Last month HBO was showing Spike Lee's Girl 6(1996) and this month (until May 28) Crooklyn (1994).
I have been encouraging folks to take a look at the films and report back on how it compares to their first viewing -- if they have seen it before and if they have not, how it aligns with their "understanding" of the auteur's style. I am currently writing about his contributions to American cinema and not only was I surprised at the results, but, so were the individual spectators. The truth is that Lee's films are far more complex than people remember or are conscious of when watching them. Here are some of the things I called attention to in our post viewing conversations about Crooklyn and Girl 6:
1: They each have women at the center of the narrative.
2: The director appears in both films.
3: They have elements that show up in his films to follow.
4: They both touch on the pursuit of the arts, in particular film and music.
In Girl 6, Lee examines the life of an aspiring actress in New York. I must confess, while I recalled the story I did not recall the ensemble cast which included: Isaiah Washington, Naomi Campbell, Richard Belzer, Madonna, John Turturro, Quentin Tarantino, Halle Berry and Joie Lee among others. Quentin Tarantino plays a director auditioning our main character Girl 6 (Theresa Randle) and when she is asked to take her clothes off, she does so with great discomfort and then storms out. By the time this film was released Tarantino had already directed Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and was probably thinking/working on Jackie Brown starring Pam Grier.
Our "girl" then proceeds to yell at her agent (John Turturro) for sending her to the audition, they argue about what transpired and in response, he lets her go as a client. Her next stop is her acting coach who proceeds to scream at her telling her to "grow up" and lets her go as well. Thus, she is left to hand out flyers on street, work as an extra, etc. to make ends meet. Desperate and sick she reads an ad in the paper and tries for one more job. The job? Working in the phone sex business, which, in its own way, offers her time and space to work on closing the gap between her dreams and reality.
This month we have Crooklyn -- a tender and toughing story about growing up in the complex mix of childhood games and pranks, sibling rivalry and the realities of life in the 1970s. The film is written by three members of the Lee family -- Cinque, Joie and Spike -- and oscillates back and forth between the children and their parents but centers on how the young girl experiences the dramatic events that change their lives forever. See it! It is not what most of us remember from Spike Lee, yet it is distinctly his work. Therein lies the beauty of the film.