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Saturday, December 22, 2007

25th Hour--Love Letter To New York

I just finished watching "25th Hour". It is one of the very few Spike Lee films I hadn't seen, and I avoided it because I misunderstood the subject matter from a synopsis I'd read somewhere, and it seemed dismal. But finally I watched, because I've read more about it here and there, and it seemed important to see.

I had mixed feelings going in, as sometimes I like Spike's films and sometimes I don't. I must say that I admire every film he's made in the past 6 or 7 years (with the exception of "She Hate Me"), and think he's grown and matured tremendously as a filmmaker. There were others involved that I have mixed feelings about; sometimes I like Ed Norton's performances, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I like Rosario Dawson, sometimes I don't. The Black Actor blog asked the question the other day...'Is Rosario considered a black actor or no? Should we claim her or not?' Her roles are usually never specifically defined by race, and I have a feeling that she chooses it that way, so ultimately it really doesn't matter. Just like you can say "Is '25th Hour' Black Cinema?" There are really no central black characters. It's very subjective, but Spike is a major Black Hollywood icon, so the point is moot. I always love Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was excellent in "Capote", and truly and beautifully off the freakin' hook in a film I just saw called "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"--one of the best films I've seen for a while--but since my blog is all about Black Cinema, I'll leave it at that. As for this film, in the same vein, "25th Hour" is a testament to everything you love about New York and sometimes don't.

Any film that starts off with a muscle car automatically drags me in. I am a sucker for them in every way, and Ed Norton's in this movie was no exception. Some of my favorite films have a muscle car as a central set piece; i.e. "Bullit" and "Grindhouse". That was the first indication that this film might be alright with me.

For those of you who don't know, "25th Hour" is the story of a successful drug dealer (Ed Norton) who gets caught with serious weight by the DEA, and has to turn himself in for a seven year stretch. He is a pretty good guy, despite his occupation. It focuses on his last 24 hours before going in.

I moved to New York from California straight out of high school to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, no fear, at 17 (too young and dumb to know any better). There were a good amount of scenes in this film that brought back memories; the Brooklyn Promenade; the busyness and energy of the city, and namely the club life. To me the clublife was almost like a religion...I went out almost every night--the music was incredible, the people were incredible to look at--the music was like God and the Spirits speaking to you,--the atmosphere was like heaven. You felt like no matter what else was going on on the planet and in your life, as long as you were in this club, listening to this music, nothing could really touch you. New Yorkers have a way of partying that I have never seen anywhere else in the world; they just don't give a f--k. They get lit, and it's on. 100% pure joy, and nobody cares about where you came from or how you're supposed to look when it gets to it's pinnacle. It is a straight scene, and one of the best elements of the city. And this film captured that feeling perfectly.

There was an intense soliloquy where Ed Norton is speaking to himself in a restaurant mirror where someone had scribbled "Fuck You" on it. It goes like this:

Fuck me? No--fuck you. Fuck you and the whole city and everyone in it!

Fuck the panhandlers grubbing for money and smiling behind my back. Fuck the squeegees dirtying up my windshield. Get a fucking job!

Fuck the Pakistanis and Sikhs bombing down the avenue in their decrepit cabs. Terrorists in fucking training...slow the fuck down!

Fuck the Chelsea boys and their waxed chests and pumped up biceps, going down on each other in my parks and on my piers, fucking up my Channel 35! (IW: public access television for non-NYers)

Fuck the Korean grocers, with their fruit and roses wrapped in plastic--10 years in this country and "no speekie English"?

Fuck the Russian mobsters in Brighton Beach, sippin' on tea in their teeny glasses--wheelin and dealin and schemin. Go back to where you fuckin came from!

Fuck the black hatted Hasidim trollin down 47th Street in their dirty gabardine and their dandruff--selling South African apartheid diamonds!

Fuck the Wall Street brokers--Michael Douglas, Gordon Gecko wannabees, figuring out new ways to rob hardworking people blind. Send those Enron assholes to jail for fucking life! You think Bush and Cheney didn't know about that shit? Give me a fucking break!

Fuck the Puerto Ricans--20 to a car, swelling up the welfare rolls--worst fucking parade in the city! And don't get me started on the Dominicans, cause they make the Puerto Ricans look good.

Fuck the Bensonhurst Italians, with their pomaded hair and nylon warm-ups and their St. Anthony medallions, acting like they're auditioning for the Sopranos!

Fuck the Upper East Side wives, with their Hermes scarves, and their overfed faces--pulled and lifted and stretched, all taught and shiny. You're not fooling anybody, sweetheart!

Fuck the uptown brothers! They never pass the ball, and they don't wanna play defense. They take 5 steps to every lay-up to the hoop, and then turn around and blame everything on the white man. Slavery ended 137 years ago. Move the FUCK on!

And so it goes. But even while I was watching this montage, relating to some of what he was saying, I knew full on that all the things you hate about New York are the very same things in hindsight that you love. And guess what? Towards the end of this film, all of those very same people that he was ranting about in that sequence were smiling at him and wished him well on his journey. He learned from them and he loved them for it.

Ultimately, this movie is a love letter in full to New York, in all it's good and and all it's bad--and I loved every minute of it; oversaturation of soundtrack nonwithstanding. I don't know if you have to have lived in New York to really get this movie, but at the very least you know in your heart of hearts that New York is not for punks. I don't care if you're Jay Z, or Donald Trump, or the crackhead on the corner--you know that no matter where your life is in New York, everyone is in the same boat, and there is always danger, and uncertainty, and ruin lurking in every corner. Strong emotions are always simmering just below a shallow surface, and all it takes is one small thing to completely bring it on and change the scope of everything in your life. And in a strange way, it unifies all New Yorkers, whether they know it or not.

At the end of the film, Ed Norton's father gives a beautiful monologue which got to my very soul. You see, one of the phenomenons I've noticed about native New Yorkers is that they tend to think New York is the beginning and end of all that's going on in the world. Nothing else that exists really matters. The father encourages his son to go past Philadelphia--that that are other forms of life out there, and not just this microcosm of survival that is New York. Yes, there are people that wear cowboy hats and think it's the thing to do. Yes, there is a desert. Yes, there are people that live small, and have normal jobs and normal lives, and don't think twice about it. Places that doesn't smell like piss and don't have rats walking around like they have a right to be there. And mountains, and farms, and clean beaches. And maybe that is where you belong and never even knew it. And when they say "If you can make it there you can make it anywhere--New York, New York" it is the straight gospel, cause you bring that strength, energy, and charisma to anywhere you go on this planet, and you can see the beauty in everything in it's contrast to New York. And you make everyone around you so much stronger because of everything that you've been through in that city.

This film was the s--t, and one of the finest I've ever seen.


Vacant Lot said...

The 25th hour was Spike's better works; when I recall viewing it, it was a shock to see that Spike could venture out of an 'all-black cast', but I must've been the naive one because after watching this movie it showed me that Spike isn't a 'great black filmmaker', he is a 'great filmmaker'.

Sincere said...

Hey IW;
I agree this was a great movie. I may be a little biased because I'm a Spike Lee and Ed Norton fan though... I did not like "She Hate Me" but got it anyway to add to the 40 Acres collection. Just thought I'd add my 2 cents.

Invisible Woman said...

Welcome vacant lot; and I must say, I think I agree with you; I never saw that coming years sgo.

Sincere, your 2 (or 3) cents is ALWAYS welcome...I've collected films too that I don't necessarily care for cause they're "black". At least I know your taste is in tact, tho! said...

I missed this one. I definitely have to check it out.

LOL @ "one of the phenomenons I've noticed about native New Yorkers is that they tend to think New York is the beginning and end of all that's going on in the world. Nothing else that exists really matters."

No truer words have been spoken.

April ..... Harlem :-) said...

Yup, IW; The 25th hour is one of the few Spike Lee films that I liked. Like you, I thought it was well done. I too, am a fan of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, too. (He was GREAT in Capote!) I also like Ed Norton. I really enjoyed the pic and want to watch it again, soon.

Actually, New Yorkers are the best people on the planet.

ha ha; just kidding. :)

Love the "fuck you" dialog. LOL.

justjudith said...

i really dug the 25th hour and felt people overlooked it. btw that inside man and his katrina documentaries, i am really loving this version of spike. i was on the ropes with his early stuff. and being in film school in the 80's and to not love spike at howard university was BEGGING for trouble. but i'm a rebel i guess. and ur right she hate me was his worst. blech.

Invisible Woman said...

Around Harlem: Hi :-) This is a must see for any arrogant New Yorker (I kid, I kid). It is a perfect picture tho, imho, of the good and bad that is NY.

@the black actor and judith: it's good to know that two people that I know really love and care about film agree with me on Spike's early days. When I first started this blog, I did a write up of Spike, and basically said his first 10 years of film were pretty much a wash for me.

jj: you were smart to keep that opinion close to chest--you might've started a riot---and you might have been there at the time when they almost started those riots over Bill Cosby and that racist Duke sister was!
I have also learned to keep my thoughts about "Do The Right Thing" to myself...I'll never win that one, lol

notyouraveragecitizen said...

IW - Great post. I saw 25th hour some time ago and it tapped into so many feelings I had as a New Yorker post 9/11. New York has many faults and arrogance is certainly one of them (I can be a total snob @ times), but one thing it real and honest.

I will always love that about my hometown. I live in SF now and it is a totally different world for me, but I appreciate the experience.

This is one fo Spike's best films and I really have alot of love for it.


Darkbrotha said...

wow i thought that move was hot garbage. i saw it when i was in Toronto at the time it was like 12 dollars a ticket so you know i was salty when i left. i almost fell asleep during the movie. i basically wasted 2 ans a half hours watching that movie when i could have been getting drunk at the hotel bar.

anyway...glad you got some value from it.

MsMarvalus said...

Dang, I can't believe I missed this one and I love Ed Norton and PSH...I must put it on my Netflix list...

Invisible Woman said...

@nyac...I am currently in San Francisco, tho I am making the permanant move to LA in is so wierd, when I am here, I miss new York, and when I am there, I miss here. Go figure.

@darkbrotha: lol! try seeing it fully alert, or maybe like I said, maybe you have to have lived in NY to get it....very different from Cleveland. I feel you on the dranks, tho...there are not too many things I'd rather spend my money on than martinis!

Ms. M: Please let me know what you thought when you do get to see it; I'd be interested in your perspective...

justjudith said...

iw: sorry it took so long for me to follow up, but a sista had to work! yeah, girl, i had no love for spike in college and that was not something i could talk about freely. and i've watched do the right thing again in the last coupla years and i still don't see why it was such a big deal. i mainly remember fight the power by p.e. and rosie perez's dancing in the opening.

BMo2xl said...

I saw 25th Hour in the theater and thought that it was one of Spike's best films ever. And, it was a great NYC post-9/11 movie. Everyone should!

Invisible Woman said...

@jj: that's all i want to remember about dtrt

@bmo2xl: welcome--I feel the same!