FEATURE SPIKE LEE
Rocking the joint
lt‘s ten years since we sampled Spike Lee’s first film. She is Gotta Have It. Since then. the controversial director has opened Hollywood’s doors to a new generation of African American filmmakers. He speaks to Alan Morrison about his latest film
hink of Spike Lee. and what comes to mind is the title sequence of Do The Right Thing — Public Enemy blasting out ‘Fight The Power‘ while Rosie Perez. does an aggressive dance staring out through the camera with attitude burning in her eyes.
Fast forward to 19% and the title sequence of Lee‘s latest work. Cloekers. The images are just as in-your-face — staged photographs of drug- related murder victims — but the music is the laid-back. jazz-tinged soul of Marc Dorsey singing ‘People In Search Of A Life. It sets the tone for the rest of the movie: Lee still wants to tackle the important problems of inner city life. but now he’s willing to reflect and debate rather than shout and rail.
In the decade since She's Gotta Have It became the biggest indie hit of the 1986 scene. two Spike Lees have emerged — the stir-it-up director of Do The Right Thing. Jungle Fever and .iluleolm X and the man of more diverse talents who gave us the energetic School Daze. the moody Mo' Better Blues and the comically nostalgic Crook/y”.
Make that three if you count the guy who‘s made pop videos for artists as wide-ranging as Miles Davis. (iangstarr and Bruce Hornsby. and TV commercials for Nike and Levi‘s. 01' four. because there‘s also the commercially minded man who markets his own merchandise (Spike‘s Joint) and runs film production and record companies (40 Acres And A Mule) from the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Five — the executive producer of New Jersey Drive. The Drop Squad and Titles From The Hood. and
inspiration and mentor to a fresh wave of
African American filmmakers. And six —— the petite. sometimes sullen. often friendly Shelton Jackson Lee that you meet in the flesh . . . 'Yeah. well. were proud of the body of work we've made.‘ Lee says. looking back over a
14 The List 9-22 Feb 1996
period that recently culminated in major retrospectives at the American Museum of the Moving Image and London‘s National l‘ilm Theatre. ‘We’ve done eight films — nine including Girl Six [his forthcoming movie about an actress drawn into the world of telephone sex lines. starring Madonna. llalle Berry and Quentin 'l'arantino] — in ten years. livery film I've wanted to make so far. I've made. so I’m very fortunate.‘
lt's not just his own work that should be noted when adding up his achievements: Lee is an active promoter of new talent. with 38 interns
‘I don’t make films because I’m angry, I make films because I love making films. For somebody to go see a movie and just walk out of the theatre completely transformed . . . I don’t know if that’s possible.’
listed in the credits for (lockers. ‘(ioodl Proudl’ he exclaims. raising his voice for the only time in the interview. ‘l‘m very proud of giving opportunities to people who might not have had a chance to show what they can do. always the risk that. once an
independent filmmaker goes to Hollywood. then he's going to be corrupted. But why should they always have to scrape together pennies for four years'.’ If people give you a budget that allows you to add more shooting days. then all directors will want that. The trick is how you can accept this money and still remain true to what made you successful in the beginning. Some people cope with that better than others.‘ ('loekers' swims in similar waters as earlier cycle-of—violence ghetto movies but. unlike sortie recent additions to the genre. it's above reproach. lt trims down the scope of Richard Price's ()(ltl-page source novel by focusing less on llarvey Keitel‘s cop than on Mekhi Phil'er's bad boy. The film is also more plot-driven. more dependent on its solving of a murder mystery. than Lee‘s other work. and the director seems to be more in control of his material. In Jungle l'et'er. he crammed in inter-racial love (two relationships). racism in the home. sexism in the office and crack addiction. hitting out at too many targets at once. (’loelx'ers is more precise. binding the reader with its narrative and opening up its themes for more reasoned analysis — yet there‘s a strong sense that Lee's concern and anger over drugs and needless black-on-black killings have not diminished.
Spike lee: inspiration to a new generation of filmmakers