What’s Halloween mean to you? Dia de los Muertos or All Hallows’ Eve? Devil’s Night or Hurricane Sandy?
Did Lisbon’s sights and sounds trigger some latent genetic programming in me? Maybe it was a natural response for me to tear up at lyrics I didn’t even understand.
As a sociologist, I can’t help but blame nurture over nature. I also can’t help but think of Halloween growing up in Michigan.
My memory of autumn in the Detroit Metro area during the 1970s-1980s is steeped in suadade. Even if you lived in flashy country suburbs north of 8 mile like I did. Saudade hung in the air there, we just didn’t have a name for it. Although John Patrick Leary came close with his term “The Detroit Lament.”
The new documentary Detropia does a decent job of conveying this regional feeling. For folks who have never been to Detroit, I recommend it. You might find it instructive, like a Ninth Ward tourist wide-eyed through the windows of a Hurricane Katrina bus tour.
Criticisms of ruin porn aside, I do appreciate how the film captures the effusive kindness, humor and resilience of Detroit’s finest citizens.
I once dragged my boyfriend back to Detroit for a vacation. He described it as a cold hard city with the warmest people you could ever meet, stripped of all pretentiousness. Because surviving is hard enough, there’s no need to act hard.
When you are from that region and depend on a fading industry, it’s easy to feel left behind. In this way, Detroit embodies an element of saudade: “the love that remains” after someone has left you.
Detropia is made better thanks to the wisdom and saudade of long-time locals profiled in the film. Otherwise, the film’s mission to be a one-note downer left me unmoved. I even brought tissues to the theater, expecting to cry like that night in the fado house.
Maybe it’ll move the Academy and win an Oscar. But I’m not sure this film was made for kids who grew up in the flickering shadows of Devil’s Night. Because we know beautiful things can rise from ashes, even in Detroit.