Salutations to our Next Generation Leaders
Creating a blueprint for the future of Memphis
My favorite movie is L.A. Confidential.
The film, set in the gray-scale world of crime and justice in 1950s Los Angeles — with a thoroughly knotty mystery plot to untangle — has been at the peak of my admiration essentially from the start. I saw it nine times at the movie theater when it came out in 1997. I’ve read the James Ellroy book it’s based on many times (along with all of his others). L.A. Confidential’s character triumvirate of seriously flawed cops, Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), Bud White (Russell Crowe), and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) — who are nevertheless not beyond the reach of redemption — and the themes of artifice, respectability, moderation, and making things right appeal to me intellectually. At this point, after dozens more viewings, the film is encoded in my DNA.
Still, part of me feels sheepish admitting L.A. Confidential is my favorite movie. After all, it’s not even 20 years old yet. Many respectable people — and, as the Film and TV Editor for the Memphis Flyer (MBQ’s sister pub), I’m supposed to be more respectable than most — have favorite movies that are decades old or at least far more institutionally recognized. (Being in black-and-white wouldn’t hurt, either.) If my all-time top movie was Citizen Kane or Vertigo or The Rules of the Game or The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music or Chinatown (to which L.A. Confidential owes an enormous debt) or any of several dozen more films, I could proclaim it in impolite company without fear.
The critical backlash to embracing something that hasn’t yet withstood the test of time is that it implies either you lack knowledge and experience or possess a foolish shortsightedness and are embracing something new for newness’ sake.
This issue of MBQ highlights the Next Gen: Memphians who aren’t (yet) at the top of their company or industry and aren’t household names, but who are magnetically impressive and are already creating a blueprint of what the future of Memphis may look like. Their energy and commitment trump their age and experience.
You can see it in the dazzling array of diverse young professionals in our Next Gen section — quite a deep roster. You can see it in KIPP’s Jamal McCall, and in the filmmakers hustling to get their art made.
Interestingly, too, the foundations for Memphis’ future can be found in the fertile remains the past has left behind. A devoted crew recently spruced up the Tennessee Brewery and showed what novel urban revitalization can look like, and the Blues Foundation is preserving the past of a living art form with a new hall of fame.
Finally, impressively, the Church Health Center is changing the way we think about health and wellness by rejecting old models of care and creating new ones. Dr. Scott Morris has been joined by Antony Sheehan at the CHC, and together they are working to heal the sick and needy in Memphis. That they will be doing it at the Sears Crosstown development proves that not everything that's old should be discarded. Sometimes, the future looks like the past, only better.
The big shocking moment in L.A. Confidential comes when (spoiler alert) police captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) suddenly reveals himself to be the criminal mastermind of the whole plot. He does so by shooting one of the film’s unsuspecting protagonists. Smith asks his victim, “Have you a valediction, boyo?” Any last words, in other words. The dying man uses his last breath to maximum effect.
The Next Gen leaders honored in this issue seemingly aren’t living their lives as if each day is their last. They’re not thinking of their work in terms of valedictions. They’re just getting started in their work. The road is spread out before them. The future is unknown, but it will be theirs to define.
The actions and accomplishments of the Next Gen suggest that they think of each day as their first.
Greg Akers, editor, MBQ