Media Condition: Good
Comments: *Barcode of DVD cover has been cut.
English audio with French subtitles.
Spike Lee’s films have always been hit or miss for me. I grew up watching them, as they were fictitious and familiar depictions of African-Americans, but for the longest time I fell just short of pleased with his work. Forgive me for going on a tangent, but I feel the need to cite the differences and subject matter of some other Spike Lee Joints before raving about this one.
The first Lee film I saw was Crooklyn, and it is perhaps the only other that I am fond of. In short, it is an energetic, sometimes melancholic film about a family in Brooklyn—more or less through the eyes of the couple’s only daughter in their large brood. Overall, the movie is harmless, though it deals softly with substance abuse and death, but it’s a little too gentle; it held up when I was a child, but lost flavor for me in adulthood. This criticism does not translate to it being a bad film, but rather anticlimactic. Another that comes to mind is Jungle Fever—a ballsy film about two co-workers (black male/white female) who become lovers despite their committed relationships. The movie unfolds with over-the-top characters and events, ultimately making it very black and white, both literally and figuratively. I remember being unmoved by the assumed dangers and taboo thrills of biracial lust. It disappointed me then, and it does now. Do The Right Thing, while it is Lee’s most popular and acclaimed work, still reminds me of the misdirected angst that would follow its release in the form of riots. Obviously the film is not to blame, but in times of such hostility, you'd think a message geared toward working together would be better suited and more universal. Its deadpan racist rants (common among his Italian and Black characters) hit you over the head so hard that it almost begs you to choose sides, if not fails to deliver a clear message.
I lost interest in trying to discover more of Spike Lee's work until I saw Malcolm X. While also very heavy and stylized, the film restored my faith in Lee as a more universal director, producer, and writer. I felt grateful, not only for an amazing cinematic experience, but also for an honest story that exposes the iconic person who I felt attached to, and yet removed from. It delivers Denzel Washington’s best performance, as well as an amazing cast of actors, dancers, and extras.
A bit of controversy was sparked by the film, or more specifically from its earlier segment, where the aforementioned honesty comes into effect. This part of the films flows through Malcolm’s troubled years as a hustler, pimp, and cocaine abuser. Dressed in zoot suits and sporting a conk (chemical relaxer for hair), Malcolm (Denzel Washington) drifts further into abandon and self-hate than one might imagine with his best friend Shorty (Spike Lee). The two attempt to rid themselves of an identity which left a considerable amount of damage in their lives. What I am referring to is the identity of slaves and those who are unjustly segregated. By dating white women, changing their hair, and flaunting their high spirits in fancy automobiles and clothes, the two feel as though they can make themselves equal simply by looking like everyone else and playing it cool.
But Malcolm is far from happy. Lee incorporated impressive flashbacks of Malcolm’s childhood and family, isolating his discontent in order for us to see past his fa
- Label: Warner Bros.
- Release Date: 12/31/1969