Friday, October 10, 2008

Spike Lee in the New Yorker

John Colapinto's recent New Yorker piece on filmmaker Spike Lee is a comprehensive look at his career, with some great insights on the director's working relationship with his composer in chief, NOLA-born jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

Colapinto writes, "Unlike most directors, Lee includes the composer in the process from the start, often before a script even exists—'from the inception of ideas,'as he puts it. During shooting, Lee sends Blanchard the dailies, and once a rough cut is assembled Blanchard travels to New York, where he and Lee watch the film and discuss where to put music. Blanchard then creates musical sketches and themes, which he sends to Lee. 'Once I O.K. that,' Lee says, 'Terence sits down and writes the music.' Blanchard later told me that Lee is unusual for his love of highly melodic scores that can almost stand on their own in live performance."

The long (but of course, it's The New Yorker) story also probes Lee's views on racial issues, including the presence or lack thereof of African-Americans in movies about WWII (hence that feud with Clint Eastwood).

The story, too, includes Martin Scorsese's positive take on Lee's work as a filmmaker: " 'I always responded to his work as a fresh, original American voice in cinema—mainstream cinema,' Scorsese told me. 'From ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ all the way up to ‘Inside Man’ '—Lee’s 2006 film about a bank heist and his biggest commercial success to date. 'I like the way he tells a story with pictures and sound, which is filmmaking. He actually pushes the medium in narrative storytelling. The way he uses the moving camera, the way he edits films, the use of music, the film stock that he uses—in particular, in one of the best American films, ‘Malcolm X,’ but also in the documentaries. When you look at the list of the work that he’s done—films, commercials, documentaries—the nature of the voice that he is in the entertainment industry in America is quite unique.'”

The section on She's Gotta Have It, Lee's first film, brought back memories of how much I was knocked out by the freshness and originality of Lee's early work.

Interesting side note in the story: Barack and Michelle Obama went to see Do the Right Thing on their first date.

The story points out that Lee attended NYU's grad filmmaking program beginning in 1986. I was at NYU, as a cinema studies student, very briefly, in the summer of 1985 (a lack of funds resulted in a return to Florida and resumption of my newspaper career). So maybe I should have stuck around, huh?

I've yet to see Lee's new Miracle at St. Anna's, but it's on my list.

No comments: