Lee had a great idea here, and there are flashes of brilliance that
show what the film might have been:
- There are some
very powerful moments on the dramatic side, especially when Lee
showed the effect of the show on the people, black and white, who
created it and star in it or have to justify it.
- There is a Malt
Liquor commercial and a clothing commercial that are scathingly
funny, and several alternate versions in the DVD deleted scenes.
- Lee collected and
presented a compendium of racist images from the segregated years.
I got an education in the deprecatory symbols that used to be sold
in the Five-and-Dime of every small town in America. Lee collected
not only the artifacts, but many film clips from the movies and
cartoons of the era. Watching those moments, seeing those
artifacts, and hearing black actors talk matter-of-factly about
the "jolly nigger bank" was horrifying and embarrassing
- The main character
- a tap dancer - grows in the course of the film. At first he's a
simple guy, a guy who just wants to dance, and doesn't care what he
has to do to get his chance. He doesn't know anything about the
history of black/white relations, and the symbolism is pretty much
lost on him. As time goes on, he starts to see why he is making a
mistake, but his revelation comes too late, and he becomes the
film's only likeable male character, and its most tragic one.
The film cuts very
close to the bone, and is very cynical about the mainstream white
American audience. That was on the cutting edge, but I think the film
fell down in some ways:
- It couldn't decide
on a consistent tone. Is it a comedic satire? Damn, I don't think
so, because the situations have a certain too-realistic
underpinning. Yes, there are satirical elements of course, and
some laughs, but the film is really a serious historical polemic
and a serious drama masked as satire. The historical reminders
served to undercut the comedy. There is only so far one can go
with reality in a comedy. Would "Springtime for
Hitler" have been funny if it took place at Auschwitz? I
don't think even Mel Brooks could have pulled that off.
- I don't believe
Damon Wayans was a sensible casting choice. I think they would
have been better off making this role real and believable and
conflicted, and hiring a sophisticated black guy to play a
believable Harvard grad, instead of letting Wayans do the role
with his silly "trying to sound white" voice. Wayans is
a really funny man, but this was almost a completely unfunny role, even
if the film did have humorous elements. Think about it. This is a
guy who tried to create a show that would get him fired, and
instead created a hit. In doing so, he created a lot of pain for
black people, destroyed his own credibility, and ended up shot to
death. Does Wayans sound like the right guy to you? It could have
been a great character if the actor had the right dramatic chops.
DVD info from Amazon.
Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1
"making of" documentary
a dozen deleted scenes
The trailers, an animated art gallery, and a music video
- Although the art
and set direction is very impressive in its way, the movie itself
looks like it was filmed with a camcorder.
- You have to make a
satire either believable or surreal. Which was this? Not surreal, because
some characters are deeply grounded in reality. Not believable -
would this fictional Minstrel Show really become a hit? I don't think
there's any chance it would ever get past the concept stage, not even if
masked as deep satire. The film got trapped vacillating between
the real world and the bizarro world.
- The minstrel
numbers occupy too much screen time. When we first see the racist
images, they are both funny and effective. Show them to us and then move
the plot forward, or show them in montage, but don't show us 12
minutes of that schtick in real time.
The movie just
doesn't click, never finds the right voice. It's an interesting film,
though, with a lot of brilliant moments, and you wish he could have
taken this brilliant concept, worked on it longer, and had it more
polished before he started to yell "action". I don't believe
that Lee understands the word "subtle". A little subtlety
would have worked wonders with this movie.
I appreciate that
Spike Lee is an innovator, and is willing to say what people don't
want to hear, and I generally agree with his points. He's tough and
honest and uncompromising, and we need that kinda guy, but I believe he needs
to find the right voice to carry his message. After
all, a film director is really supposed to be about the voice first,
the message second. If I just wanted a sermon, I'd choose another
location besides a movie theater.
General consensus: two stars across the
board. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 2/4, Maltin 2/4.
summary. Many critics did like it. 55% positive overall,
50% from the
- A box office failure, with
only $2 million domestic gross.
guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of
excellence, about like three and a half stars
from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm
watchability, about like two and a half stars
from the critics. The fives are generally not
worthwhile unless they are really your kind of
material, about like two stars from the critics.
Films under five are generally awful even if you
like that kind of film, equivalent to about one
and a half stars from the critics or less,
depending on just how far below five the rating
guideline: A means the movie is so good it
will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not
good enough to win you over if you hate the
genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an
open mind about this type of film. C means it will only
appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover
appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you
like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if
you love the genre. F means that the film is not only
unappealing across-the-board, but technically
inept as well.
Based on this
description, this film is impossible to rate. It is a historical
lesson, a comedy, and a drama? It is not an especially funny
comedy, but has some powerful dramatic moments, and is a good
historical lesson. I guess a C,
for lack of a better choice.