[a film review]
Fred Ho’s Last Year
Featuring interviews with Fred Ho,
Marie Incontrera, Ben Barson,
Ruth Margraff, Anne T. Greene,
Youn Jung Kim,
Royal Hartigan, and many more
Directed by Steven De Castro
uncool films, inc
Rating: Not rated
It is simply not enough for me to tell you this is a great film or that it features great music. Sometimes I feel like I write quickie pieces about things that are far bigger than I can possibly interpret (I once had a teacher that wrote on my paper that I turned in that was meant to be a written review of a play “This was not supposed to be a quickie review for a weekend newspaper”–I really understand this in much clearer perspective now).
The film Fred Ho’s Last Year, an almost too-brief filmed account of what’s really the last several years of composer/saxophonist/bandleader Fred Ho’s life, is so telling of a man who has so much to say, the film almost can’t compete with his outspokenness, and somehow, one wonders if people are still left feeling like they have no chance in this world when they previously knew absolutely nothing of the things Fred Ho knew and shared with the world, and he still lost his battle with colorectal cancer on April 12, 2014.
But I would suggest that despite the grim reality of the outcome, you should take away from this film several things:
A) Fred Ho’s Resilience: Despite the fact that he was diagnosed 8 years before his death, and had undergone all kinds of possible treatments for his condition (some of which were medical and some much more in the progressive homeopathic vein) and the fact that this sometimes left him physically weak, and even after accepting that his fate was certain, he considered himself a newly reborn individual and christened himself so, and continued on with his music career and public life with both style and tenacity.
He basically educates you throughout this documentary, and among these things is the message that this cancer and anything related to it that left him to struggle, in turn simply made him a much stronger person. The Friedrich Nietzsche quote that has been in popular culture now for quite some time certainly comes to mind here: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger”. I also think of Obi Wan Kenobi becoming more powerful after being struck by Darth Vader.
He also denounces the doctors that treated him very improperly after a particular operation where Fred wasn’t sewn back up–they said it was scar tissue that somehow couldn’t be closed up, but he said this doctor had to make an special public appearance, therefore foregoing the closure. I can’t say I blame him for speaking out against such malpractice. And yet I’m sure this guy probably had a bunch of framed awards covering his office wall like so many in the profession that feel a need to prove their credibility.
B) Fred Ho’s Message: In a world where we are finding out very disturbing things about the stuff we eat or use on ourselves, it is quite astonishing to hear about things like “the Matrix” and what it really is. Fred believes that this Matrix is something that physically keeps everyone from acquiring a self-sufficient lifestyle, and instead forces everyone to continue to make concessions to the capitalist corporate world by buying and consuming food, food that in some cases is processed and unhealthy, and has us all living in an environment immersing everyone with it. Being the out-of-shape person that I am, I feel that this speaks directly to me, and I simply can’t ignore such a message. I would feel like this is an important film even if this was all he had to say.
C) Fred Ho, the artist: Even though the film doesn’t ever quite get to the subject of Fred’s music in full discussion, the music itself functions as an alternate narrative to the film. Fred does get quite vocal about the way the public is “colonized” to the point that they only understand music when it’s in the popularized 4/4 time signature as opposed to much more complex times heard in his music.
And seriously, if you are a fan of the saxophone, Fred Ho the saxophonist–Let’s just say he made the saxophone speak even louder than he ever did. A stunningly dynamic solo is featured within the first 10 minutes of the film that ends with the shrillest wail that recalls the opening whistles in West Side Story, and the solo in general rivals Lou Reed’s heaviest guitar solos.
The selection of Fred’s pieces for the film were all quite fitting, but I have to say, please look out for “Iron Man Meets The Black Dog Meets Dave Taylor”, a splendid work (by Fred Ho and Marie Incontrera; performed by Youn Jung Kim and the Green Monster Big Band) that combines Black Sabbath with Led Zeppelin and brings them into a satirical big band world.
It is certainly clear in this film that the people that worked closely with Fred Ho as a musician and composer are the ones that will carry his music through to further generations of keyed-in music aficionados. Particularly people like Marie Incontrera, whom I have known for quite some time, and besides being one of Fred’s biggest champions is a great composer and conductor in her own right (You even see her in action in this film besides hearing what she has to say), drummer Royal Hartigan, and Ben Barson, Fred’s saxophone protégé, who will actually be performing on Fred’s saxophone at one of the premieres of this film in New York coming up soon.
Long live Fred Ho.
NOTE: The 2 New York City premieres of Fred Ho’s Last Year will be held on July 31st and August 2nd.
FRED HO’S LAST YEAR SNEAK PREVIEW & PANEL
MUSEUM OF CHINESE IN AMERICA (MOCA)
215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013
July 31, 2014, 7 pm
On the Panel: Anne Greene and Ruth Margraff
FRED HO’S LAST YEAR & MUSIC TRIBUTE
City Cinema Village East
189 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
August 2, 2014, 5:30 pm
Music Tribute: Ben Barson playing Fred’s saxophone
And August 10th there will be a public birthday celebration for Fred:
Scientific Soul Sessions presents:
To Sing You Down
a celebration of Fred Ho on his first birthday in the sky
featuring Marie Incontrera conducting the Eco-Music Big Band
18 Whitwell Place
Brooklyn, NY 11215
August 10, 2014, 7 pm