film 5 of 7

4 Little Girls

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 21, 2015

4 Little Girls is an effective rendering of a terrible and necessary story. The necessity has something to do with how this event and these lives open into a much bigger story, or maybe, rather, a much broader story. The bombing, Birmingham, segregation, Civil Rights, the different social actors and their various methods, the slow but sometimes sure wheels of justice, the continuity of the struggle—everything follows naturally. Yet director Spike Lee and his collaborators keep coming back to the children, and not for the sake of sentimentality or political rhetoric. A much broader story, but never a bigger one: the historical context is essential, and very stirring, but in the end the most powerful impression here is of these four little girls. They demonstrate the irreducible commonplace that each life is unutterably precious, however, seemingly, obscure it may be. William Wordsworth had it, heartbreakingly:

An inextricably and most distressingly attached impression is that of the imperishablity of traumatic memory—it is clear that for all intents and purposes, not a single day has passed for the loved ones, the loving ones that these martyred little children left behind.

This may not be you, but I find that this is me. The George Wallace interview material makes sense on paper, at least with regard to the interests of justice. It does not work so well on film, at least with regard to the interests of decency. Convict Pinochet by all means, but don’t exploit the distress of the demented. Also, and this is a small thing, I find Lee’s relentless use of extreme close-ups to be over-emphatic, even a bit discourteous. These people are bearing witness. Give them some personal space!