“It is twenty-three years now since I first attended a National Socialist meeting, saw (without particular enjoyment) Herr Hitler at close range, and listened to the flood of nonsense — or so it then seemed to me — that he was spouting. It was only gradually that the effects of these speeches made me realize that behind all the nonsense there was unrivaled political cunning….Hitler was able to enslave his own people because he seemed to give them something that even the traditional religions could no longer provide; the belief in a meaning to existence beyond the narrowest self-interest. The real degradation began when people realized that they were in league with the Devil, but felt that even the Devil was preferable to the emptiness of an existence which lacked a larger significance. The problem today is to give that larger significance and dignity to a life that has been dwarfed by the world of material things. Until that problem is solved, the annihilation of Naziism will be no more than the removal of one symptom of the world’s unrest.”
Excerpted from Der Fuehrer by Konrad Heiden, published in 1944.
There has long been an assumption that high art and low art are separate things. And to a certain extent, popular tastes had long ago diverged from those perceived to be “elite”. But in many respects, these divisions exist only on paper, and derive more from the separate lives that educated and working class people live. One area where these divisions can seem greatest are in the field of music. Listening to pop music radio, and then attending a concert of the local symphony, can feel like two worlds that have nothing in common. But every once in a while, these stereotypes over high and low art come crashing down, and in a surprising way, it is the music of modern cinema that carries it out.
The 2012 independent film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is an example of this phenomenon. The movie itself is a fantasy piece, of life in the bayous of southern Louisiana in the midst of a storm that resembles Hurricane Katrina. But, in a twist, is told from the perspective of a small child known as Hushpuppy (played by the unparalleled Quvenzhané Wallis). By having the story be told by a small child, it turns what would normally be an overt tragedy with political overtones into a nearly mythological tale with epic sweep. (Because, let’s be honest, everything feels epic at the age of 6.) It infuses the whole story with a sense of magic that would otherwise be impossible to done with a more adult perspective.
As one would expect, the world inhabited by Hushpuppy (nicknamed “the Bathtub”) is desperately poor. Its inhabitants cling to a marshy bit of land outside the normal levee system, constantly at risk of being washed out to sea. And while I may yet write a review of the film itself, this is a music review. And the music of this film delivers.