Spike Lee’s crowd-funded erotic vampire blaxploitation film remake (and how glad am I to be able to type those words) is a sanguine, sultry, swaggering, sensuous smorgasbord of film history, chilled-over-icy Euro cinema cool, and simmering, low-key empathy. It is also slightly confused, off-handedly comic, and unusually bizarre in the mode of mid-’90s Spike Lee. For his part, Lee has always been a confused director, a director whose aspirations have almost always exceeded his grasp, and his ode to African American cinema is no different.
But Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (a name almost as wonderful to type as the film’s genre) is the right kind of mess, a kind of filmmaking in free fall. It’s like a Spike Lee joint right after a bar-room brawl, and that’s a ticket anyone should want in on. It opens on a recollection of the seminal opening to Do the Right Thing, where Rosie Perez flailed with fire and lust over the confrontational, brimstone-flinging “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy and Lee’s chalked-up street pop-art. In Da Sweet Blood, however, the tone and tempo are the polar opposite of Do the Right Thing. Charles “Lil Buck” Riley dances, surely, but he doesn’t flagellate. He shimmers and quavers. He pursues dance as interpretive surrealism, marking the film as something less pop-art sermon and more art-house eulogy. Continue reading →
Both the initial reason why Spike Lee is a household name and one of the most controversial films of all time, Do the Right Thing is a masterwork of undying tension and resistance, and one of the greatest films of the past 30 years about the very feeling abyss of inner city life. It’s a truly startling and affecting portrait of the simmering everyday hell of lives not lived, an apocalypse that just happens to resemble a Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York during the late 1980s and early 1990s. And more than anything, it’s a film which genuinely reveals and honestly understands the state of race relations in the United States at its time like no other. Like most great films, Do the Right Thing exists in shades of grey, in the blind spots, and it pries them right open until we’re suffocated by them. It isn’t preachy, and it doesn’t give any answers, nor does it act like it could if it wanted to. It simply sets you down in the trenches of this neighborhood and lets the characters interact with each other, telling a story brutally honest and completely free of melodrama or manipulation, all the while being clinically aware of its own distance from the subject matter it wished to depict. Watching Do the Right Thing is frustrating and aggravating, a breathless gasp of an experience that really causes one to sit back, as much a plaintive sigh as a shriek into the blistering day. It understands a certain world, our world, and it makes that world something to “feel”. The day depicted in the film isn’t one that the residents of this neighborhood will ever forget, and Lee, with his biting insight and seemingly preternatural understanding of the formal mechanics of film, makes sure we won’t either. Continue reading →