You watch “Louder than a Bomb” and you want to change the world. You are suddenly in awe of the talents you’ve been given, and you wonder if you are using them all, if you are working hard enough, if you are giving enough to those around you, if you are near as inspiring in living your own life as are those young poets on stage.
The documentary focuses on four students as they prepare for the annual poetry slam contest in Chicago. The students are in high school and are using their afternoons to write and rehearse poetry. Like a twenty-first version of Lewis and Tolkien reading aloud to each other in the Bird and Baby pub, the kids congregate in McDonald’s to share their works in progress. Several of them have difficult home lives, coming from parents with former drug addictions or struggling with a mentally disabled sibling or absent father. Yet they transform their sufferings into inspirational lyrics.
Each of the students has a distinct gift for language as well as performance. Nova Venerable credits poetry slam with converting her character. Her ability to embody emotions, to give image to the unimaginable is mesmerizing. Within the film, she works on her craft, exhibiting her desire not just to create but to perfect. Adam Gottlieb receives an award for bettering all those with whom he comes into contact and his goodness is felt through the film. When he performs, “Breathe Now,” the audience will sit breathless in expectant wonder at the truths he exhales. Nate Marshall, who wants to be either a professor or professional rapper, concludes the film with his “Langston huge” talent, giving thanks to the forum for helping him deal with the loss of his grandmothers, his father’s abandonment, and the rage he used to feel. Finally, the Steinmenauts steal the show—their performance of “Counting Graves” will give you goose bumps. I have watched it over and over again: the words will not leave me.
Documentaries often act as Toto who pulls back the curtain on the Wizard, revealing the impotent man behind the false show of power. When “Louder than a Bomb” withdraws the curtain, you see more power and more possibility. We often lament that the teenagers of this generation are lazy and apathetic, but this documentary reveals the kindling is there and apparently, poetry can still ignite.