Fox Lorber presents
The Directors: Spike Lee (1997)
"I've been blessed with the opportunity to express the views of black people who otherwise don't have access to power and the media. I have to take advantage of that while I'm still bankable."- Spike Lee
Stars: Spike Lee
Other Stars: Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Delroy Lindo, Wesley Snipes, Alfre Woodard
Director: Robert Emery
Manufacturer: Media Entertainment Ink
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong language, adult themes)
Run Time: 00h:58m:28s
Release Date: 2000-05-30
DVD ReviewIt's funny when you think about it. Here is this artist, this powerful African American film director accused of inciting young black people to run out of the theater and riot in the streets—and the man is SO shy he will barely look at the camera. When you strip away the persona he has gathered like an Atlas on his shoulders, still seems the shy, reserved little boy from Georgia—Shelton Jackson Lee—more comfortable when he is rooting on his belovéd Knicks.
Yet there is another side of young Shelton, and that is the master artist, anti-establishment, anti-stereotype, ever resourceful, Spike. Given this nickname because he was a tough baby (by his since deceased mother), it has proved a dead-on prognostication. While Spike has been labeled a racist by some, mostly, I believe, for his involvement with such figures as Reverend Farrakhan, but also because his films dare to embrace rather than run away from controversial themes. Spike's persona, because of this, has grown larger and more frightening to a segment of white America, readily made nervous when a black man steps outside their acceptable, perceived boundaries.
But how did he get there?
Spike came from Georgia at a young age to grow up in Brooklyn. Much of this time documented in the semi-autobiographical tribute to his mother, Crooklyn (1994), co-written by his sister, Joie, and brother Cinqué. Lee returned to his roots when he attended the all-black Moorehouse College in Georgia, where many of his memories served as inspiration for his 1988 feature film, School Daze, which starred Lawrence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson, Jasmine Guy, Brandford Marsalis, and Ossie Davis. In this, Spike explored the superficial issues that separate African Americans from each other: complexion, hair type, class, belonging to a fraternity, etc.
Spike returned to New York, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts in film production from NYU's Tisch School of Film. His 1983 student film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, won the first American Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences Student Film Award, and was also the first to be shown in the Lincoln Center's New Directors series. Thinking he had it made, Spike waited expectantly by the phone for the calls from Hollywood that never came.
So Lee went out, raised $175,000 and wrote, produced, directed and starred in his first feature-length film (and my personal favorite), She's Gotta Have It (1986). The irony is that the same character that launched his career into the national spotlight, Mars Blackmon—the annoying, lovable gnat in the movie who went on to co-star with Michael Jordan in Nike's early Air Jordan commercials ("It has to be the shoes!")—became the mild-mannered, comic, lazy expectation of who Spike Lee was to White America. But he was—is—much more.
What Lee may be most remembered for is his "true document of racism at the time," Do The Right Thing, easily the most controversial film of 1989, and possibly in the last 15 years. Rather than shy away from the issue, Spike pursued racism and broke the Hollywood mode by not backing down in language or tone—in creating a frighteningly realistic look at racism by a holding a mirror to a society not overly desirous to look itself in the eye. When the film lost to Driving Miss Davy, with its subservient black character (Morgan Freeman, winner of the Best Actor Oscar®), Spike finally awakened to reality. "The academy was important to me, but after that I realized you don't need any group to validate your work."
In 1990, Lee created Mo' Better Blues, inspired by both his fascination with athletes who suffer debilitating injuries, causing them to lose their livelihood at an early age, and his love for Jazz, inspired by his father, jazz musician Bill Lee. In 1991, Spike struck a chord with White America again, when he created Jungle Fever, starring Samuel L. Jackson, John Tuturro, Anthony Quinn, Nick Tuturro, and Ossie Davis, on the heels of the murder of Yussef Hawkins. Spike claims that his exploration of biracial relationships was actually secondary to his intended point: that crack cocaine was ruining the African American family. Next, considered by some to be his masterpiece, Lee brought his vision to the epic saga of a man who picks himself up by his bootstraps to become one the greatest African American leaders (and eventual martyr), Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington in a most eerie performance. Malcolm X was passed over as well by the Academy, in favor of A Few Good Men, and eventually, Unforgiven.
Crooklyn followed next, of which Spike says, "The hardest part of working with child actors is...not to kill them. Not to grab them by their skinny necks and choke them!" The Martin Scorcese-Robert Deniro film, Clockers, became Spike's, when the former two begged off the project to make Casinoinstead . This film has become more appreciated over the years via rental, but failed at the time to reach an audience that balked at "yet another hiphop-gansta-killing-drug movie," which in its optimism, its message, was never intended to be.
His last two films (at the time of the documentary) Girl 6, about the"return to supposed empowerment of women, and the decisions they face and are forced to make to survive," and the Danny Glover, Will Smith, Johnny Cochrane, Wesley Snipes and Robert Guillaume funded Get On The Bus, both failed to reach mass appeal, although the latter received high critical acclaim.
Whether you like Spike Lee or not, you have to respect him. If not for his filmmaking skills, then for his ability to cut to the core of the discussion. If not for that, then for the way he doesn't stagnate in his art. And if not for that, then for his tenacity. How so, you ask? Well, Ossie Davis speaks of looking through correspondences that his schedule had not allowed him to open in many, many years and coming across a prophetic letter written by a young man named Spike Lee. "I am the son of Bill Lee, who is backing you up right now in your show..." Spike's note begins, "...Someday I am going to be a film director, and will work with you and your wife." If not for any other reason, then you have to respect Spike Lee for his clarity of purpose.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The overall video based image is decent, with generally good color and reasonable sharpness. Scan lines are evident however, and the transfer suffers from dot crawl in many places. There is a disturbing anomaly at 10m:50s, which upon rewinding I half expected to see Tyler Durden, but it was only a flash of a half-blurred image instead. The intercut clips included are in a range of aspect ratios, including a a couple in full frame, whether pan-&-scan I'm not sure. Not the greatest transfer ever, but good enough to serve its purpose.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: Although the majority of this DS2.0 transfer is acceptable, and even at times better than one would expect, there are two very disturbing aberrations that should have been caught in the disc's production QA. At about the 50 second mark there is either a distinct dropout of sound or misplacement into the front left speaker during a clip from Malcolm X, with a return to a full mix at the 57 second mark. The same drop out issue occurs again at the 36m:57s mark, lasting until 37m:30s. Otherwise the dialogue is well-rendered, clear and audible. The transfer might have garnered a C+ or B- had not been for such apparent mistakes.
Audio Transfer Grade: D
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 0 cues
- DVD-ROM web access to WinStar Video's website
- DVD production credits
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsThis is an interesting look at Spike Lee, America's foremost African American director and one of the most important overall American directors of the last decade. The flaws on this disc make it impossoble for me to recommend it for purchase, at least until the problems with it have been resolved. But if you have the opportunity to rent it until that time, please do.
Robert Mandel 2000-06-04