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I like me some Spike Lee!

October 28, 2009

The other night I listened to a link to a Radio 5 Live programme, Up All Night where there was a segment discussing the work of Spike Lee in the wake of the 20th anniversary of Do The Right Thing. On the whole, it was an interesting discussion, Spike Lee has given us some of the best and most memorable contemporary movies over the last two decades. He has also provided film goers and critics alike with stunning, hard-hitting and at times sensitive commentary on American society and culture, specifically in terms of race and the African-American experience.

I remember watching Do The Right Thing for the first time and being incredibly sad at the sight of Ruby Dee’s character breaking down during the riot scene, as she watched the destruction of her neighbourhood and then blown away by the ambiguity of the ending which implies that the race issue is more complex that we think and still needs to be worked on.

Other Lee movies that have worked for me include:

Jungle Fever, even though I am a bit ambivalent about this one, only because I always get confused on the same scene – where the ‘sisters’ get together and bitch about the white woman who has taken away Wesley Snipes. Isn’t the wife in the movie meant to be mixed? Admittedly, I think I’ll have to watch it again cause thinking about it that’s all I remember of the movie, I’m sure there was more other than the theme tune which to this day still makes me laugh. Still as with most of Lee’s movies there is a debate to be had with that one.

25th Hour, I love, love, love simply because  it’s skillful story telling that leaving you wanting more. In addition, a fabulous soundtrack and score by Terence Blanchard I believe who scores most if not all Lee’s movies.

Mo Better Blues, I like and I’ll freely admit it’s because at the time I was at the height of my crush on Denzel Washington. A good movie but is a classic example of Lee’s tendency to drag out a story for 2 and half hours, then realising that he’s running out of a) money b) time c) both wraps up the story in ten minutes. The last ten of Mo Better sees Denzel’s character make up with his girl, get her pregnant, get married, have a son.  Son grows up to age six. Learns to play the trumpet and cuss his friends. The End. That’s a lot for people to deal with in ten minutes, after 2 and half hours of to-ing and fro-ing between two different women, sparring with the boys, getting beat up, oh and playing some great jazz.

I should also mention Crooklyn. Not many people like this one, critics didn’t get excited but I like it simply because it’s a kid’s point of view of growing up Black in 70s New York and depicts the difficulties of keeping a family together at all costs. Nicely done.

That’s just for starters, there’s more of course – School Daze, Clockers, Malcolm X, The Inside Man, to mention only but a few – and all tight movies.

What I personally love about Spike Lee is not just what he has done for the black image in film and film making but what he also says about city landscapes, places, being and belonging. 25th Hour is not strictly a ‘race’ movie but the scene where Ed Norton has his rant in the mirror against every ethnic group to be found in New York City, shows just how  race and all its complexities ties itself up in our everyday, especially in our post 9/11 world where the ‘other’ isn’t just African-American but Asian, Middle Eastern etc.

However, no one is  perfect and Spike for all his brilliance at articulating what it means to be African-American in America especially as a man, comes under a lot of criticism for his portrayal of women. I tend to agree with the critics as Lee appears to cast the same ‘type’ of woman in some of his movies- sexually or verbally aggressive or both, springs to mind. At best, this is perhaps his attempt at declaring the sexual liberation of Black women and the ability to stand up for ourselves and take no crap (or prisoners!) or at worse, he being reductive and stereotypical. For me the jury is out as it’s been a while since I watched some of his classics, so I want to tread carefully and not jump on the proverbial bandwagon of accusing him of something he’s not. But if you have something to share on the subject feel free to share…

Other than that I feel it’s safe for me to say, I like me some Spike Lee and want to say a hearty congratulations on the 20th anniversary of Do The Right Thing, a film that has long stood the test of time and is still startling relevant to us now. Looking forward to the next twenty!

From → Film, Women

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