Thursday, September 17, 2009


This week I came across two excellent pieces that share a common heart in Philadelphia.

First, there is a documentary playing (well, it was playing, I recorded it sometime in the past month or two) on the Sundance Channel (which I get courtesy Time Warner for screwing me out of several weeks of a working cable system) called "In Prison My Whole Life." The title is based on the filmmaker's birthday, the same day that Mumia Abu Jamal allegedly killed a police officer after he beat down Mumia's brother. I say "allegedly" even though he was convicted and sentenced to death.

The film recounts the events surrounding Mumia's arrest and has some new interviews and information that only people who closely follow the case would likely know about. It provides a fair and even hand for the case for innocence. This is not a new story, but it is told in a new way, with some new information and insight.

There are 2 scenes from this film that resonate and have little to do directly with Mumia. I had never before seen the footage of the police helicopter that dropped the bomb on the Move house in Philadelphia that burned down an entire residential block, killing 12 people. The footage is extraordinary and if you have never seen it, you are missing something powerful and scary.

The second scene that I can't get out of my mind was an interview with the musician Steve Earle as he recounts a time he witnessed a state execution. At first the interview is incredibly boring and I was holding the remote with my finger on fast forward. And then it gets to the meat of the matter as he describes the violence of the man's last breath, the loud sound he made as his head flew forward with such a force that his glasses came shooting off.

Then, last night, I went to see "A Boy and His Soul" at The Vineyard, on 15th St near Union Square. This one-man show was written by and stars Colman Domingo, an enormously talented performer who brings his story to life very effectively, with much heart and, of course, soul. The show is a memoir of his life growing up in West Philadelphia in the 70's and 80's, set to a backdrop of the soul records that were the soundtrack of his childhood. The imitations of his family were so vivid that if I met any of them, I would know them in a second. Very funny and warm, this show was pure entertainment with nary a boring second. For $20 a ticket you should not miss it, the best value in town.

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