The ability to openly question and criticize the government is one of the foundations of democracy, and one of the cornerstones of any free country’s constitutions and laws. It is not only within our power to elect officials to office, but we also reserve the right to make sure they stand up for and protect the good of the general public who voted them in, and if they don’t, we are free to react any way we see fit (within the law, of course). And while the cliché is that great art is often fueled by great strife, there is also a ring of truth to it. And in “Let Fury Have The Hour,” a strong case is made that the conservative, individualism politics of the Reagan and Thatcher era 1980s, helped spur punk rock, independent filmmaking and other artistic forms that continue to have an impact decades later.
Director Antonino D’Ambrosio is certainly taking on a subject with a thesis that’s as loose and open-ended as they come, but he manages to streamline things pretty well. The doc opens with a brief history lesson that essentially posits that FDR’s New Deal, which essentially ensured that every American had a job, and more philosophically, that we all cared about each other as collective citizens, was slowly eroded by big business and government over the decades, until the ’80s, when under the tenure of hard conservative goverments in the United States and United Kingdom, the country took on a more every-man-for-themselves and pull-up-your-own-bootstraps mentality. Social programs, consumer protection and loads more were trimmed by governments that were only in place to serve the people insofar as they served themselves. And since this was a time before you could rally your emotions online in a variety of formats, a bit more work was required to get your voice heard.
Interviewing a broad array of rockers, rappers, filmmakers, poets and more, D’Ambrosio paints a vivid portrait of how different artists reacted to their times. For Ian Mackaye of the famed Fugazi, he channeled his pacifist anger against the Vietnam War through punk rock. And what started with Minor Threat, grew into the well-respected indepedent label Dischord Records (which is still the template for many launching their own shingles), as well as the band Fugazi, whose own equal opportunity practices are admired to this day. Others, like Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, were just agog at seeing Joe Strummer with a Fender twin amp making music unlike anything they’d heard before. Meanwhile, the anger of Chuck D and Public Enemy was a new kind of punk rock, disseminating the worldview of a segment of African Americans who rarely if ever got mainstream attention.
The format of ‘Fury’ is simple, with interviews with dozens of folks — Lewis Black, Thievery Corporation, members of Antibalas Afrobreat Orchestra, John Sayles and many, many more — illustrating their own personal creative journeys, as they were fueled by the politics and social issues around them. It’s all very compelling, and offers a fascinating look at how personal politics can shape artistic endeavors, without compromising the integrity or longstanding relevance of the work (ie. Sayles’ 1987 union picture “Matewan” carries tremendous resonance today). But one wishes that D’Ambrosio had taken it one step further. The documentary runs less than 90 minutes, and a more compelling conversation could’ve been had about the intersection of politics in works that are supported and released by major labels or major film studios. What are compromises that have to be made personally and professionally? It’s a valid point of debate, and one that isn’t discussed as much as it should be, particularly by those who have made millions by arguably selling more of an image than a message.
But those looking for that kind of dialogue (perhaps in a followup?) won’t find it here, and ‘Fury’ may disappoint in that manner. But as a primer on creative response to regressive politics, ‘Fury’ is a passionate look at those who took the shifting sands of the world around them, and tried to affect change, and make their voices heard, through art. Of course, it’s doubtful these works ever reached the leaders that “inspired” them but that’s not the point — their very existence is not only a release for those who created it, but for those who find it as well, helping them realize their struggle and feelings about the world around them are not isolated, but valid, important, real and need to be heard. [B]