Reviewed at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival
Some documentary viewers get all hung up on objectivity and such, so let's say this right out of the chute: Let Fury Have the Hour is fiercely, proudly, snarlingly partisan. It is a positive documentary about progressive artists, who created a loose movement intended to counter the fear and divisiveness of Thatcher and Reagan. Perhaps you do not agree with that assessment of those figures, and in that event, this is not a film you should see (nor a review you should read). Those who do will find much here that is stimulating and evocative, and may very well get all worked up all over again.
The idea was "creative response," the notion of art--music, dance, film, literature, visual arts--that reacted to political and social change, and maybe perpetrated some of its own. It wasn't a radical idea; culture, at its best, should function as a method of examining and close-reading what (and where) society is. But the pump was particularly primed for it in that moment, as full-on shifts in common notions of shared burden and collective responsibility were falling by the wayside, and the explosions that followed--of punk rock, of street art, of hip-hop, of graffiti--sent shockwaves through the U.S. and England.
Writer/director Antonio D'Ambrosio is exhaustively thorough, and hell-bent on providing proper context: for the shift to Thatcherism and Reagonomics from leftover New Deal thought; for the roots of the music and art that came forth in the era; and for the more complex ideas that followed that shock of recognition and realization, when those creating and those partaking of their work attempted to understand one's place within a society, and the responsibilities you choose to take on (or ignore) when that understanding becomes clear.
There's a lot to unpack here, and to his credit, D'Ambrosio has plainly set out a set of clear theses, which are then eloquently argued by articulate people. Among them: Eve Ensler, Wayne Kramer, Chuck D, Shepard Fairly, Lewis Black, and John Sayles, who sums up the Reagan era memorably and simply: "It's morning in America--and forget about last night." The filmmaker and his editor Karim Lopez also have a gift for montage, utilizing some familiar tropes (stock footage and archival clips especially) but making them new with filters that trick them out, and music that blasts them into new hemispheres.
This is an awfully big topic, though, and to be fair, the picture does tend to wander all over the damn place, ending up with a detrimental lack of focus (the digressions near the end regarding musical cross-pollination, for example, are interesting, but feel like the film is opening a whole other can of worms at too late a date). And its ultimate destination begins to feel less and less certain the closer it gets to there--"The question's the thing, not how it get answered," notes one interview subject, as if to anticipate the trouble--though D'Ambrosio and Lopez do an admirable job of pulling it all together, and ending on a note of hope, without descending into corn or (for the most part) cliché.
Let Fury Have the Hour finds its point considerably earlier than that, however, as Lewis Black delivers an uproarious bit on dealing with an increasingly surrealistic world, and then turns the piece from humor to stinging truth in a blink of an eye. It's a powerful moment--and, ultimately, a quiet testament to what the film itself is really all about.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.