Den mentioned that we don’t talk about Spike Lee much. I agree, but I think he would be interesting to talk about, as I think he is a polarizing figure. So what do people think about Spike Lee as a director? Is he great? Not very good? What are your thoughts?
I’ll give a brief response right now: I think he’s talented, but I think his films are very uneven. The main problem I have for many of them is that they seem to be primarily vehicles for lectures on social issues. I also don’t find his insights very interesting. (I haven’t seen all of his films (particularly some of the recent ones).
As Welles said, most ideas can be written on the head of a pin. That does not mean we should not try to have insights or ideas.
Lee is a fine director and a good social advocate imo. I am most impressed when he takes genre flicks and comes out with things meet genre requirements yet do not feel like anything else out there. Clockers and He Got Game being great examples.
He can be great, but only occasionally reaches that mark. Here’s what I wrote on the other thread:
Lee can be a great director (examples include 25th Hour, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Clockers, and Inside Man.) However, he can be a pretty bad one too (I hated He Got Game.)
I do not know how often he misses his mark. Even She Hate Me which was did not get a favorable reaction had some interesting thoughts on the Black Superman myth. Some gathered that he did not like women in that film, yet he started his career with a incredibly strong female character in She’s Gotta Have It.
Him and Woody seem to love jazz and both directors films have a jazz type improv and pace to them. Lee’s films tend to be a bit more lively and exciting imo
I haven’t seen Do the Right Thing in a long time, but my impression was that it was just too simplistic. To me, it felt in line with a lot of Hollywood films that attempt to tackle serious social issues (i.e. Philadelphia, Accused, etc.) I plan to watch it again to see for myself.
When the Levees Broke also disappointed me, too. I can’t remember the specific reasons, though.
I’d like to hear someone make a case/explanation for the greatness of 25th Hour. I saw that some critics listed this as one of the decades best, which left me scratching my head. One of the reviews gave me the impression that you had to be a New Yorker to really appreciate the film.
Den- I think you got me started on Spike over in STL!. Like Brad, I just posted over there about him.
Woody’s a great Spike comparison, as Spike’s done some really Woody-like stuff.
he makes (some) great films, but his ego’s a bit much, and he’s not a great director
Why do you think he’s not a great director?
Jazz see He Got Game which covers everything from religion to prostitution to illegal recruitment practices all in a fairly thoughtful and never less than interesting manner.
@jazz "I haven’t seen Do the Right Thing in a long time, but my impression was that it was just too simplistic. To me, it felt in line with a lot of Hollywood films that attempt to tackle serious social issues (i.e. Philadelphia, Accused, etc.)
I think Do the Right Thing was very fair minded and equal. It also captured the tensions brought on by both heat (summer of Sam is similar in this regard) and race relations. The film has a lot of wild card scenes (the end for example) that would never be put into a standard Hollywood pic
In mainstream American cinema (that Spike Lee grew up watching) the film that inspired Lee as a young man was Cooley High, an honest and delightful representation of black high school life. Lee has already surpassed his influences (Melvin Van Peebles as well). I do agree with the Woody comparison, as I mentioned earlier, but I think he is more similar to Scorsese (after all Scorsese picked him to do Clockers) in that they both take on all kinds of genres with a fair amount of grit and originality
Having spent only three days in New York, I loved 25th Hour without the benefit of being a resident. Mostly because it was a great actor’s showcase with Norton and Hoffman, two of my favorites. It had something to say about friendship. The post 9/11 NYC setting really hits the point home that we must value what we have because it can be taken away at any time.
As for the worst film of his that I’ve seen (and I haven’t seen Girl 6), its Bamboozled. He was so ham-fisted in trying to satirize offensive minstrel/blackface culture that he created an example of what he wanted to criticize. Ralph Bakshi’s Coonskin succeeded where Lee failed.
Jungle Fever is an interesting case in that its Sam Jackson/Ossie Davis drug subplot is very effective while its take on interracial dating (the alleged subject of the movie) was all over the place and ended up not addressing the issue at all.
I didn’t care for Girl 6. I’ve been meaning to see Bamboozled.
Brad-you’ve got a point about the interracial dating. I can’t remember if there’s any dialogue among Wesley Snipes’ wife or friends whether it would have been better for him to be screwing around with a black coworker, and I can actually remember a bit of the stuff among their friends.
Jungle Fever appeared to me to be kind of a cultural study, with broadly representative characters.The stuff with Snipes’ family, friends, and colleagues is as important as the releationship; next to it, the temp & her Italian family seem half-baked.
I’ll consider seeing He Got Game. I guess, I just don’t like what he’s done with the genre films. (I never saw the musical, though.) I did not care for Inside Man (or whatever it was called) or Clockers. The latter had a story which felt like an excuse to depict the police, drug gangs, and the youth getting sucked into that. The Wre is ten times better than anything Lee ever did on that issue.
Also, in terms of artistic achievement in depicting African-American urban life, Lee has not gotten close to Killer of Sheep, imo. Have you seen that? Even Ballast was a lot better than anything I’ve seen by Lee—and that film has a message, too.
Do the Right Thing might have been fair minded, but what did really say about race-relations?
“The post 9/11 NYC setting really hits the point home that we must value what we have because it can be taken away at any time.”
That just seems to trite—and it was that way for me in the film.
Sam Jackson gives one of this best performances in Jungle Fever, but I found it heavy-handed.
Re- 25th Hour
It’s not just a value of friendship thing. Everything we have (as America, not just the friends as characters) is tenuous and could maybe be destroyed instantly. Ed Norton is coming from prosperity as a drug dealer and facing a prison sentence the way America lived in a prosperous bubble until 9/11. Like America, the very prosperity he once enjoyed may have itself been false, or at least ill-gotten.
See also: The Sopranos.
He Got Game is one of Spike’s worst IMO. it’s completely redundant. even get on the bus was better.
as for Den’s comments about She Hate Me, i think it COULD have been a great comment on the ‘black superman’, and the way that the tables have turned with the sexes and now men feel objectified, but it just ends up being another boring treatise on personal responsibility, which, in the context of the film, is absurd. Spike often takes big ideas, then completely waters them down.
BRAD: how is bamboozled an example of the thing he wanted to satirise exactly?
Spike Lee is a great director, and it’s high time that I assessed his entire career, including re-assessing films of his that I’ve only seen once, which is almost all of them. He’s in a category all of his own when it comes to African-American filmmakers. There’s Oscar Micheaux, there’s Spike Lee, and then there’s everyone after them. It’s as simple as that.
He’s certainly achieved greatness twice: “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X.” I don’t believe a director can lose his status as great once he achieves it. It’s there, whether you can realize that promise again or not. And unfortunately, rare is the long career that maintains a level of greatness throughout.
I think Spike Lee is a great filmmaker but is hampered by his own material and his inflated sense of self. He is so phenomenally talented as a director that he would have thrived at the height of the studio system working under the constraints of a good producer and using other people’s scripts. In my judgment, he is a casualty of auteurism. My favorite Lee films are the films that are often wrongly seen to be his more “impersonal” films – Summer of Sam and 25th Hour. And Clockers and Inside Man proves that he can make good genre films as well.
“There’s Oscar Micheaux, there’s Spike Lee, and then there’s everyone after them. It’s as simple as that.”
What about Charles Burnett?
Anyways I find Spike Lee to be a bittersweet director. His films always show that he has in him a large amount of potential, but I never feel as if he takes that potential anywhere. It seems lately this is due to the fact that he no longer has the drive to make his voice heard as he did earlier in his career or rather that the voice he is using now is a bit misguided under the whole black knight position he likes to play.
I have only seen “Do the Right Thing”, and I thought it was magnificent achievement. I could almost feel the anger and frustration coming off the screen.
“And Clockers and Inside Man proves that he can make good genre films as well.”
yep, although from a narrative point of view, Clockers was hardly a standard genre flick and is only loosely a genre flick IMO. it seems to be going absolutely nowhere for the first half an hour—which it was criticised for at the time—but it all comes together eventually.
I agree with Bobby about Malcolm X. it’s one of my favourite biopics.
Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks, Charles Burnett, John Singleton, The Hughes Brothers, they all exist. But the fact of the matter is that none of them have had nearly as influential, extensive, and celebrated a career as Lee has had. He’s still the preeminent African-American auteur, after all this time. We’re still waiting for his successor. Singleton showed promise, but he’s going in the wrong direction.
^agree with Singleton and the same goes for The Hughes Brothers too. Loved Menace in 93, appreciated Dead Presidents and enjoyed American Pimp but after that, it was all downhill.
Never big on Peebles.
-There’s Oscar Micheaux, there’s Spike Lee, and then there’s everyone after them. It’s as simple as that.-
What about Charles Burnett, Bobby? (after I typed this I saw that, User De had already, but I’m leaving it in on principle)
Yeah, Spike Lee is great, and would be based on Do the Right Thing , Malcolm X and Mo Better Blues alone. 4 Little Girls is beautiful work, too, Lee, by the way, fixed the thing that was with Richard Price’s Clockers. I wish Lee’d held the notes he hit in Malcolm X while Malcolm was in Mecca and Africa, but it’s still a brilliant film.
^^^Mo Better Blues. i never liked that film for some reason. IT’s generally not as well regarded as the other films he directed around that time and i kind of see why. it just feels empty to me. what did you like about it?
Jungle Fever hasn’t aged particularly well either, and i can’t say i like his first 2 films. Girl 6 i can take or leave but it isn’t terrible.
“But the fact of the matter is that none of them have had nearly as influential, extensive, and celebrated a career as Lee has had.”
But Bobby, “influential, extensive, and celebrated” do not equal good.
Maybe I need to watch Malcolm X again. I read the Autobiography a few years before the movie, and I was disappointed, but maybe I’m compared the two unfairly.
Still, there’s hasn’t been a Lee film that has come close to Killer of Sheep—not in terms of artistry or poignancy. And it’s not didactic like a lot of Lee’s films, but at the same time it bring an African-Americans to the screen. Terrific film.
^^You’ll notice that his films tend to become didactic towards the end especially. Maybe Spike doesn’t have enough faith in his audience to interpret the film ‘correctly’. Or maybe he isn’t as complex a person as what people think. A lot of his movies get drowned out in this ‘personal responsibility’ nonsense. Why bother? The last thing i want to see is a director tackling a big issue and then reduce it to that. It’s extremely simplistic.
No more didactic than Oliver Stone or David Mamet, and just as uneven!
Spike Lee is a frustrating film maker…when he’s good (Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, Get on the Bus, Crooklyn), he’s very good, when he’s bad, he just blows it (Summer of Sam, School Daze).
Do the Right Thing is a masterpiece (IMO), while Girl 6 is unwatchable
He’s also done some decent journeyman work with The Inside Man and I liked Clockers a lot, a really good adaptation of a really good book.
Presumably he’s in it for the long haul and he’ll make more GREAT movies and more lousy ones…
Maybe Stone is just as didactic…maybe… but that’s not a good thing in any event. I don’t find Mamet didactic.
Btw, by didactic, I mean that Lee seems to have a message he wants to instruct the audience with; or I think he has an agenda like depicting the phenomena like “jungle fever.” At times, I feel like the story and characters come after the message or issue he wants to address.
For those who love, Do the Right Thing, I want to hear about what made this film exceptional, particularly about what the film said about racism in America. (I don’t have a problem with the filmmaking techniques.) My sense—and I don’t love on the US mainland and I didn’t grow up there—but my sense is that the value of the film was bringing to the screen racism between blacks and whites in America—not that the film shed any insight into this relationship, but it brought more awareness to the issue. In that way, I view it in the same way as Philadelphia. It didn’t really say anything interesting or even tell a really compelling story. I mean, the story was probably happening to people, but it never got much attention or at least victims of AIDS weren’t humanized. Now that’s a good thing for those who didn’t view victims of AIDS in a humane way; if they had an misconceived idea about the disease, but if you didn’t have these views, I don’t think the film was a great experience.
That’s sort of how I feel about Do the Right Thing. Yes, there’s some social value—particularly for those who don’t really think about the issue (think it’s a non-issue) or who have one-sided view of the issue. But besides this social utility (for some), I don’t think it’s a great film. I’d like to hear from those who do consider it a great film.