Tuesday evening, my wife and I attended a special Tribute to Spike Lee at the Castro. First, David Thomson interviewed Lee on the Castro stage. Then, after an intermission, they screened Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman.
As so often happens at these big events, a huge chunk of the house was reserved. If you’re not some form of VIP, your seat choices are: extremely close, far back, off to the sides, or high in the balcony. Luckily for me, I’m happy extremely close, but others were not so pleased.
Some highlights from the interview, edited for clarity and brevity (but not censored for language). Photos by Madeline Prager.
- On getting everything together to make a film: This shit is hard; as hard as a motherfucker. There’s nothing easy about filmmaking.
- I have to give some love to Jordon Peele [who produced]. He pitched me BlacKkKlansman. I thought he was talking about Dave Chappelle’s skit.
- We didn’t want to rely too much on the book [Ron Stallworth’s memoir, Black Klansman].
- What Hollywood did to native Americans is criminal.
- Before DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, the Klan was dormant. That movie brought it back. We’re taught about Griffith’s innovations, but the social impact of his film isn’t taught.
- As a kid I loved Sean Connery’s James Bond movies.
- When I saw Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field, and his car broke down in a nunnery, even as a kid I was saying “Get out of there. They’re gonna say you raped these nuns!”
- We can’t move forward until we can all agree that our country was founded on genocide and kidnapping. The founding fathers owned slaves. We need to acknowledge what this country is based on.
- I discovered the power of cinema after seeing a Bruce Lee movie. A thousand kids up and down the block were playing with nunchucks.
- I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with blaxploitation movies. I understood the power of seeing a brother kicking a white man’s ass. But the stories didn’t elevate people.
- Can films change society? Yes. I made a documentary called 4 Little Girls. Everyone knew who planted the bomb, but for years that case remained dormant. When the film opened in New York, many years later, the FBI reopened the case. Not a coincidence.
- Why don’t you act anymore? I don’t like it. I can’t remember my lines.
There was no Q&A with the audience. After the talk and an intermission, we watched BlacKkKlansman – the second time for me.
This might be the most conventional Spike Lee Joint made; with only a few of his signature touches. But the mostly normal approach was the right one for this very effective comedy-laced thriller. In the 1970s, two cops, one black, one Jewish (John David Washington and Adam Driver) investigate the local KKK chapter. On one level, this is a very entertaining movie – suspenseful, funny, and comically nostalgic at the music, clothes, and especially the hair of the time. But it’s also a serious study about the vicious racism and antisemitism in our country, and the different ways blacks and Jews deal with it. Clips from Gone with the Wind, The Birth of a Nation, and last year’s Charlottesville riots provide context.
I give it an A.
If you’ve already seen the movie, you might want to read my Truth vs. Art article.