Nelson George’s BROOKLYN BOHEMEMarch 13, 2012

Nelson George’s BROOKLYN BOHEME

Showtime

Editor's Note: BROOKLYN BOHEME is now available on demand (FilmBuff).

 

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BROOKLYN BOHEME

By T. Tara Turk

 

The first time I moved to New York from Detroit for college, one of the first things I did was go straight to Prospect Park to see the place where Spike Lee filmed his bike scene with Denzel Washington for MO BETTA BLUES. This was a clear sign that I was going to be apart of this movement, whatever it was, since my sights to see were vastly different from the usual.

BROOKLYN BOHEME on Showtime On Demand is Writer/Critic/Filmmaker Nelson George’s documentary on the Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene and it’s popular 1990s art scene.

 

It is a beautiful love story

much like that of Woody Allen to New York or Paris

or Scorsese's tribute to Manhattan.

 

Very few filmmakers could shoot this Brooklyn relationship (although poet/writer/filmmaker Pierre Bennu is one I think who could compliment this one brilliantly) because it’s really something you had to be there to see. I know youngsters hate hearing older people say that (gasp- when did I put myself in that latter group?) but it’s definitely true. If you weren’t there and you’re keen to see how a renaissance gets started, you’ll love this labor of truth from George.

 


Nelson George (Courtesy of Showtime)

George’s doc is comprised of very personal interviews with very known people (mostly because they are his friends) like Chris Rock, Spike Lee, Rosie Perez, Talib Kweli, Lisa Jones and Saul Williams to name a few.

 



The chapters of the doc are chronological, starting with the early inhabitants of the then super regular and ungentrified neighborhood, which include Lee, Vernon Reid and Branford Marsalis. This was time when most of those up and coming artists were mostly kids of Brooklynite parents or children of jazz musicians who bought homes in Fort Greene early on due the price and location to the West Village (just two stops away). But then this kids starting creating magical art like “School Days” and stayed in the neighborhood where they worked thus creating a movement of familial synergy and cultural discourse that would last for years on end.

 

My personal favorite chapter is the on the poetry spot, The Brooklyn Moon. Started by Mike Thomas in the early 90s, The Brooklyn Moon was little more than a place that sold tea (not even a liqour license yet) but a place we all gravitated towards because it was one of the only places doing a well attended poetry night. It wasn’t unusual to see Mos Def host the night or see Erykah Badu come in and doing a poem with an incense stick hanging out of her mouth or actor/poet Mums do his infamous roach poem..

I was fortunate that one of my best friends and fellow Detroiter, Jessica Care Moore, was a key player in the poetry movement of that time (George flashes a vibrant photo of her as rapper Talib Kweli talks about how connected everyone was to each other and to places like Nkiru Books, The Moon or a few key restaurants we all crashed). I head poetry there from my friends that changed my life and my snapping fingers sore for days (as George and Thomas say, you couldn’t clap back then because of the neighbors). Many of us (including me) fell in love, had our hearts broken, made a living with poetry and created work that was beyond our imagination in that small cafe.

It seemed everyone lived within a few blocks of each other and, just like in the documentary when Talib Kweli hits a restaurant and runs into Meshelle Ndgeocello, M-1 from Dead Prez and possibly Queen Latifah across the street, you always ran into somebody in the scene wherever you went. I lived in Harlem and STILL ran into these folks regularly. And the parties that Rosie Perez talks about Wesley Snipes having resemble the same ones I went to at Jessica’s or Saul’s or the magical loft on 59 Franklin (one of the only places in Manhattan most Brooklynites would venture to at night).

The documentary pays a great homage to a time that has given birth to various popular literary trends, hip hop scenes and the rebirth of poetry across the world (there would hardly be a Def Poetry Jam had there been no Frank’s Place or Brooklyn Moon). But as art changes, so do neighborhoods, as George points out. It’s almost impossible for things to stay the same and just as the housing market is changing neighborhoods around the world, Fort Greene is also affected.

 


Chris Rock (Courtesy of Showtime)

 

High rises and gentrification change the dynamic, as Rosie Perez points out, and you definitely wonder how this change will affect those Brooklyn folks across the economic divide. As Toure says, the high rises bring so many more people and how can the neighborhood continuously provide amenities for all these newcomers. It reminded me of a time I went back to The Brooklyn Moon after having been gone awhile and not seeing a foggy window with a bunch of folks spewing a poetry that remains relevant and beautiful to this day, but seeing the new fresh college faced kids who had already heard about Brooklyn Moon in high school in various parts of the country and wanted to try their hand.

So many people came of age in Brooklyn at a time where we felt like we were having a renaissance that rivaled the Harlem Renaissance almost seventy years prior. Many have all moved on, many have stayed, but it’s great to hear and see in a very vibrant way how much of an impact everyone had on each other.

 



It’s hard to fit everyone who made a difference into a documentary but George tries to do so towards the end credits just like Mister Senor Love Daddy does in DO THE RIGHT THING but all of us run into each other all over the world,

still creating and inspiring each other,

still creating art beyond ourselves.

DEMAND IT

 
- T. Tara Turk

Tara
T. Tara Turk is a novelist/playwright/screenwriter, living in LA with her boyfriend and dog - all three successful TV addicts. You can find her at www.ttaraturk.com or follow her on Twitter @ttaraturk.
 
 
 
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