On Police Beat by Mr. Mudede

I recently saw the movie Police Beat and really liked many of the things about it. Although I remain cautious about Charles Mudede cultural reporting, a caution I think he would ask readers have of any writer, Mudede has written a number of great things in The Stranger, such as this 2001 feature about the region south of Seattle, Negative Land.. He is also a source of contentious opinion, a commodity I think in Seattle where people tend to fall in line pretty quickly with the prevailing sentiment. I have heard Mudede read sections of a novel in progress for years. I’ve come across fragments of his fiction published here and there, and it has been a source of mild frustration that he hasn’t actually published a book yet. At one point 10th Ave East Press commissioned him to write a book. And then they left town. But finally in Police Beat, there is something. I wish it had been a novel where the overall work would have stuck to Mudede’s singular sensibility, but nonetheless, Police Beat is something whole and complete and at least novelistic.

In Police Beat, the narrator, a West African named Z (incidentally the puzzling name of this album which I suspect was named so that the album could be easily found in an MP3 player) wanders around Seattle. There are plots in the movie, a relationship between Z’s partner and a junkie, Z’s worry over and attempt to connect with his girlfriend on a camping trick, but they are broken into pieces and fit into the Z’s rolling response to various incidents presumably based on Seattle police reports, which Mudede writes about in The Stranger.

A repeating image is the projection of the different codes used to describe incidents in the city, and it is this a structure that is inert and implies a kind of statistical relationship to the narratives (or incidents in the city). It is inert in that unlike the subplots in the story, the rolling fragments pictured in the movie do not relate to a larger narrative of individuals making moral choices. Rather the incidents happen in the way that other geographical incidents happen: mud slides, scattered showers, floods. In a typical narrative each incident signifies the interplay between characters making moral choices. Because of the random and implied “nonfiction” report of many of these incidents, the movie creates a tension between an event signifying its relationship to a plot or just occurring because it happened in the geography of Seattle.

For me, the most effective images and incidents in the movie are stripped of their relationship to the subplots. Z runs down a flight of stairs on the ship canal in Montlake. Z walks in the forest in Seward Park. Z responds to some mild and domestic crisis.

Where I was less engaged with the movie was during the longer plots of Z’s missing girlfriend, the junkie girlfriend of Z’s partner, and sequences that felt as if they were chosen for their lurid appeal: sex and drugs and handguns.

However, these were small distractions and perhaps necessary in some way. I don’t know how to make movies and barely know how to watch them. Sitting in the dark seems so, well, passive.

Like a piece of music, the movie finds a natural and organic structure that relates more to the typology of the police report and its attempt to document the kind of behavior found in the geography of Seattle. We are left then with something that requires decoding and are not given the received values of a typical narrative. A moving picture does not require three acts, good guys, and bad guys. A movie is a narrative like a sentence because both things have a beginning a middle and end and a subject and object.

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