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HBO presents

4 Little Girls (1997)

"We felt that there were two things that we could do. The first option is that we felt confident we could find out who was responsible for having killed those girls, and we could make certain that they got killed. That was option one. The second option was, that if blacks in Alabama got the right to vote, they could protect their children."- Diane Nash, SCLC

Stars: Maxine McNair, Diane Braddock, Chris McNair, Wamo Reed Robertson
Other Stars: Arthur Haines Jr., Janie Gaines, Ossie Davis, Coretta Scott King
Director: Spike Lee

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (graphic photos of violence)
Run Time: 01h:41m:25s
Release Date: 2001-01-23
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A+AB+ D


DVD Review

On September 15th, 1963, a bomb ripped through the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The blast resulted in the deaths of four young girls: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie Mae Collins. The tragedy struck a distinct chord throughout the state and much of the nation, and it was obvious the crime was one of racial hatred. The Sixteenth Street Church had long been a traditional meeting place for most of Birmingham's black community and, during the turbulent 1960s, became the unofficial headquarters of Alabama's civil rights movement. Though the cowardly act of the bombing was obviously meant to terrorize the black community, the horrible deaths of these girls only served to add new spirit to the civil rights cause, drawing attention from everywhere, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Spike Lee's film 4 Little Girls (made for cable's Home Box Office), is a documentary that opens a window into this period of time and this tragedy. Featuring interviews with most of the family and friends of the four girls who were killed, the piece paints a vivid image of a simple community surrounded by bigotry and how the bombing cut a very deep wound. Even though the bombing was a huge story at the time, no one has really ever delved into it until now. Spike Lee's efforts have payed off with an amazingly well-crafted and incredibly deep look at the entire affair.

Born well after the turbulence and commotion of the 1960s, I personally found this documentary extremely fascinating. There are many good movies about the black civil rights movement (Lee's own Malcolm X among them), but even movies have a certain distance to them. Here, the viewer is drawn directly into the center of this black community; into their homes, churches, and places of memory. The story is real and, thus, not dramatized. I can't imagine someone watching this story and not coming away affected in some way or another. I felt privileged, as if I had been personally invited to spend time with these people so they could relate their story, and a very personal one it is.

Beyond the family angle, the film does a good job of immersing the viewer into the political strife of the time, using interviews with many people involved in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization that Martin Luther King Jr. brought to national attention. The blend between politics and the actual personal stories of the people manages to paint a very vivid, surprising image of the time period from the perspective of people who were right in the middle of it. Wisely enough, though, Spike Lee doesn't extend the vision of his documentary too wide. It keeps it personal and focused, but includes many perspectives. He cuts off the film before it starts to get carried away with telling the story of the entire evolution of the Southern civil rights struggle. While that would be an interesting topic, it's nice to see Lee carefully arrange the film to not be too epic.

As a filmmaker, Spike Lee has continually dealt with the issues of race relations in the United States. Again, he proves how adept he is at the subject with yet another masterpiece; this one framed in the reality of a family's loss.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original full-frame format, 4 Little Girls is extremely good looking. The transfer is sharp, clean, and essentially pristine. While there is a lot of grain and other artifacts in certain areas, it is obviously a purposeful effect done with different film stocks and lenses. There is a lot of 1960s-era stock footage used as well, with obvious age problems. Overall, though, the image is very impressive. The only minor issue is some source print flaws.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Although it has no official designation, the audio track seems to be some kind of 3-channel stereo with a Pro-Logic center channel for dialog. The musical score and some sound effects are in stereo. There is no surround usage, but the track sounds very good and clear. Dialogue is firmly rooted in center, and is never muddled or hard to understand.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Weblinks
Extras Review: While the disc is certainly better than I expected, it loses major points for one factor: it has no chapter stops. I had no problem accessing the film at direct times, but for an almost 2-hour movie, this is not good.

The largest extra is a lengthy documentary about how 4 Little Girls was made, this time Spike Lee is the subject of the documentary, as are some of the other faces who were part of the movie. It's a good piece, but it's a bit heavy to watch right after finishing the main feature. You might want to wait a bit before getting into it.

A biography/filmography for Spike Lee is presented along with some DVD-ROM weblinks.

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

4 Little Girls is a very well made look into a time that many of us never knew or experienced. In my opinion, it's vastly underrated and anyone interested in the subject should definitely see it. Highly recommended.

Dan Lopez 2001-02-27