Daniel Thompson's tribute to the slain activist Ralph Delaney begins, "There are saints in the city / Moving through the streets / Through sadness and shadow / No fiery chariot from the sky / Only an ordinary, beat-up station wagon / Earthbound, moving toward the fires / Along the picket line at Greyhound / Where the homeless joining hands with strikers / Keep warm, keep watch, keep it together."
The poem speaks volumes of the writer; the qualities he recognizes in a tribute to his friend involve humble service to people just trying to keep warm and keep it together. As much as Thompson has been lauded for his poetry, he was every bit as much an advocate for the downtrodden Ð especially homeless people. It's that side of the late poet that Sam Phillips focuses on in his new video tribute, Saints in the City.
Filing reports for the cable-access show Liberation Brew, Phillips has, for years, turned a documentarian's eye on protests, performances and demonstrations around town. He also caught a fair amount of Daniel Thompson, both in interviews that reveal his humor and in performances that reveal a charismatic voice and tenacious optimism. In Saints in the City, Phillips combines scraps of local activist history with material related directly to the late poet. There are interviews with Thompson (rexcorded before his 2004 passing) and with others. There are also plenty of performances: the Peace Show, library appearances and snatches of footage from various sources, some of which date back to the mid-'80s. A collage set to a soundtrack of Thompson's poetry features Phillips on percussion. Phillips performed often with Thompson, though not as regularly or ambitiously as the poet performed with James Onysko and his percussion ensemble Drumplay, which has a brief on-camera moment.
The handful of people who are preserving the audio, video and written evidence of Thompson's life are bound not only by their individual parts of his story, but also by what material they have access to. Phillips' friends River Smith and Tom Smith, who run Liberation Brew - and who knew Thompson through his advocacy for peace and justice - were responsible for editing the feature-length production and shooting some of the video. Most of it, however, is Phillips' camera work, like an interview in which Congressman Dennis Kucinich shows clear awareness of the poet's range of activities, and a conversation with Myron Kaplan, proprietor of Pearl Road Auto Wrecking, who tells how he met Thompson and how the Junkstock festival was conceived. (Obtaining WEWS news footage from one of the Junkstocks was a major coup.) Phillips also interviewed Thompson's partner, Barbara Klonowski.
There's a lot to take away from Saints in the City - the activist side of the poet laureate, the ongoing struggles he was part of. One of the strongest messages, though, is the urgency of preserving his heritage. With this project, Phillips has done that favor not just to Daniel Thompson, but to the rest of us as well.
SAINTS IN THE CITY 6 p.m. Friday, October 17 Amazon Lodge 11917 Lorain Ave. Donations accepted