Burning Down the House (Review of Reviews)

Sorry I didn’t write last week. I have been busy looking for my hair. I pulled it all out when I read the reviews of Let the Fire Burn.

I will start from the beginning.

Let the Fire Burn PosterLet the Fire Burn is a documentary about a deadly standoff in Philadelphia in 1985 between the police and a cult called MOVE. MOVE occupied  a house in West Philly.  Neighbors called the police because the MOVE members were causing disturbances. The police arrived and tried to evict them, but they wouldn’t budge. The police subsequently used a unique type of force to get them out–they bombed the house, which killed 11 of 13 people, 6 of them children, and burned down 60 of the surrounding houses.

The entire movie consists of video tape and archival film from that time–1985.  Jason Osder, the director, interweaves all sorts of archived film–such as TV news stories and parts of the ensuing investigation into possible police misconduct.

There is no narration, no observations by an historian, no eye witnesses looking back 23 years. It is all from 1985.

So we are left to make our own conclusions, which, I would argue, is why the director left out contemporary observations and conclusions. If we really want to know why this happened and if it could happen again, then let’s go back and revisit it as it happens.

Jason Osder
Jason Osder

It is revolutionary.

Not to mention that Osder  has so much faith in the audience that he lets us come to our own conclusions.

Unfortunately the critics do not share that faith. They could not contain themselves. They needed to tell us their conclusions.

Hence my hair. It is gone. I am wearing a blonde wig. I look fabulous. And twenty years younger. I will not back that up with a photo. Instead I leave you to make your own conclusions. (Please don’t share them.)

Here are my reviews of a handful of reviews of Let the Fire Burn–this time, I will share with you the giveaway clues that warned me to break into the Skim and skip the next part.

1. The Hollywood Reporter

by John DeFore, 4/26/2013

Spoilers: The first and last two paragraphs do not contain any. The middle paragraphs tell some details that we will discover from the movie.

The Takeaway: There should have been more than the 1985 footage. We can’t make a judgment without the benefit of 2013 hindsight.


The filmmaker’s view, one supposes, is that ….SKIM (though the critic comes to a bizarre conclusion. Check it out after you have seen the movie.)

UGH. Top layer of hair out.

2. The Seattle Times

by Moira McDonald, 12/6/2013

Matt didn't get it quite right.
When I pull out the hair from the left side of my head, I look like Matt Damon.

Spoilers: The review of my local go-to critic gives us way too many details. There are a few pearls in the review, but they are sandwiched between spoilers.

The Takeaway: 3.5 stars

MM is so eloquent that I quote her for the takeaway, which unfortunately ends with one of two giveaways:

It’s remarkable, gripping storytelling, told in grainy footage that nonetheless crackles with life, and it leaves the viewer….SKIM

Giveaway no. 2: Towards the end of the review, Moira uses the phrase, “what’s at the heart of the movie is” do not read on…..SKIM

DAMMIT. Hair on left side of head out.

3. Toronto’s Star.com

by Peter Howell, 12/7/2013

Spoilers: After his beautifully eloquent first two paragraphs of this brief review, Howell manages to tell both sides of the story and then makes a conclusion.

The Takeaway, alas, ending with the Giveaway: Great movie. Not the traditional documentary full of talking heads:

Instead first-time director uses police video, TV reports and archival videotape from the official MOVE Commission that probed this urban debacle to mesmerizing effect, showing all sides of a tangled story.

The Giveaway:

The phrase, “showing all sides of a tangled story”….. SKIM. In the remaining paragraphs, Howell tells us what those sides are.

Oh Give me a break! Hair on right side of head out.

4. The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Steven Rea, 11/1/2013

Spoilers: The first two sentences are fine, but it ends there.

The Takeaway: Generally it’s great, but in parts it’s hard to understand the “context and continuity.”

Hank is back
Guess who I look like now?

The Giveaway: Jason Osder’s film instead relies exclusively on found footage….SKIM.  Steven Rea then goes on to describe where the footage is from, which leads him to discuss what is in the footage.

Eeeaahhhh! Hair on back of head out.

Go see this movie and then we can discuss our conclusions. But not before.

By the way, I later looked in the mirror and made my new haircut even by pulling out the random strands of hair that remained. I have added hair stylist to my resumé.