First Encounters with a Spike Lee Joint

The first time I laid eyes on a Spike Lee Joint was by marvellous chance, and I haven’t looked back since. I was a young movie lover, not particularly well versed in the film canon when I finally saw Lee’s critically acclaimed Do the Right Thing (1989). My mind was completely blown, and to this day I’m still profoundly enamoured with his vision. That was when I made my mind up that I wanted to be a part of the significant art of storytelling.

Lee’s poetic tale of racial tension amongst Brooklynites and the chaos that ensues between them on the hottest day of summer, resonated with me in a way that only the most ingenious storytelling could possibly do. Throughout the film it’s impossible not to be impressed by the morality that seems to permeate its every moment, giving the film an almost musical appeal comparable to a Broadway show.

While I watched Lee’s 30+ movies, including She’s Gotta Have It, Mo’ Better Blues and Jungle Fever, I was struck by Lee’s clear minded examination of sex, salvation and racism, which is infused into every moment, along with that classic Spike Lee feel of urban culture.

Each of Lee’s films feature an ensemble cast that deliver poetry in motion. His frequent players include Denzel Washington, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson and his sister actress and activist Joie Lee – just to name a few.

Washington’s role as neurotic jazz musician Bleek Gilliam alongside Wesley Snipes in Mo’ Better Blues, 1990. 

The trumpets and saxophones you hear thought out a classic Spike Lee Joint are his homage to an era in which blues and suffering were manifested through brass instruments, personifying repressed passion. You can’t help but be struck by the sound of a horn blowing angst and could just as easily fall into a sombre mood when piano keys slowly trickle down the keyboard, implying a story of pain, slowly and deliberately. Lee gives us an unmeasurable levels of contrast in cinema.

By mixing the art of storytelling against the feel of jazz, he often plays on our emotions, often resulting in a profound cinematic experience, pulling viewers into the realm of theatre. With Brooklyn, New York being the symbolic location for Lee’s characters to come to life, those who move through his oeuvre will soon realise that his films are nods to his own life and experiences.

Perhaps the most direct example is Lee’s semi-autobiographical film, Crooklyn (1994), inspired by the experiences of he and his sister Joie, growing up poor in Brooklyn and spending the summers visiting with affluent family in the south.

All in all, Spike Lee’s timeless body of work is more than the sum of its parts.. He shows you his perspective of urban life so beautifully directed and scored that his films will stand the test of time. This is for you, Spike.

 

Kaja Box is a writer from Los Angeles, CA. A passionate 20 something year old, she aspires to work in film as well as writing for TV, and hopefully conjuring up the best TV show since Friends. Hopefully. I draw comics in my spare time and freelance awesome blogs.

4 thoughts on “First Encounters with a Spike Lee Joint

  1. I echo what Pete and Steve said about Do the Right Thing. I think Lee has carried a rather large burden as the leading African American voice in American film for so long. His missteps — and I think there have been several — tend to get slammed harder than similar missteps by less iconic directors, and the fact that he has worked mostly in television for the past fifteen years is a testament to how difficult it is for out-of-the-mainstream voices to secure financing for feature films.

  2. I watch Do The Right Thing every summer here in Brooklyn. I wait for it to get good and hot. It never grows tired or old. One of the greatest of modern films by one of the greatest living directors.

  3. ‘Do The Right Thing’ is one of my favourite modern American films, and you rightly do Spike Lee justice with this tribute. It was high time that someone came along to put the Black American experience into the mainstream, and Spike Lee was that person. A couple of years later, John Singleton also impressed, with the powerful Boyz n the Hood.’
    Best wishes from England. Pete.

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