Wednesday, October 1, 2008
If you have been following this blog for a while, you would know that I was not such a huge fan of Spike Lee's earlier works. I thought them sometimes confounding (Bamboozled), overwhelming (School Daze), underwhelming (Jungle Fever), cliched (Get On The Bus), and recently, just weird (She Hate Me). And I will never, ever, get the attraction of "Do The Right Thing" (please don't bother to recruit me in the comments, it won't work).
But at the very least, he was admirable for the very fact that he was doing what no Black director was doing, and had not really done much up to that point--making films on his on terms. Sure he talked massive amounts of shit (and got away with it) about the Hollywood system, but the bottom line is people gave him money to make movies the way he wanted them made. For better or for worse.
A lot of his frustrations and anger came out in his earlier films, and many accused him of being ham-fisted with his race related subjects, which I tend to agree about. I'm all for speaking out, but I don't want to be clubbed in the head over and over again. At some point folks will stop listening--and somewhere in the 90's people did; folks didn't rush out immediately to see the latest Spike movie, but instead gave it a careful side-eye before deciding, and then usually made the decision to stay away. I believe it pretty much began with "Girl 6", in which Spike's anger and message multi-tasking started to give way to his fantasies and hobby interests (basketball).
I've always believed that in his early years he was much better at marketing and inciting controversy than actually making movies-in fact, he was a genius at it. He knew how to make films about inflammatory subjects, and folks (especially Black folks) were thirsty for something different after the overwrought corniness of the early and mid eighties cinema. He was still developing as a director, but no one could miss that he had the potential to be something greater.
And greater he definitely is today. When veering off outside of his comfort zone, and directing others' projects, I feel he is amazing. "25th Hour" is beauty incarnate as a film (read my review on this blog if you haven't), "3 Little Girls" and "When The Levees Broke" are sober, absorbing and monumental in their social responsiveness. "Sucker Free City", "Miracle's Boys" for kids TV and "A Huey P. Newton Story", while not completely successful, were indeed exercises in expansiveness, and definitely not boring. "Inside Man" was his biggest hit of his career.
But now we come full circle. While watching "Miracle At St. Anna" I was reminded of the Spike I used to know--ambitious, heavy handed, trying to say everything about everything in one film. While the subject matter is important and needs to be shown, the way in which it was said was....let's just say I had a flashback to the early 90's, a place that I don't love in association with Spike.
I wished with all of my heart that he had told just a straightforward story about what actually happened during that battle, with a lot less personal interjections, just as I wished "Bamboozled" were just about racism in Hollywood. I wished that it would be shorter (at almost 3 hours) and better edited, just like I wished School Daze wasn't so messy and doing 5 things at once that could have been edited out. And I wished that I didn't see and hear Spike's personal thoughts so loudly, like I did when I saw "Get On The Bus". And yes, once again, I did completely admire him for doing something different, and on his own terms, but that's not always enough, is it?
That being said, one Black director isn't the savior for the whole race, and he and every other Black director should be allowed their missteps, without everyone jumping on them like pitbulls on a steak. Especially him, as very few Black directors even attempt to say anything in the way of social responsibility, consciousness, and accountability. He does his thing, and he is not afraid, nor boxed in by one train of thought. Which is why, no matter how much I may dislike one of his films, I know he will soon make one that I love. And that is more than I can say for the majority of Black Cinema and it's makers in these present times.