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Spike Lee’s Must See TV: “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.”

Spike Lee's Must See TV: "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts."

Pundits pondered the question “Is it too soon?” as UNITED 93 neared its opening date. The refrain was heard again in recent weeks with the arrival of Oliver Stone’s WORLD TRADE CENTER

In this Sunday’s New York Times column, Frank Rich suggests that “the [lackluster] box office returns of ‘World Trade Center’ are a cultural sign of just how much America has moved on. For all the debate about whether it was ‘too soon’ for such a Hollywood movie, it did better in the Northeast, where such concerns were most prevalent, than in the rest of the country, where, like ‘United 93,’ it may have arrived too late.”

(UNITED 93 “I’m sick and tired of these motherf*ckin’ terrorists on this motherf*ckin’ plane!” Courtesy Universal Studios)

Such will not be the case for Hurricane Katrina.

Less than a year after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Spike Lee debut’s WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS, a four-hour documentary treatise airing in two parts on HBO.

(Acts I and II premiere Monday, August 21 at 9pm (ET/PT), followed by Acts III and IV on Tuesday, August 22 at 9pm. All four acts will be seen Tuesday, Aug. 29 (8:00 p.m.-midnight), the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.)

(Inside Man Lee faces off with Katrina. Courtesy HBO)

The project is described on HBO’s Web site thus:

“As the world watched in horror, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005. Like many who watched the unfolding drama on television news, director Spike Lee was shocked not only by the scale of the disaster, but by the slow, inept and disorganized response of the emergency and recovery effort. Lee was moved to document this modern American tragedy, a morality play witnessed by people all around the world. The result is WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS. The film is structured in four acts, each dealing with a different aspect of the events that preceded and followed Katrina’s catastrophic passage through New Orleans. “

The last time Spike was moved to create a current events documentary, he crafted the brilliant short We Wuz Robbed, an incisive ten-minute skewering of the 2000 Presidential election. Whether or not Lee’s four hour (!) Requiem will hit with the same blunt force impact as his black and white blitzkrieg remains to be seen.

At four hours, we should expect a long, slow burn.

Or as Sheila Nevins, chief of HBO’s documentary unit, who commissioned the film, predicts , “It will be Spike’s ‘The Sorrow and the Pity’ or ‘Shoah’ or whatever.”

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