Monday, September 29, 2008
Spike makes New Classic Joint
Last evening I had the pleasure of checking out Spike Lee's new film, Miracle at St. Anna. Like most, I was eager to see how my man Spike would capture the stories of African American soldiers in World War II (WWII). All types of questions swirled around in my mind about scope and span of such a project. As a historian, I was even more anxious to see how Spike would tackle such a complicated subject--the "Double V Campaign" meaning victory aboard against Hitler and victory at home against Jim Crow policy that was the rallying cry for African Americans during WWII. To date the only movie that I thought even attempted to capture this topic with any sophistication was A Soldier's Story (1984) directed by Norman Jewison.
I purposely never watched any trailer for Lee's new film, nor sought to find out which notable actors were involved in the project, if there were any at all. Additionally, I didn't know until after I got home from the theater that the movie was adapted from the novel of the same name by celebrated writer (and musician) James McBride. I did not even see Spike on Oprah last week either (not that I would have watched). I wanted to go into the theater with a tabula rassa other than my historical knowledge of the period and African Americans place in it.
In a New York Times interview, Lee said that he had always wanted to make a WWII epic and with the backing of Walt-Disney (yes, you read right, I couldn't believe it either) he certainly had the budget to do so. I wondered if Lee would find actors to give the story the life that Howard Rollins, Jr., Adolf Caesar, Denzel Washington, and comedians Robert Townsend and David Alan Grier did almost twenty-five years prior in the film adaptation of Charles Fuller's Pulitzer-Prize winning play. I wondered if Spike Lee's love of his signature 360-degree camera angles would get in the way of telling a story that would engross and capture the viewer, like a reader of fine poetry. Could Terrance Blanchard create a score for this film that would not get in the way of the actors performances like a delicate pianist accompanying a soloist? Blanchard had done so in Lee's HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina, entitled, When the Levees Broke: A Requim in Four Acts (2006), but still I wondered what I would see and hear.
I thought that 2000's Bamboozled was Lee's crowning achievement dealing with race and the sociopathic nature of America, her history of hate, and how entrenched and damaging racialized stereotypes are. His biopic of Malcolm X (which I'm still waiting for Denzel to get an Oscar for) was Lee's towering success at not just a historical film or particular historial figure, but some of the best damn acting on screen. I really began to think, "Spike how are you going to top yourself?"
To my amazement and satisfaction he did just that. Before I started writing this post I searched over twenty blogs and checked out a number of reviews, which were quite scathing and dismissive of the film. However, I expected that. When Malcolm X (1992) was released, I remembered how it was glanced over as well. Most said the movie was too long and yet it did not prevent blackfolk from leaving church early (like my family did) to see it when it was released. Understand though that this epic is about 160 minutes in length, but I did not realize it until Iooked at my watch when I was watching the ending credits.
There were a few reviewers that saw what I saw...an amazing achievement for not only Spike Lee, but movies generally. Lee was able to tell a number of intertwined stories simultaneously that did not just hark solely on the issue of race, which most tend to expect from Lee. Nor was it solely about the cruelty of war. The Miracle at St. Anna illustrates the complexities of the human condition whether it is the senseless murder of innocents by German forces, or the beauty of the compassion for an orphaned Italian boy by an African American soldier from the rural American South who had "never been so close to a white person."
Spike Lee castes his camera's lens on all aspects of war and life in general. With the help of several great actors, such as Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and the unforgettable work of Omar Benson Miller and Matteo Sciabordi, Miracle at St. Anna reminds one of the beautiful fragility of life, the courage to hope and dream, and to simply live when times say that dreaming and living are impossible. Historically speaking, Lee picks up where A Soldier's Story left off...his adaptation of McBride's novel brings voice to the voiceless and attention to those that have been so long ignored.
That being said, PLEASE GO SEE FOR YOURSELF and support Bro. Spike!
Posted by negrointellectual at 4:54 AM