While my childhood was one of many defined by what came next, as an adult I can’t really argue with anyone who feels ‘Off the Wall’ is a superior album. Spike’s documentary captures all the reasons why.
As the title suggests, the first half covers the journey and how (absurd as it sounds now), Michael Jackson was having a hard time figuring out how to be taken seriously. He was the bubblegum kid singer, he was the novelty at the front of the novelty act the Jackson 5. As (a nice interview choice here) Kobe Bryant explained, young Mike was a hardcore student of his craft. Not just studying Sammy Davis Jr’s moves, and James Brown’s moves, but how the industry treated them as black stars.
After ‘the Jacksons’ became a success after leaving Motown, it was time. The concert footage really captures why ‘Rock With You’ is one of my favorite videos. No one (in all the good and bad ways) was more theatrical than Michael Jackson, but he could blow you away with nothing but the microphone in his hand. A great vocalist.
The last third of the film is the track by track breakdown. Everyone from Questlove to his brothers, to Stevie Wonder breaking down ‘the last great disco record.’ Rock With You. Off the Wall. She’s Out of My Life. I Can’t Help It. Turn this Disco Out.
Yep, that album still holds up. So does this doc.
Was a Showtime exclusive for a long time, now you can rent it on iTunes and I assume your other digital channels.
Still in a Denzel state of mind for a variety of reasons. I know many of you won’t mind today’s song choice.
Nope wasn’t in the room Saturday night, I was (literally) down the street.
But thank you internet (and the Academy) for letting us see this. I’m big on letting people know you appreciate them while they’re here to feel your appreciation.
Your East Coast bias aside Spike, I can personally attest to two of the seeds you helped plant and nourish getting those standardized test scores high enough to grow into a movie producer and a movie director (and a LOT more).
And as you know there are hundreds if not thousands more. So thank you.
First, I could watch this introduction all day…
And then, his actual acceptance speech…
(As I’m reminded I have to figure out how to crash the Governor’s Awards…)
A beautiful Terrance Blanchard composition.
And within this clip, Denzel, Wesley, Giancarlo, John Turturro, CHARLIE MURPHY!!!
Been rewatching Breaking Bad. Still an all-timer, but I’m a little less enthralled this time around (away from the hype I guess.) But still more Hall of Fame scenes and sequences than most shows will ever get.
A lot of us remember Giancarlo cutting his teeth in Spike’s early films, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him show up in Breaking Bad. It was an even more pleasant surprise to see how many scenes (and really all of season 4) he stole as Gus Fring.
Awards are awards, and I really did feel like Aaron Paul deserved an Emmy for one of the other seasons, but I felt a little heated when he won over Giancarlo a couple years ago.
Anyway, enjoy my favorite single monologue from the show.
One of my annual traditions (which I try to do in February) is go back and watch Spike’s 1st 6 films. It always inspires me to watch the evolution and build up to his epic.
Anyway, ‘School Daze’, his second film still kind of stands alone as ‘the NPHC film’, ‘the HBCU film’, and the one that put a LOT of black actors on. Among them, Tisha Campbell at the start of her tender roni apex.
So…this one’s not for everybody.
The newest official Spike Lee Joint, ‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’ is actually a remake of ‘Ganja and Hess’, a cult classic blaxploitation flick by Bill Gunn (who gets a writing credit here). Much like the original, this film takes the ‘vampire’ character and uses it as a parable for a story about the black experience in America.
Make no mistake though, this is a Spike Lee film. Plenty of sex, plenty of violence. The dolly shot, New York City. This is the film Spike funded through Kickstarter, which in retrospect is the biggest hint: don’t look for anything traditional Hollywood here (even by Spike’s terms). This one is more in the vein of Bamboozled, Girl 6, and the like. Especially in the current moment where we have a few ‘black films’ made by black directors that are being celebrated (justifiably) by the system, it’s interesting to watch a film like this, which is on the other end in my opinion of ‘black cinema’.
If you’re a Spike fanboy, you need to check this one out.
She did it.
That’s the simple but accurate description of what Ava DuVernay has accomplished with ‘Selma’. The (still criminally) short list of Hollywood backed films about black history, where black characters are actually the centerpiece of the story, has another worthy entry. From the opening sequence which contrasts King’s Nobel Peace Prize winning speech to four little girls walking down into the church basement (and if you know black history at all, you know how that ends and you immediately get a lump in your throat), the tone is set.
The title makes it clear: this isn’t a complete biopic of King as Spike’s film was about Malcolm X. ‘Selma’ focuses on this key moment in time when Dr. King was a big enough name to routinely meet with President Johnson (played by Tom Wilkinson, one of many great character actors in the film), but far from universally loved by the people who were holding up the status quo, or some of the young black students who were already wearing thin on the idea of ‘nonviolent resistance’.
I went to a screening where Ava and David Oyelowo participated in a Q&A following the film. When asked about his process, David talked about his experience on ‘Lincoln’ and watching Daniel Day-Lewis (very telling). To do an impersonation of a famous person, if you break it all the way down, is usually mimicry while amplifying a mannerism or a cadence, usually for comedic effect. What David does in this film is not impersonation. There’s more than enough in look and cadence so the audience knows this is Dr. King, but it’s deeper than that. And for what ‘Selma’ does, it should be. I researched this whole era as a teenager so no information in the film, whether real or used for creative license surprised me. But, if all you know of Dr. King is what you here one day in January every year, or every February, you…might get some new information. I like to believe between my film geekness and passion for history, I’ve seen every ‘big time’ portrayal of the man, but I’ve never seen Martin Luther King portrayed so human. So flawed. David got all the nuances right.
Award season? We shall see. Timely? Obviously. In my opinion, it’s Ava’s best film to date; if (American) audiences had any doubt David could be the leading man in the right role, let’s squash that now too.
Go see it.
First, the macro level:
For my generation, we all looked up to Spike (with John and Reggie not far behind). and in those days, it’s fair to say we all had some form of a ‘hero complex.’ Without getting into a much bigger conversation about black leadership in America, what we grew up on is ‘one voice up front that speaks for everybody.’ We kid each other now, but I can recall many early meetings with friends that usually started with someone walking in the room more or less saying ‘I’m here now, so you got what you need to make a movie!’
What hip hop has evolved into for the past couple of generations, and the (thankful) direction black filmmakers have been successfully growing into is the much more true to life idea that there are several points of view, even those who contrast with each other, that are all ‘authentically black.’
(How’s that for a segway into the micro?)
Dear White People is built around four archetypal characters every black person (especially if you went to college) will recognize: Tessa Thompson as the biracial kid who’s metaphorically yelling Black Power louder than most of the ‘fully’ black kids. Tyler James Williams as the (closeted homosexual) kid who’s not quite black enough for the brothers, but too black to hang out with the white folks. Teyonah Parris as the bougie black person who goes a little too far to prove she’s not like ‘those hood black people.’ Brandon P. Bell as the good looking, and polished legacy kid whose every decision is setting himself up to be ‘The Guy’, right on down to the white girlfriend.
The jokes come quick and hit the bullseye when the come, especially in the first half. There’s a Gremlins joke that I think is in one of the trailers that’s still funny. There’s a throwaway line that you have to take as a direct reference to Dawn on Mad Men (where Teyonah appears often but doesn’t give her the opportunity to show the range and the sexuality that she does here, and I LOVE Mad Men.) There are other direct and indirect references to Spike in the film. Do I see Dear White People as School Daze 2.0? Yes I do, but that’s by no means an insult.
Do I think it’s a perfect film? No. I have nitpicks in the third act and (like a true Spike Lee joint) there were some tone changes and convenient circumstances I didn’t really go all in for. But as a first film? Go back now and watch She’s Gotta Have It. Even Spike has publicly said how much now he hates some of the choices he made with the third act of that film. Look at the progression Ava DuVernay has made I Will Follow to Selma. The young brother who directed this film, Justin Simien, he’s clearly got talent and he has a ‘voice’ that’s not what everybody else is doing. I for one, look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.