or hellish Superdome. He also dug into the history of New Orleans, discussing the traditional relationship between poor, Southern blacks and the federal government and contrasting the Bush Administration’s response to Katrina to Lyndon Johnson’s response to Hurricane Betsy more than 40 years ago.

Also great is the skillful, precise scoring by trumpeter/bandleader Terence Blanchard, who shows that the musical genre associated with Mardi Gras can also echo heartache. Lovers of documentaries and history should be glad that the definitive Katrina movie is a Spike Lee joint. 7 and 9 p.m. today and Sunday. Rice Media Center, Rice University, entrance No. 8 off University Boulevard. For information, call 713-348-4853 or visit www.ricecinema.rice.edu. $5 to $6.
Mon., Jan. 14, 9 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 29, 7 & 9 p.m.; Sat., March 1, 7 p.m., 2008

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Nick Keppler