As a rule, Spike Lee’s best films come in three registers: the fiery and rhapsodic poetry of a Baptist minister (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Chi-Raq), a self-conscious, ostensibly oneiric cool (25th Hour) that sometimes belies a deep reservoir of anxiety about the weight of its own images for “blackness” (Da Sweet Blood of Jesus), and somewhere not so much in the middle as feverishly and flagrantly ricocheting between polar opposites, pinching the unpinchable and thinking of cinema not as a tonal spectrum but a whirligig that shuttles us along many often disagreeing moral and modal registers. Lee isn’t as irreconcilably wacky as John Boorman, for Heaven’s sakes. But his best films, and his worst, are somewhat freakishly committed to their own energies, curious about their own tangents, cinema-crazed and hyper-literate at once, and above all essentially (self and socially) disruptive.
Frequently, this sense of disruption is to their detriment. But even at their worst, Lee’s films seldom want for inspiration, and we can certainly trust a Spike Lee joint to either light the building on fire, silently smolder with sustained intensity, or generally make you loopy, severing step A from B and hop-skipping to C in a gleefully personal, argumentative idiom that eschews reason for slantwise verve and often finds its own arrhythmic logic in the latter. Which is why BlacKkKlansman, the first universally appreciated Lee film in at least 15 years, is such a wonky, lopsided achievement, a truly peculiar success and failure in equal measure and often for all the same reasons. Continue reading