Antonino D'Ambrosio Talks Let Fury Have the Hour, available now on VOD
Available now on VOD from SnagFilms and coming to DVD later this year, Antonino D'Ambrosio directs the new documentary Let Fury Have the Hour. Rough, raw and unapologetically inspirational, the movie is a lively social history that chronicles how creative-response is an antidote to the cynicism that dominates today's culture. An exuberant, mixed media collage that incorporates graphic art, music, animation, and spoken word, the film spans three decades of transformation bringing together over 50 artists, writers, musicians and activists, all of whom attest to the fact that we can re-imagine the world we live in and take an active role in making that vision a reality.
We caught up with Antonino D'Ambrosio to chat about the film just as it makes its VOD premiere. Here is our conversation.
This documentary has a very exhilarating pace. I felt like I fell in a river, and it swept me away, and I couldn't climb out. I haven't ever really seen a doc edited in this way. How did you choreograph where the archival footage would come in, and how the story beats would play out? This is a very unique experience, watching this movie...
Antonino D'Ambrosio: Well first, thanks for that. That is an important element of what this movie is about for me. I really wanted to try and create a dynamic in expanse of the dialogue with the audience. Its one of the reasons why I call the film a visual essay. Part of it was to mimic the human interaction that we have every day. When we speak to each other, it is often very...We go off in tangents, but we try to get back to the central theme of what we are talking about. The way we speak as human beings, I thought if I could replicate the way we do that on the screen, it would create an intimacy with the audience. That it would last way beyond the actual screen, and it seems to have that affect, because that is a comment I get all the time, about the pacing of it. It fiercely moves. It is also the energy I wanted to translate in terms of telling this feeling to an audience. Where they could really feel the rage, and it would be a different kind of viewing experience from a traditional documentary. Hopefully it is entertaining in that way. There are a lot of big ideas that I weave in there. It was important to capture that, through that dynamic presentation.
You edit a lot of archival footage into the film. Its stuff we've never seen before. When you are moving at such an expedient rate through the visuals, what are the limitations in finding this pace, when you are digging through the archives, trying to find that perfect image to keep the story moving?
Antonino D'Ambrosio: For me, I am sure you are aware that I am also an author...For me, this work is an exercise and a love for history. It is about answering, and bringing history forward. There are over 600 pieces of archival footage in this film. That doesn't even include my own photos, and my personal footage. I spent a great deal of time over the years watching all of these old films, these commercial films, these government propaganda films. It was always the idea to find those pieces, those really important clips that would enhance what I wanted to do in this film, in particular, I also wanted to create a counterintuitive go-to, that isn't so much what happened over the last thirty years in media, but that its become this white noise. We are bombarded with images every day, and this stuff doesn't really sink into people's consciousness anymore. Especially with the clips and sound bytes and the MTV style of cutting. I wanted to find all of that beautiful, old...A lot of that archival footage is film, a lot of beautiful film...So, it was important for me, not even from a technical point of view, or really financially in how I made the film...A lot of that stuff was public domain, but I also wanted to mine fair use in telling this story. It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars otherwise, that is why some of this footage only appears for a second or two. That was almost accidental, when we started putting it together. The first twenty minutes of the film, that really worked, really well. It was telling this particular historical story that is personal to me, in a way that seemed really unique. Hopefully, it will allow an audience to sink into it. That's one of the reasons why we used a split-screen. We tried to use every inch of this landscape, of this very traditional format of a monument film, to tell such a dynamic and as wide-ranging story as possible.
I grew up in a small town. I was nine or ten when Reagan went into office as the President of the United States. And from where I was standing, everything seemed great. But then, this independent record store opens up, and I see all of these records that are saying just the opposite. That small independent record store, and the punks that were being sold there, opened up my eyes to something different. It gave a different viewpoint to what was going on at the time.
Antonino D'Ambrosio: Your story is exactly my story. We found out, when we started asking around, that a lot of people had the same story, you know? (Laughs) I was nine years old when Ronald Reagan went into office. I wrote an essay about that in this book called For Not Against, where I talk about watching my father silently staring at the screen while that is happening. I was nine, I was trying to realize what was going on. There was all this stress, and he is an immigrant, a bricklayer, he is in a union. It seemed like something not good was happening. Years later, when I encountered Bruce Springsteen, in something I had been writing about n my new book...Bruce Springsteen had the same exact experience himself, when he was getting ready to perform in Tempe, Arizona. He was watching, frozen in silence. The next night he bounded onto stage and said it was the scariest thing he ever saw happen to the United States. Then he launched into Badlands. That kind of stuff ties into what you are saying. There was a transformation in what I consider popular culture. Which is different than pop culture, which is often the counter culture. Its what shapes the popular culture. The evolution of skateboarding and hip-hop, punk rock, the 80s are full of touchstones for me. But you know, obviously, the community meeting space for that, for me, were the new record stores. I grew up in Philly, and it was rich with independent record stores. At around 12 or 13 years old, which was 82 or 83, was when my mind started getting blown open. I started listening to punk, and The Clash. It was all happening at the same time. It was all wondrous...For me it was about freedom of expression. It was a window, or an opening into a new pathway to express myself, which didn't seem to be available under Ronald Reagan, you know? My consciousness started to grow. I would hear something like Trickle Down Economics, and you are listening to Minor Threat and Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, and a lot of these artists are talking about what's going on in terms of economic injustice, social injustice, you start to piece these things together, and your mind is completely blown apart. You realize that there is something going on that isn't quite right. What do we do about it? That was the beginning of that work. My creative drive was about finding new ideas, and better ideas, that would make it better for everyone. It started in the independent record stores. They were these communal gathering places. You would go in there and meet like-minded folks, and share ideas, and learn more about the world, and discover new artists, and you would read the zines that you were not going to get in your library and your schools. You were finding all kinds of authors. It was a wondrous education.
And the cover art, for me, was always eye opening. I'd see that first, before I even heard the music. In some cases, I never even heard the music, I just saw this powerful image...
Antonino D'Ambrosio: Oh, yes. I just spent some time with Winston Smith. The great thing this film has done, along with my books, is it has allow me to grow as a person and an artist, by connecting with a lot of these people in my own time. One of those artists is Winston Smith, who did all of this Dead Kennedys cover art, which, to me, when I saw that artwork in 83 and 84, I thought, "This is just representing something that I cant articulate, but I can feel it." It is super powerful. Of course, Shepard Fairey in 87 and 88 started doing Obey. He and I are collaborators...But, yeah, the visual representation of what these guys would do...Even something as simple as Minor Threat's cover art, with Ian MacKaye's head bowed down, there was just something that was telling the story. There was this feeling that there is some despair here. That something isn't quite right. There is also something we can do about it. It drew you in. I am with you 100% on that, the cover art. A big part of all my work has that visual aspect that is really visceral, and hopefully that makes some kind of connection with the audience. Hopefully. That is why we have such rich footage in the film, and all the interviews...Everything is shot in a very stylized way. It creates different visual sensibilities. When you are watching it, through the performances to the interviews, and all that archival footage...That is a very influential element for me throughout my life, and it continues to be.
Something that has been bothering me, and I noticed it while doing some research on this film...Fury is not only a documentary, but it is also an artistic expression about a movement and a moment in time...It is coming from you as a person, and you are making choices. Its funny to see some critics point at certain things that are obviously an artistic choice, and tell you, you did it wrong. I'm noticing that in a lot of reviews lately, for a lot of movies that seem more personal. Its not commerce, it is art. Today's reviewers don't account for the art of any film, maybe because they have fixed ideas about what the medium should be. What are your views on modern film critiscm? It seems really off to me, for the most part...
Antonino D'Ambrosio: There is something that has happened...I don't know, maybe this is something that has existed throughout time...There is a difference between critiscm that is critical and thoughtful critiscm that allows you to understand the work. That is rare. Artists throughout history have been viciously attacked. I think, when you are trying to make something that is timeless and timely, you are challenging the constraints of the medium. That's what it means to be an artist. To take what's there and push further. Sometimes that doesn't fit into what's going on in the dominant pop culture. There is a level of thought that is not encouraging...There is a mistake. That critiscm means to find all of the flaws, and highlight those, rather than have a thoughtful discussion that allows an audience to make their minds up about what the work is. In interesting ways, my film really obliterates the traditional, linear documentary style, and I did that intentionally. That was something that was interesting to me, I thought it would engage people beyond the discussion. To find a way in. The thing about my work is, its always evolving. I am always making it. Now I am making it with the audience that sees it. I am making it with you in this discussion. We are collaborators, you know? That, to me, is what the point of it is. It becomes something else when the audience gets involved. There has to be a discussion about that. Art, is at first, a dialogue that starts a conversation. You have to be willing to have that conversation. It is something that is embedded in the dominant culture that doesn't allow for that. That, in itself, is also an affirmation of the work. Because, like I say, it has gone throughout history. Many artists have been bashed in their own time. If you find a resistance in it, I think you are doing something right. To me that is the point. That's why we're on the phone together. This captures the movie's spirit. Everything that I think is set up in society is restrictive. Right? The film is about human potential, and rejecting anything that is restrictive. I think, from the independent record stores to what you are writing right now, this is what its about. Its about continuing to push forward, even when you are seeing blocks in those steps, you are breaking free of what is restrictive. You are mining the potential. You can only do that when you take steps...You can call them risks, you can call them something different, something original, something new...For me, its about having as true of a voice as possible. Which is the number one most important right that we have. Its freedom of expression. That needs to be thoughtfully brought forwarded. Its something I find interesting, the audiences for this film are always well attended. Most of the time it's packed. When I do the Q&A, people don't leave. The one I did most recently in San Francisco, it was an hour, an hour and a half...That says something about what it means to bring people together. Ultimately, that's what its about, right? We all have our individual stories, but we are united in this one experience of going to the cinema. Or the theater, or the concert hall. That is powerful, and I think, no matter what we may feel about a particular work, we have to honor their attempt to try and do that.
The book is a companion piece to the movie?
Antonino D'Ambrosio: Originally, I wrote the book in 2005. That came out of my time spent with Joe Strummer, we were going to do a film, but he died tragically and suddenly...When I finished this film, I created new chapters for the book. 30,000 new words. This edition is essentially a brand-new book, and a companion piece...It's not only my essays, there are other essays in the book. My essays in particular are the ones that inspired the movie. They are directly connected to the movie, especially For, Not Against, which is the opening essay of the book.
Your next project is going to be a book about Bruce Springsteen?
Antonino D'Ambrosio: My next project is...I actually have two things in the works. I wrote a book about Johnny Cash, and that is my next film. I am finishing another film that I can't talk about. My next book is called Free Space, which is based on the idea of creative response.