Friday, 14 November 2008
wake up to spike lee
This December the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) will present Focus on Spike Lee, a career survey of the provocative, powerhouse filmmaker who revolutionised the role of African American talent in contemporary cinema.
Lee's films are characterised by the regular casting of African American actors (such as Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Isaiah Washington, Ossie Davis and Delroy Lindo), biting social commentary and are regarded as quintessentially New York in style, using the medium to capture moods and trends in one of the world's most diverse and dynamic cities. As a result, he frequently sets his films in New York, often to a ghetto-blaster soundtrack (such as New York's own Public Enemy). Lee regularly injects references to baseball and nearly all his films feature the phrase 'Wake Up!' which serves to urge his audience to awaken to political and social consciousness. Other hallmarks of Lee's work include writing, directing and starring in his own films.
ACMI Film Programmer, Roberta Ciabarra, says Spike Lee occupies a singular place in contemporary cinema. "His films challenge and interrogate a dizzying spectrum of social and cultural assumptions built around race, gender, nationhood and identity," she said. "Lee's activist impulse to consciousness-raise propels the ideological currents that underpin his films but also finds expression through a heightened visual and sonic aesthetic which gives a dynamic primacy to African American art forms and traditions - not the least of which include jazz and hip hop."
Roberta also believes that the season comes at a crucial time in African-American history. "As we anticipate the historic inauguration of the United States' first African American president in Janaury, 2009 will also see the twentieth anniversary of the release of Do The Right Thing, making it a timely occasion to look back on the film career of one of contemporary cinema's most provocative and socially engaged American auteurs," she said.
The season will open with Lee's break-out hit, Do The Right Thing (1989), which Lee penned, earning himself an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Public Enemy's black consciousness-raising rap anthem Fight the Power runs like a current through the film, blaring out of the ghetto blaster Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) totes everywhere with him. Do The Right Thing also stars Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Rosie Perez and Spike Lee in the role of Mookie, and is coming to ACMI direct from NBC Universal, who are striking new prints the film specifically for ACMI's season, along with Jungle Fever, Mo' Better Blues and Crooklyn.
This filmic survey demonstrates Lee's ability to be undaunted by subject matter, illustrated by films such as Malcom X (1993) and When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006). Based on the The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Roots author, Alex Haley), Malcom X , stars Denzel Washington in an Oscar-nominated performance. The son of a Baptist preacher who raised the ire of local Klansmen, Malcolm X became one of the most militant leaders and charismatic spokesmen of the black liberation movement before his assassination in February 1965. Sight and Sound said of Lee's masterwork; "With Malcolm X, Spike Lee has made.his greatest film - a movie that propels a complex, furious, little-comprehended black man into the pantheon of American icons."
The season will also feature a special one-off free screening of When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006), Lee's impassioned portrait of New Orleans and its citizens in the wake of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Lee's documentary reply is one of sadness and outrage at both the scale of the disaster and what he illustrates as slow, inept and disorganised response to the emergency on the part of government instrumentalities charged with co-ordinating the rescue and recovery effort. Praised by the New Yorker as "the most magnificent and large-souled record of a great American tragedy ever put on film", When The Levees Broke confirms Lee as an equally provocative documentary maker.
The late, great Ossie Davis, whom Lee called 'a giant among giants' (and who acted in six features directed by Lee), leads an outstanding ensemble in Get On The Bus (1996), an inventively shot film about a disparate group of black men travelling to Washington D.C. for the Million Man March. Shot in a mere 18 days, the film has a certain energy and sense of immediacy. A scene where the men break into James Brown's Papa Don't Take No Mess is a highlight.
Another highlight of the season is He Got Game (1998) starring Denzel Washington, an unflinching exploration of the pressures faced by young athletes, balanced carefully with the poignant father-son relationship at the heart of the film.
Other films screening include;
- Mo' Better Blues (1990) stars Denzel Washington as the trumpet-playing bandleader who is juggling tensions with his sax player and a complicated personal life. Mo' Better Blues is laden with the jazz sounds that influenced Lee growing up with a musician father, Bill Lee, who composed the score for this and three earlier films in Lee's career.
- Jungle Fever (1991) is a drama firmly entrenched in the racial and class divides about a couple forced to explore their own prejudices. Wesley Snipes plays married uptown architect and Annabella Sciorra (The Sopranos) an Italian-American temp with aspirations beyond her working class milieu. Jungle Fever's up-beat soundtrack is courtesy of Stevie Wonder.
- Co-written by Lee and two of his siblings Cinque and Joie Lee, 1994's Crooklyn is marked as "a realistic corrective to those impossibly idealised families in sitcoms", bursting with '70s pop culture references and a spirited sense of fun.
- Based on Richard Price's novel (TV'sThe Wire), Clockers (1995) is a crime drama starring Isaiah Washington (Dr. Preston Burke, Grey's Anatomy), Delroy Lindo, Harvey Keitel, Mekhi Phifer and John Turturro. Set in a Brooklyn housing project, a rival drug dealer is murdered leading to a shocking confession and suitably gripping drama.
- Girl 6 (1996) is a satirical film about the commodification of sex. Bursting with recogniseable faces, Girl 6 stars Theresa Randle in the title role, Quentin Tarantino as a snaky film director, QT, Isaiah Washington as Girl 6's persistent ex-boyfriend, with cameos from Madonna, Halle Berry and Naomi Campbell, all appropriately accompanied by a funk-laden soundtrack by Prince.
- Summer of Sam (1999) recalls the Summer of '77 in New York City - a season marked by a heatwave, a blackout and the violent exploits of serial killer David Berkowitz - to explore deeper cultural anxieties played out against the deepening divide between neighbourhood buddies in what Sight and Sound described as "one of Lee's very best films - a sprawling, brilliantly acted character study."
- Based on David Benioff's novel, 25th Hour (2003) traces the last night of freedom for a convicted drug dealer in New York. Lee sets the story in the months following 9/11, allowing him to inject the feelings of the collective psyche into the film, as if using 25th Hour as a vehicle to capture his experience of post-9/11 New York. Edward Norton leads an all-star cast which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson and Brian Cox.
- Lee's excursion into genre filmmaking, heist thriller, Inside Man (2006), also screens. Lee casts Clive Owen and Denzel Washington in this cat and mouse drama (along with thriller queen Jodie Foster and Willem Dafoe), set in a fraught, multi-ethnic, post-9/11 New York City jittery about homeland security. With it's with pointed insights into race, class and power and sly wit, Lee has his stamp all over Inside Man.
Focus On Spike Lee screens Friday 5 - Sunday 14 December, 2008
More details here
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