Friday, November 28, 2014

"Spanish Lake" examines white flight from a St. Louis suburb, very timely film given the Ferguson Unrest

Spanish Lake”, a new documentary by Phillip Andrew Morton, concerns a suburb of St. Louis, undermined by white flight, somewhat northeast of Ferguson, site of the death of Michael Brown when shot by Darren Wilson in an incident whose details are still not adequately explained in any manner that adds up, at least in my reckoming. It seems most timely that it became available on Amazon Instant Play, iTunes, and other online formats today.
It also came out on a day when this morning my regular broadband Internet had been very slow because of technical problems and had gradually improved during the day.  At first, I had to struggle to get it to play (buying it instead of renting helped – it as only $1 more in SD).  It’s lucky that it’s only 78 minutes.

The film starts out with reminiscence by “The Lakers”, former residents, one of whom had the zipcode (63138) outside his wrist.  As a bedroom community after WWII, it would gradually be undermined by redlining, poor zoning, opportunistic real estate practices, and developments in nearby communities.

The director grew up in the community, and at the end of the film, he shows his return and visit to the current resident in the home on Maple where he grew up.  He is shocked at the deterioration of the area since he left for college and then a career in Los Angeles.

During the early development of the area in the 50s, sales people advertised asbestos walls in the homes, which would make them even more undesirable now given the health risks.  They were also said they were in the foothills of the Ozarks.  Well, that’s only if you count the “Illinois Ozarks”.  The real “mountains” are a hundred miles away.  The middle class was heavily unionized and could afford the suburban lifestyle in those days.

The film covers the earlier attempts to address desegregation and housing the poor, including projects like “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” (March 16, 2012).  Zoning policies, though, tended to encourage resegregation, as with the activities of a town called “Black Jack” west of Spanish Lake.  (The filmmaker makes a humorous reference to Clive Barker’s horror film “Candyman”, set in Chicago’s Cabrini Green, resembling Pruitt-Igoe, whose demolition is shown here. )   As Spanish Lake and other communities saw more African-American residents, unscrupulous realtors would swarm and encourage whites to sell.

The film also goes into the Section 8 program, which gets blamed for many “problems”.  The highrise projects like Pruitt would be replaced by garden apartments like Countryside, some of which would start attracting crime when they did not carefully screen new residents because of government policies.

The film also mentions the family breakdowns, with single mothers who work multiple minimum wage jobs and expect older children to raise their siblings (“babies raising babies”).  The film pertains to family values on another level, that people think that racism is a way to "take care of their own first" and that business will sometimes exploit that. 
Here is the director’s Kickstarter trailer.

The film does name it supporters in the end credits. 
The official Facebook site is here (Amberdale).  There is a new DVD available. 

I wanted to add that as a boy, I visited the more affluent suburb of Clayton sometimes, on summer trips, as my father had distant relatives and business connections there.  I remember a visit on a family trip right after graduating from high school in 1961.
The "Show Me State" (Harry Truman) is not living up to its name these days. 
First picture: from the Ferguson grand jury no-bill protest, Washington DC. Nov. 25.  Second is confluence of Mississippi and Missouri rivers, p.d., Wikipedia link

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