Tuesday, February 4, 2014
THE MAESTRO: SPIKE LEE
Spike Lee is a cinematic hero to me a maverick
My Homeboy: The Artist
As we have seen from his public personea. He is always and has an opinion that generally differs from the main crowd. He is never shy to express his point of view, whether it is asked for or not.
Partially what is so powerful about his films are that they are expertly composed and colorful. They are uniquely his vision brimming with his beliefs, observations and opinions.
Actors working on his films always seem to bring their A game.
He finds stories where others wouldn't have thought to look. Similarly he finds talent in the same way. Building little known actors to major league talent (Rosie Perez, John Turturro, Wesley snipes, Samuel l. Jackson, Mekhi Pfeiffer) or giving overlooked actors the time to shine (Jodie foster, Ossie Davis, ruby Dee, Danny Aiello)
Obviously never one to by away from controversy. He is fearless as each of his films carries a message, yet does it subtly. So you can also watch the film as entertainment and not feel Brow beaten.
While not everything is a success. I can say at least he tries and experiments. Each film while it has his hallmarks they also have somehow different. No one can ever accuse him of making he same movie twice. He has managed to make films that contain messages more time then not. That don't rely on high concept it's it situations they are adult in their composite and presentation.
Sometimes it feels his work is more judged by his views or personality. Rather then just by the work itself. Sure maybe because he chooses to be outspoken and make himself a spectacle so he is in the public eye and more of a celebrity then other directors who stay more quiet and behind the camera.
It hurts that very rarely does he get the credit of being an artist. Sure he has found a way To market himself. Since when was that against the standards of what truly makes an artist.
He seemed to come along at a certain point in my life. I can't say when I was young unduly understood his films, but they were always vivid to me for their colors, beauty and always felt important to me. Packing an impact of sorts usually. Now I had seen African Americans direct film before, but his films were full of characters I could recognize from the neighborhood around me. Even some traits of the characters representing myself as I got older.
Watching his films was one of the first times I saw and realized movies didn't have to be totally about fantasy and blockbuster ideas. You could tell stories about your life and how you saw the world. You could make films about people and characters who might be familiar to you and expose the world to them. Where instead of clunky dialogue everyone had the perfect line and emotion. That you controlled almost like being a Demi-god or in prays term designing your very own video game. You always have the overview and can choose what to show. The stories don't necessarily have to he about saving the world. They can be about anything you want them to be really.
At an early age showed me and other minority youth. it was cool to be smart. You don't have to be a jock or bad-ass tough, that there were many types of people and cultures to explore. Showcased The beauty of Brooklyn my home borough, exposing me not only to parts I had never seen nor been to, but also parts of New York to explore. For even the audience to see and experience. That you can be a nerd and survive maybe even be cool and celebrated.
By at times performing in his own films at least creating characters for himself to play that were memorable like Mars Blackmon from SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT. Taught me the power of committee. When the character became a salesman in advertising for Michael Jordan and Nike sneaker commercials. Kookier from DO THE RIGHT THING being our eyes and ears into the vortex that was bed-stuy in Brooklyn and introducing is the various characters who made up the neighborhood. As he runs into them or deals with them. His character is not without flaws and shows his embrace more for the now instead of taking care of his responsibilities. He also is the one who sets off the third act of the film. So also kind of pushing the theme of the film on screen and behind. With that film he also introduced me to nudity which could be called exploitive and artistic or attempting to he certainly made it erotic without any actual sex. Which has also lead to a life-long appreciation/crush on Rosie Perez.
During a time when he seemed to be making more pilots and documentaries. I finally watched his first film to complete his filmography (readers of previous essays on directors will know I am slow to try to complete filmographies as I still want to have forgotten joys and classics to discover and see for myself even knowing all about the films) I watched his first film SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT only 2 years ago and it was like a ressurection as it was so lively, comedic and deep for a first film at the time an of course controversial that I is brimming with talent. Faster and more edits then his films usually have, but still I can see how it was hard not to take notice of him after seeing this film. It has so much energy that after I watched it. It felt like I had a couple of cups of coffee. Usually you can only hope for one of a few really good well remembered films in your career. He made one fresh out the gate and continued every few years. I am willing to argue he has had more classic to good feature films on the ones that are seen as disappointing or bad.
Again I can only speak for myself when it comes to his influence. Now i have had and seen some great debates about him. Where there are some who are very critical or not big fans of his work. Some who let his politics get in the way of viewing his work and I say they have a right to their opinion. I can only speak for myself and others who from conversation and reactions feel similar to myself.
To a degree he colored in my world.
Growing up in Brooklyn especially in the 70's an 80's it wasn't easy to have artistic aspirations as here were few opportunities to tune and nurture that desire. Also as a minority youth. Not exactly simple to be seen as sensitive. You can go with the flow, but you definite have an opinion and have to be loud to be heard. So that not only helps him with his art, but might be able to help explain his personality. Showing he is the same person he was growing up remembering his roots and also it holding anyone or himself to be so special speaks like he is speaking to anyone not cleaning up his opinion or his remarks to not offend or give off a public personality.
Showed that he can take a masterpiece in itself and create hi own vision of the same material that you know the story and significance of and then make it in his vision and look at is as new and different with the same impact. MALCOLM X
Keeps challenging himself and his audiences. Once in awhile making his films more experimental.
Proving he can handle genres by jumping around. Not playing by rules. He proved he could make a mainstream Hollywood film as still in his style and put in his own trademarks and commentary. INSIDE MAN.
Take what could have amounted to an erotic movie or really a porn scenerio and made it a social drama and a love letter to unconventional relationships while also taking on the issue of whistle blowing the after effects and the financial meltdowns of the time. SHE HATE ME
Are his films heavy handed at times? Yes, but it's his worldview. Certainly not wishy washy. He goes for the jugular. Doesn't always needed to be controversial. It gets people to see the films and he certainly mostly backs up what he says.
He has tried most genres and usually is successful. At least each film feels like he has something to say. Some have chided him for mostly only working on African American themed films and employing mostly only African American and minority crews. Yet very few other directors are attacked for having only one color stories, cast and crew. I reason he wants to help his community. Go he knows has a hard time getting opportunities and as of the stories. He writes them or picks scripts with themes and what he knows and can more identify with.
These days his films are usually mixed color wise. Is that his decision and focus or due to the market place? Who knows, but he has shown he is open to it and still bring the best out with his own flavor and still have a high minority count. He has also helped younger and new talent get their films made and shown. So he embraces the next generation as well as time to time teaching film at institutions such as Yale university.
He went to film school with such luminaries as Jim Jaramusch and has Martin Scorsese as a mentor (strangely so does Oliver Stone)
He has sparked protests and been behind movements. Sometimes his personality over shines his work. which makes some people reluctant to watch his work. Which I can honestly say not every film is a jewel. Though Definitely has something in them to see as say and which makes them noteworthy or at least noble failures (MIRACLE AT SAINT ANNA)
Not only like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino has he even an inspiration to me showing me if I can do it you can do it. Also from a racial standpoint he showed of you have passion and talent you can't be held back or down. Not only to me. How many other African American filmmakers and hell filmmakers in general see him as inspiration. How many Minorities were Introduced to the fun and complexities of college from the film SCHOOL DAZE? Would John Singleton have even gotten his start or off the ground as easily without the spike lee influence and paving of the way? I'm sure he would have probably become a filmmaker, but as spike lee wasn't the first. He was the most prolific and paved the way publicly for minority directors. He was a huge step in the right direction. So whatever you or even I might think of his personality or beliefs. He has earned his achievements.
I choose to look at his career and work. Ivan honestly say that I see him as a cinematic hero.
He managed to make the Black community, not look stereotypical. Showing it has beauty, depth and that just as anyone else are not simply defined. Are not only characters, but individuals we are as complicated as everyone else
It's too easy to say his movie are all about race.Especially when they are about so much more.They usually just happen to take place in the minority community. If they do talk about race part of the time, What is wrong with that? At least someone is willing to and comment instead of avoiding it and acting like there isn't a problem at all.
He makes New York look beautiful more naturally in a rare way most filmmakers don't or can't. He goes to the rougher sections. Watching his films it was like being introduced to another side of newborn I had never seen in all my years living here.
JUNGLE FEVER was his first film that I saw in a movie theater and the first one that made a strong impression on me. It showed you could have a main story, but set up characters on the side and have them, have side stories. Just as compelling without letting them overshadow the main one. Also teaching me to get the audience I come for one story or reason and slowly introduce other themes into the film subliminal almost to make the audience think. It adds weight to the work. Not exactly ensemble, not so hilarious either. I had only seen DO THE RIGHT THING before and thy was powerful, but felt more like an ensemble and a tour around a neighborhood and it's inhabitants. Like an anthropological tour without being clinical and done by an insider.
When it comes to CROOKLYN I feel the film is underrated as it is no only autobiographical. It also emphasizes family and shows the world mostly through a holds eye and was really a stretch much lighter than his usual repertoire.
I remember reading articles on trying to finisher the film GET ON THE BUS introduced me to the ongoing modern troubles of independent film-making beginning at that time. As even noted legendary directors were/are having a hard time for their films. That comes now with diminishing returns as studios seem to care less about quality, prestige and legacies (same with audiences) and care only about the bottom dollar. Sometimes forcing the directors to make for hire work. They normally wouldn't or to purposely seeker out blockbusters instead of films they would naturally want to make and have a passion about.
Reading Mr. Lee's screenplays and film journals that gave a behind the scenes look at the making of his films of course helped to promote his movies and make some merchandising money. After all he do have a store that sold his exclusive merchandise as well as showing props from his films, but before the internet. It also gave a tutorial and look at the complexities of how hard it was to make a film. All that went into it. His inspirations, his casting breakdowns and the motivations behind all his decisions for shots and story. These books were like film school manuals giving more of an overview on production. These were mind blowing and one of the few books and filmmakers who were really opening up the real process to the audience and those interested. Now you have almost every film with a making of, the only other book I took out Of the library that was like this was on the making of BATMAN which delved more into sets and props than anything else. --This all shows his dexterity as a director. Making almost as many Documentaries and pilots as features. Which might be due to finances, but also shows a willingness to challenge himself. Stay fresh and updated as well as how in many ways to tell a story. The original Director as kind of a mogul or really pushing and in charge of setting up his brand.
Even now he seems to be out back to challenging, experimental films.
I have gotten a chance to meet him. Though t wasn't the most positive experience. It was monumental. I have seen him since and while still not mind blowing. I will always admire his work and him.
SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT
DO THE RIGHT THING
MO' BETTER BLUES
MIRACLE AT SAINT ANNA
HE GOT GAME
RED HOOK SUMMER
SHE HATE ME
4 LITTLE GIRLS
IF GOD'S WILLING AND DA' CREEK DON'T RISE WHEN THE LEVEESS BROKE
GET ON THE BUS
SUCKER FREE CITY
JIM BROWN: ALL AMERICAN
SUMMER OF SAM
THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY
HE GOT GAME