After eating too much chili, Judge Paul Pritchard has been known to be louder than a bomb.
"Poet breath now, because you might have something to say."
The negative light in which society so often views its youth has always dismayed me, even from an early age. Now in my thirties, and a father of two young boys myself, I'm forced to accept that there are a small but loud minority of teenagers that do themselves and their peers absolutely no favors with their careless words and actions. With that in mind, it's both refreshing and inspiring to see how teenagers can, and more importantly do, rise above adversity in the Greg Jacobs/Jon Siskel documentary, Louder Than A Bomb.
Founded in 2001, Louder Than a Bomb is an annual poetry slam held each spring in Chicago. Each year, numerous schools enter teams who compete as both individuals and in a group. Success in the preliminary rounds earns progression to the semi-finals, and a shot at the title.
In and of itself, the poetry slam would make for a semi-interesting documentary; but Jacobs's and Siskel's focus on several of the teens participating in the 2008 edition of the competition ensures it resonates with the viewer in a truly profound way.
The insight we are afforded into the often difficult home lives of these teenagers is unflinching in its frankness, but what makes Louder Than A Bomb unique is that, rather than wallow in their situation and use it as an excuse, the subjects of the film use their individual predicaments as the fuel for their writing and their aspirations.
Two of the documentaries subjects stand out, due primarily to their drive. Nova Venerable is seventeen years old, and has not spoken to father since she was twelve. This relationship, or lack thereof, has an obvious effect on Nova's poetry, which is angry and forthright. However, when we are granted a closer look at her home life, which reveals how she has cared for her younger brother (who suffers multiple health problems due to being born with a broken X chromosome), we get the true measure of this remarkable young woman who goes on to deliver an articulate and deeply touching piece on her brother that—whether you appreciate poetry or not—is simply mind-blowing.
Nate Marshall, who is competing for the final time at Louder Than A Bomb, is an intelligent young man who revels in sharing his experience with other competitors. Himself no stranger to adversity, Nate combines amazing stage presence, befitting of a seasoned hip-hop artist, with a canon of work that shows a maturity well beyond his eighteen years. His piece, written to his (at the time) unborn nephew, which discusses what it is to be a real man, is touching, astute, and, most importantly, genuinely heartfelt. At a time when young men are frequently forced to adopt a particular image to confirm with their peers, Nate seems determined to stay true to who he is; his insistence that women be treated with respect is particularly refreshing.
Thankfully Jacobs and Siskel don't attempt to smooth out any rough edges in their subjects, and are not shy of showing the inevitable confrontations and arguments that can occur when you fill a room full of teens. Though such moments are fleeting, they ensure that Louder Than A Bomb remains completely human at all times.
Tech specs for this release are solid, with a strong transfer supported by a clean soundtrack. The extras are made up of outtakes and deleted scenes. Each of these scenes could easily have been included in the film, and appear to have only been omitted for pacing purposes.
Beyond the odd dirty limerick, I'd hardly call myself a fan of poetry, yet Louder Than A Bomb kept me engrossed and invested on a personal level throughout. Don't let any aversion you may have toward poetry put you off. This one comes highly recommended.
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