Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 25, 2008

Huey P. Long, Sean Penn, Katrina, & Non-Random Acts of Kindness

      

Above: Photos portraying some of the 350+ “camps” that surrounded Louisiana’s brackish Lake Pontchartrain from the turn of the 20th century thru today. Most of these humble restaurants and vacation spots are now destroyed, either by expanding suburban development or by 2005’s Hurrican Katrina. (Thanks to Catherine Campanella and others at NewOrleansCamps.com  for the photos and some valuable historical info)

I watched a good movie this weekend, All the King’s Men starring Sean Penn and Jude Law. That led me to the internet to do a bit of homework on the original Pulitzer-winning book by Robert Penn Warren, and on Louisiana in general.

Unfortunately, I’m about out of time for compiling and formatting the many things I have to say about Sean Penn, Huey Long, New Orleans, and progressive politics in general. So I’m afraid what follows is a woefully incomplete hodgepodge of references, links, and treasures from my own experience on the subject of Louisiana politics and the movies, from the 1930s till now. Oh well… here goes nothin’  :

********************************************************

Robert Penn Warren won the Pulitzer in 1947 for his novel All the King’s Men (1946), and he was also awarded two Pulitzers poetry in 1957 and then in 1979. He is the only writer to ever win a Pulitzer in both categories.

***

The novel, made twice into movies in 1949 and 2006, is somewhat based on the life of populist Louisiana governor and senator Huey P. Long. I was first introduced to Long through another pop culture source, however: the music of the great Randy Newman. As a humorous chronicler of American history and culture, Randy Newman (a native Louisianan) has no equal in America today. For those that don’t know or have forgotten about him, Randy’s mostly doing movie music now, including The Natural, Seabiscuit, and a Best Song Oscar for “If I Didn’t Have You” (from 2001’s Monster’s Inc. …though Toy Story’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is a better song.) But back when he was making more records than movies, Newman featured Huey Long prominently, with two songs on the 1974 album Good Old Boys (Reprise). On Newman’s album (which also includes the classic, dripping-with-irony Rednecks), he performs the song Every Man a King, originally written and recorded by Long and Castro Carazo. Then this is followed by “The Kingfish” (a reference to Long’s most famous nickname). [See below for the lyrics to both.]

***

In looking at Sean Penn’s involvment in All the King’s Men (BTW, he’s not related to Robert Penn Warren, from what I can find), the one interesting thing I found was that this film was being made right around the time that Hurrican Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. So when Sean was videotaped scooting around New Orleans in 2005 in a little motorboat trying to help, it was no publicity stunt. It was probably a genuine attempt to be true to the politics and ethics that he has been exploring in his movies for years. The people he was out helping were people he felt connected to, as a result of shooting in New Orleans in February and March of that same year. The film was then released on September 11th, 2006 (a release date that I’m sure was no accident, as Penn’s been one of Bush’s harshest critics).

This one is written and directed by Steve Zaillian, a big name screenwriter who penned “Gangs of New York,” “Schindler’s List” and “Searching for Bobby Fischer” among others. And though the acting is a bit spotty, with Penn chewing too much scenery and Law and Kate Winslet too sombre and subdued, the writing and direction is some of the most brilliant I have seen in recent memory. Nevertheless, I can definitely recommend it, though it was somewhat flawed. It had a high pedigree, too. According to bestofneworleans.com, a New Orleans tourism site,

Based in Louisiana, shot in Louisiana, with a story about Louisiana, All the King’s Men — with its reported $60 million production budget — is one of the largest cinematic events in Louisiana’s history. Penn, Law, Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet and New Orleans native Patricia Clarkson have all signed on to retell the tale. Political strategist and Louisiana native James Carville is the film’s executive producer.

***

Since Hurricane Katrina happened, I’ve been getting most of my relevant news about the recovery process and governmental mishandling from one source: actor/writer/musician/radio show host/and part-time New Orleans resident Harry Shearer, and his very insightful (and usually funny) Le Show. [See my Bloglog at right for the link.]

For example, Harry reported details on the recent news story about all those FEMA trailers having toxic formaldehyde in them almost a year ago! Still think NBC News and CNN have our best interestes at heart? Le Show has also been banging the drum repeatedly that the Army Corps of Engineers and their faulty dams (poorly designed, badly maintained) are the main reason the flooding even happened at all. Interestingly, when Huey Long was governor in the late 1930s, trying to throw corruption out of the legislature, he managed to build other dams and seawalls around Lake Pontchartrain with state money, seawalls that are still doing just fine.

***

Speaking of seawalls, I guess Barack Obama is on the record supporting the building of seawalls around vulnerable parts of New Orleans. Though I’m sure Bush and this Congress have already gotten to work on that, and funded it somewhat, I’m still not clear on what Obama is proposing that would go beyond that. Maybe he’s gonna take it away from those boneheads at the Army Corps and give it to them what knows how to do it right: the locals! Hopefully Harry Shearer will let me know, once Barack gets into office. Meanwhile, this recent forum conversation at Yahoo Answers (now there’s an oxymoron!) addresses a few of the issues at stake.

***

And finally, the long-promised, much beloved words of Huey Long and Randy Newman, straight from the horses mouths:

Every Man a King

Words and music by Huey P. Long and Castro Carazo.

Why weep or slumber America
Land of brave and true
With castles and clothing and food for all
All belongs to you

Ev’ry man a king, ev’ry man a king
For you can be a millionaire
If there’s something belonging to others
There’s enough for all people to share
When it’s sunny June and December too
Or in the winter time or spring
There’ll be peace without end
Ev’ry neighbor a friend
And ev’ry man a king

Kingfish (Randy Newman, 1974)

There’s a hundred-thousand Frenchmen in New Orleans
In New Orleans there are Frenchmen everywhere
But your house could fall down
Your baby could drown
Wouldn’t none of those Frenchmen care

Who gave a party at the Roosevelt Hotel?
And invited the whole north half of the state down there for free
The people in the city
Had their eyes bugging out
Cause everyone looked just like me

Here comes the Kingfish, the Kingfish
Everybody sing
Here’s the Kingfish, the Kingfish
Every man a king

Who took on the Standard Oil men
And whipped their ass
Just like he promised he’d do?
Ain’t no Standard Oil men gonna run this state
Gonna be run by little folks like me and you

Here’s the Kingfish, the Kingfish
Friend of the working man
The Kingfish, the Kingfish
The Kingfish gonna save this land

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Responses

  1. Hey Noble Mon. That is a pretty interesting angles of dangle on this post. I placed you onto today’s New Orleans News Ladder.
    Harry inspired me to do this NO News Ladder. Please also fang back through the posts as we have covered much since first launching Nov 11th.
    I hope you enjoy the Ladder, but also check out these guys:

    http://chat.thinknola.com/wiki/show/List+of+New+Orleans+bloggers

    Thanks and keep in touch.
    Bruce
    editor~NO News Ladder

  2. Hey, this was a truely great post. I am from south Louisiana (washington parish)and have learned a few things from your post. I would not call it a “hodgepodge of references”. I think it was well done. Keep it up.

  3. Many thanks, Gents. Glad I could help.

    Mark “Fats” Nielsen


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