WHEN: Friday, March 26, 2010
WHERE: Wait Chapel on the Wake Forest University Campus
TICKETS: Free to WFU students, faculty, and staff and $5 for others
It’s no secret that I watch a lot of media, especially films. I watch them. I think about them many times each day. I write about them, talk about them, and make them. While I’m not as single-minded as many people who are consumed by one thing, I always return to the story with a passion that is unwavering if not singular. I think a big element that sustains my passion for moving images is that I see films as crucially important for our culture. Films are tools for exploring our humanity, for telling us who we are and contextualizing what that means. Some people use this tool to expand our awareness and ask probing questions that resonate for years, and I think one of those is filmmaker Spike Lee.
For me, all of Lee’s films are interesting, and a few of them are brilliant, which is more than I can say about most popular filmmakers. I remember watching She’s Gotta Have It in the late 1980s and marveling at the fresh perspective represented in the film. I couldn’t wait to see something else by the young director Spike Lee, and the next film of his that I saw – the first at the cinema – was Do The Right Thing in 1989. This remains my favorite of Spike Lee’s movies. It seems as original and compelling to me today as it did then. Do The Right Thing is one of the few films that I have included in the film theory and criticism class every semester I have taught the course, and I think this film is an unqualified success on every level. I love other films by Spike Lee – especially the documentary Four Little Girls, the epic biographical film Malcolm X, and the small but riveting Get On The Bus. I love ideas and sequences from others, but if Spike Lee had only made those four films, he would be a great filmmaker in my opinion.
Are some of his films flawed? Sure. The musical numbers didn’t work for me at the time in School Daze – of course, even as I say this I’m thinking that I should watch it again and see if my opinion has changed on that point. I felt that the subplot in Jungle Fever featuring Halle Berry and Samuel L. Jackson undercut the film a bit, that Mo’ Better Blues and Crooklyn were a tad too nostalgic, and that He Got Game needed a little more narrative focus. So what? These are quibbles. I liked Clockers, was surprised with Lee’s choice to direct Summer of Sam, and enjoyed the fact that the commercially successful Inside Man examined race and social class at the interstices of a compelling heist film instead of putting those issues front and center as viewers had come to expect from a Spike Lee Joint.
So, if some of Lee’s films are flawed, I say so what. If you want to call them his lesser films and call Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X and Four Little Girls masterworks, that’s okay with me. I would also add Get on the Bus to that list because I’m just crazy about that little film and think it has been overlooked. But, let’s return to what might be called the lesser works for a moment. I maintain that all of Spike Lee’s films are far more interesting to watch and more thought-provoking than those of the vast majority of filmmakers. He takes chances and dares to be different while developing a distinctive vision, which is always a risk, but a risk that offers the opportunity to achieve something great.
Friday night at seven o’clock, Spike Lee will address our community at Wait Chapel on the Wake Forest University campus as part of the Reynolda Film Festival. Students organize and operate this festival from start to finish. I had nothing to do with the selection of Spike Lee as featured speaker for the festival with a talk entitled “Spike Lee: Following Your Dreams,” but I couldn’t be happier or prouder that a group of students have recognized the importance of bringing him to campus to challenge our preconceptions and help us think about important questions in new ways. I’ll be there early to claim my seat in Wait Chapel so I can listen and learn.