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Friday, August 10, 2012

Spike Lee: The Bard of Brooklyn

Brooklyn has been so integral to the public persona of Spike Lee that it’s surprising to realize how long it has actually been since he ventured back to the borough of his childhood to shoot a feature film. Born in Atlanta, Lee moved to Cobble Hill when he was young, and his continued devotion to Brooklyn is evident not just in the fact that his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule, is still located a few blocks away from BAM, but also in the major local community events he has organized here, such as the Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson celebration that draws tens of thousands of fans to Prospect Park every summer. In a recent interview Lee even spoke about commuting daily to his Fort Greene office from his current home on the Upper East Side. (As the press has delighted in noting, though, he has stopped short of switching his allegiance to the New York Knicks over to the Brooklyn Nets.)

During his break from Brooklyn in the past decade, Lee's sights have turned to the demoralization of the nation in critically acclaimed work like the post-9/11 25th Hour and the Hurricane Katrina-themed When the Levees Broke. He’s also explored some of the ghosts of American history in Bamboozled, a bitingly satirical look at blackface, and Miracle of St. Anna, the story of four black American soldiers in World War II. Not since the 1998 sports drama He Got Game has Lee located an entire film in Brooklyn, and this return is not just one of geography, but also to the more modest scale of earlier films set in tight-knit communities like the Fort Greene of his debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It, and the Bed-Stuy of his 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing. Say what you will about Lee’s reputation for provocative public pronouncements, but Kings County has never had a more sensitive or compassionate chronicler, and you can see it in the joyful opening sequence of his deeply personal (and underrated) Crooklyn, which provides a loving survey of some of the street games of his youth.

In Red Hook Summer, which was polarizing when it premiered at Sundance but has since received some rapturous reviews, Lee turns his lens on the home of figures as varied as Al Capone, Norman Mailer, and Busta Rhymes—a neglected area of South Brooklyn that has undergone a fitful process of gentrification over the past several years. Seen through the eyes of a young boy from middle-class Atlanta, Red Hook and its housing projects suffer from crime, pollution, and unemployment, but Lee brings an unmistakable affection and tenderness to his panoramic portrait of the local African-American community. He even makes a cameo as Mookie, the iconic hero of Do the Right Thing, highlighting the decades-long continuity of some of the political and racial themes for which his cinematic portrait of Brooklyn continues to serve as a powerful symbol.

Join us for Red Hook Summer, which opens today in Brooklyn exclusively at BAM Rose Cinemas. Spike Lee will be in attendance at two sold-out screenings at 7:10 and 10pm.

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