Tuesday, September 30, 2008

If I Could Be Like Spike............

With the recent release of "Miracle at St. Anna", I want to discuss a topic that many people sleep on. Spike Lee is one of the most overrated people in Hollywood. (Yeah I said it). I too grew up looking at Spike Lee as a pioneer for black people in Hollywood. I can't take that status away from him, however, I would like to make the case that the vast majority of his success is based on movies that he produced/directed twenty years ago. And for that, I can't give him credit. To me it would be akin to saying that Ronald Isley is a great singer for the work that he did with R. Kelly. Sorry, being Mr. Big is not the reason we love the Isley Brothers!

My first introduction to Spike Lee was in 1989 when he released Do the Right Thing. I was only 11, but I thought it was an incredible movie. (Thank God for the left nipple! Lol). After seeing that movie, I remember hearing about "She's Gotta Have It", and "School Daze". To this date, I have not seen either of them in their entirety, but the parts that I have seen of them have been entertaining at least. In my life, Spike Lee became, probably, the first Hollywood person that I began to eagerly anticipate the next movies.

Do the Right Thing was followed by Mo Better Blues and Jungle Fever. I've never seen all of Mo Better Blues, but I did enjoy Jungle Fever. Spike Lee followed up Jungle Fever with what I believe to be one of his best movies. Malcolm X was released in November of 1992. The thing I remember about the most about the movie had nothing to do with what I actually saw on the screen. What I remember most was the fact that Spike had the hood blown up with X gear. (And no, not all of it was officially licensed merchandise. As a matter of fact, I'd say that the majority of it was unlicensed merchandise). X hats, X medallions, and of course the X t-shirts were very prevelant. I spent the summer of 1992 in Chicago visiting my grandparents, and hustle man made a killing that summer.

So to quickly recap, between 1986, and 1992, Spike had a string of either financially successful or critically successful hit. Well lets just say that as of 1992, he began to rest on his laurels.

His next film was Crooklyn. Crooklyn is a story told from the perspective of a little girl growing up in Brooklyn, New York. I saw this movie in my mass media class senior year in high school. I was excited to see this movie. Up until that point all that I really knew about the movie is that it had a decent soundtrack. (Headlined by the single "Crooklyn" performed by the Crooklyn Dodgers (Masta Ace, Buckshot, and Special Ed). Well I was terribly disappointed. To me, the movie was crap. I tried to see where Spike was going with this one, but I just couldn't relate. To this day, I don't quite understand what the message was. Which was a stark contrast to the fact that Spike's earlier movies dealt with larger social issues. Strike one at that point.

Stike two for Spike was an absolute abomination. Drop Squad was released in 1994. Now, the difference with this movie is that it was directed by Spike. However he did produce it. And my god was it awful. Drop Squad dealt with a successful black man who in the opinion of his family had "sold out". The Drop Squad was a group of individuals who kidnapped him, and was given the task of helping him to rediscover his black roots. The premise of the movie was half-way decent. And to a degree, Spike had gotten back to dealing with social issues. But the application went horribly wrong. This movie was painful to watch. I guess at that point, I hoped that this was the worse that Spike had to offer, as you will read later, I was sooooo wrong.

In 1995, Spike also produced New Jersey Drive and Tales from the Hood. Both movies were alright at best. Once again though, these movies spawned very good soundtracks. (Especially New Jersey Drive).
Later in 1995, Spike directed Clockers. What I recall of this movie is that it dealt with drug dealing. Once again it had a decent soundtrack, no major hits though. The most memorable aspect of this movie is that it, more or less, introduced the world to Mekhi Phifer. Other than that, the movie was very forgettable. I should have begun to see a pattern from Mr. Lee, but I continued to give him the benefit of the doubt.

1996 brought us Girl 6. A movie that really brought nothing to the table for me. Later in 1996, he directed Get On the Bus, a movie that followed a group of black men headed to the million man march in Washington D.C. I did not see this movie due to the fact that by this time I was pretty much skeptical of most everything Spike did. He directed 4 little girls in 1997. I watched this movie for some class that I was taking in college. As a documentary, the movie wasn't bad. But as I see it, I can't really give him a whole lot of credit for simply recounting the facts of history to us. (Sorry Spike).

In 1998, Spike teamed up with Denzel Washington for a third time to bring us He Got Game. This movie was crap to the second power. If it weren't for Drop Squad, I would say that this movie was his worse up until that point. Spike produced the Best Man in 1999. A decent movie. And I would love to say that he had gotten his groove back at that point. But also in 1999, he directed Summer of Sam. This movie dealt with the feelings of people throughout his beloved New York during the murder spree of the Son of Sam killer. Horrible movie. Almost worse than He Got Game. In 2000 he directed the movie The Original Kings of Comedy starring Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, and D.L. Hughley. I once again would love to give Spike the credit for this one, but the comedians did all the work. And its not like Spike discovered their talents. These were very successful and established Comedians at the time. So no props to Spike.

Then came Bamboozled later that year. If I ever post a worst ever list of movies, Bamboozled will definitely be in the top 5. (Somewhere behind The Pledge and The Bad Lieutenant). Bamboozled is about a tv show creator who creates what he believes is the worse show known to man. To his surprise, the show is a hit. Bamboozled once again deals with the issue of "selling out". I heard that this movie is a slap at BET. While I echo Spike's sentiments that BET has done more to degrade black people than to enhance us as a people, Bamboozled was crap. All that I could say about Spike at this point was that I was done. No longer would I give him a chance. I had invested too much time and money into his visions. And no longer were his visions anything that I could conceptualize in my mind and heart.

Spike has done a lot more work since then. Of course, most of it very forgettable. I saw another documentary that he did regarding Hurricane Katrina, and I have to admit that I found it to be entertaining. Unfortunately I thought that the movie was very slanted to the view that the federal government screwed up, and while they did, I as a documentarian would have also addressed how state and local officials screwed up. And to a larger degree, how the residents of New Orleans did do much to protect themselves. (But that's a topic for a later blog).

Now in this world, what speaks more than words is money. So I want to show how much Spike's movies have made at the box office. (To the right is the movie's cost to make).

Do The Right Thing $27,545,445 (6.5 million dollars)
Mo' Better Blues $16,153,593 (10 million dollars)
Jungle Fever $32,482,682 (14 million dollars)
Malcolm X $48,169,910 (34 million dollars)
Crooklyn $13,642,861 (14 million dollars)
Drop Squad $734,693 (2 million dollars)
Tales From the Hood $11,837,928 (6 million dollars)
New Jersey Drive $3,565,508 (5 million dollars)
Clockers $13,071,518 (25 million dollars)
Girl 6 $4,939,939 (12 million dollars)
Get on the Bus $5,754,249 (2.4 million dollars)
4 Little Girls $130,146
He Got Game $21,567,853 (25 million dollars)
Summer of Sam $19,288,130 (22 million dollars)
Original Kings of Comedy $28,182,790 (3 million dollars)
Bamboozled $2,274,979 (10 million dollars)

Of the sixteen movies I listed, only seven of the movies recouped the money spent to make them.

Which brings us to 2008. I first saw a preview for Miracle at St. Anna while at a car wash in Phoenix. Movie looks great. It deals with history, something I love. Seems like an adventure of sorts, I was hooked. And then I found out that it is directed by Spike Lee. Damn! As much as I want to give it a chance, I just can't find it within myself to be fooled by him again. I respect Spike's contribution to the advancement of blacks in Hollywood. He's paved the way for people like John Singleton, the Hughes Brothers, and Tyler Perry. My entire argument is that Spike is riding off the success of the past. And unfortunately in Spike's past, for every Do the right thing, there's been several Drop Squads. And for that, I refuse to be Bamboozled again!

1 comment:

Just Jasmine said...

OH Hell no...
I actually really liked Bamboozled and He got Game but then again i can't be impartial because I love Ray Allen