By: Thomas Kallergis Film Critique: Analyzing the Star or Director Through Their Films Spike Lee – Modern Star Director – She’s Gotta Have it, Crooklyn, Inside Man Spike Lee, born Shelton Jackson Lee, is a modern Black director who was born in Atlanta, Georgia but grew up in Brooklyn, New York. It can be said that Mr. Lee is not one to shy away from controversy, be it in his films or public statements. The production company that Mr. Lee founded is called “40 Acres and a Mule” referring to the famous American policy in 1865 that gave newly freed slave their own land and a mule as reparations for slavery. Sharecropping) That policy was rescinded less than six months later. With forty-six titles to his credit, including feature films, documentaries and television, Mr. Lee has a multitude of material to watch and critique and it is quite the task to choose just three films that span his career as an American film director. The three films that will be reviewed in this essay are; She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Crooklyn (1994) and Inside Man (2006). After reading reviews, looking through plot summaries and watching trailers, I chose the three films above because they span three different decades, one is Mr.
Lee’s first feature film, and another is his second to last feature film. What do these films say about Spike Lee? What do they say about American culture? What do they say about society? How have they changed film making? Directors are storytellers, interpreters. As Mr. Lee himself says “storytelling… that’s the most important thing as a film maker”. All three of these films have a great deal to say about American culture. Both She’s Gotta Have It and Crooklyn were written and directed by Mr. Lee. Both of these films center around racial, cultural, social and economic situations.
Although Inside Man was not written by Mr. Lee, and on the surface it may seem as a typical action heist film, it also has significant racial, cultural, social and economic undertones. She’s Gotta Have It is a story about a young black woman who is dating three men simultaneously. This film’s narration is not linear, it is presented as a documentary styled narrative with flashbacks between interviews that allows the viewer to piece together the story based on what is witnessed by the viewer as well as what is told by several different members of the woman’s life who are all trying heir best to explain why or why not she is a “freak”. Mr. Lee “aimed to rouse his audiences from a cultural stupor” (Kennedy) when he made this film. Nola, the woman who’s life the film is based around is trying to buck the stereotypical view of gender. She likes her three men because they all give her something unique and different that the others lack. To Nola, it seems that her activities are normal and constantly rebukes all three men’s persistent efforts to force her into a monogamous relationship. This is no a typical female gender role.
There are also cameos of other people in Nola’s life such as her father, her psychiatrist, her ex roommate/friend, her lesbian suitor and a series of suitors that might also be exes of Nola’s trying to shed light on her life and her personality. Narration is the key element in the film Crooklyn. The narrative is straight forward, linear and is very easy to follow. Situated in the early 70’s, Crooklyn is a semi-biographical film written by Mr. Lee and two of his siblings. The main story behind the film is what a typical, lower middle class Brooklyn black family’s life is like. Mr.
Lee does a great job identifying many of the typical characters one might see in a city neighborhood. There are the annoying neighbors, the immigrants, the derelicts but most of all the film is a showcase into what childhood is like for millions of urban youth. The cultural and socio-economic differences between the black children are evident in the manner in which they tease each other. There is taunting and teasing, arguments and squabbles but at the end of the day, the inner city blight in present day America that has taken the lives of many children is non existent. According to Mr.
Lee “The film takes place in the early 70’s, which is probably the last decade when children were allowed to be children. ” (Norment) There is a sharp juxtaposition when Troy, the families only daughter gets dropped off to spend a portion of the summer at a relatives house in the south. Mr. Lee shows sharp contrast in the differences of the north v south, city v country and the stark differences in family values. Inside Man is a big budget (it cost more than 264 times as much as She’s Gotta Have It) Hollywood feature film directed by Spike Lee who is known for his indie film style and for not “selling out. The film has a non linear narration that is convoluted much in the same way as Citizen Kane. There are several flashbacks and flash forwards that truly challenges the viewers memory. Although the film is more polished and more palatable for mass audiences, Mr. Lee continues to show the obvious racial tensions that are still being felt in America today. The cast is very racially, socially and economically diverse. In this film we can find blacks, whites and other various races and ethnicities that live in New York City, such as Jewish, Albanian, Italian, Sikh, Hispanic, Asian and others.
Racial epithets such as spic, nigger, rag-head can be heard throughout the movie bringing attention to Americas infantile racial intolerance. Race relations, gender roles, social strata and economic rank are primary focuses in Spike Lee’s films but Mr. Lee’s interpretation of them is so fluid and realistic that they do not impose on the films nor do they take away from the films. Despite the fact that racial, gender and socio-economic issues are oftentimes strenuous, they are a part of everyday life. Mr.
Lee has a seamless method of interpreting them to us through his films. Mr. Lee uses various camera and lighting techniques to set up the films. Opening scenes mean a lot to Mr. Lee. All three of the above films have exemplary opening scenes that help frame the films and prepare the audience. Music is present in all three of the opening scenes. In She’s Gotta Have It, the film opens with black and white still photographs of urban scenes while a slow, sad jazz piano is playing setting up what is ultimately a roller coaster ride of emotions during the film.
Quintessential rhythm and blues from the 70’s opens up Crooklyn while the camera pans from shot to shot of various urban neighborhood children playing typical urban games including double dutch, odds and evens, hopscotch, stoop-ball, steal the bacon and stickball. Crooklyn continues to stay true to 70’s music in it’s soundtrack with songs like Everyday People, Pusher Man, ABC, Oh Girl and Pass the Peas. Once again the audience is primed for the subconscious cultural assault they are about to see in Inside Man when Mr.
Lee decides to open the movie with the song Chaiyya Chaiyya from a 1998 Bollywood Indian film. The song is later infused with hip-hop styled percussion and English rap lyrics. During the film Inside Man, Mr. Lee’s use of contemporary songs is always more in the background while the action is in the foreground. The music does not overwhelm your senses or drown out dialogue. Mr. Lee understands that music is complementary in a film and should not inundate the viewer. Some of the signature camera shots that Mr.
Lee uses are crane shots, low shots dolly shots and his “signature” (Lee) double dolly shots. Mr. Lee uses crane shots to maximize the mise en scene such as the neighborhood in Crooklyn, the bank in Inside Man and Nola’s bedroom in She’s Gotta Have It. The double dolly shot is used on the opening scene in Inside Man where Clive owen is sitting on the dolly while it is being pushed towards a wall giving the viewer a feeling of three dimensional gliding. Mr. Lee also uses creative lighting in the double dolly shot.
The background behind Clive Owen is dark and as the dolly is being pushed back the light illuminates the shot to reveal that the scene backdrop is a wall made of drab, gray painted cinder blocks. The scene can be interpreted as the the illumination that the viewer will have as the movie progresses and all is revealed in the end. The double dolly shot is also used in Crooklyn when Troy is having a dream. The three dimensional gliding is very surreal and is a unique take on a dream sequence.
She’s Gotta Have It is shot entirely in black and white except for a short clip where Nola’s gift is a ballet performance in the park on a stage covered with brightly colored graffiti. The stark contrast from the black and white film to color in that scene can also show the distinct contrast of two black dancers performing ballet which has traditionally been a white performance art. A common thread between all three of the above films is that there is no explicit protagonist.
Although there is one character in the film who the story centers around, he supporting cast has an almost equal amount of screen and dialogue time and they are just as critical to the story as the main character. There is similar equality in gender roles in the films. All three films have similar amounts of male and female characters both in leading and supporting roles. Mr. Lee makes it a point to show us that we should all think of each other as equals and does it in a most subtle and sophisticated manner.
Spike Lee has redefined film making and story telling in contemporary American cinema. He has propelled many actors to stardom or near stardom and continues to shed light on America’s racial undertones, equalities, inequalities and diversity. His films have a seamless blend of cinematography, music and natural and local culture and continue to inspire young aspirant film makers and writers. Works Cited: “Sharecropping & “Forty Acres and a Mule” — History. com Articles, Video, Pictures and Facts. ” History. com — History Made Every Day — American & World History. 1996-2011, A&E Television Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Web. . “Spike Lee: ‘Anyone Who Thinks We Move in a Post-racial Society Is Someone Who’s Been Smoking Crack'” Interview by Jason Solomons. Www. guardian. co. uk. Web. . Quote can be found at 7:13 to 7:19 Kennedy, Lisa. “THE STORYTELLER. (Cover story). ” Essence (Time Inc. ) 38. 11 (2008): 183. Academic Search Complete Norment, Lynn. “A revealing look at Spike Lee’s changing life. ” Ebony 49. 7 (1994): 28-32. Inside Man. Dir. Spike Lee. Perf. Spike Lee. 2006. DVD. DVD extras with Directors commentary ON.