BlacKkKlansman, a Spike Lee Joint. Spike Lee has had a profound effect on me and was a true inspiration for my getting involved in filmmaking. And even though BlacKkKlasman is not wholly written by Spike Lee it has every element, including sho nuffs, to make the viewer understand this is the work of the great cinematic auteur, Spike Lee. His strength for me is the mixing of theatricality, graphics and traditional narrative conventions. There is also always something kind of off in a Spike Lee joint. The characters are not all developed, but purposefully caricatured. He paints many of his characters with broad strokes. He concentrates on his leads, their lives, their mistakes and passions. Everyone else is just a satellite to these stars.
One thing you notice immediately in a Spike Lee joint is the intense and beautiful score by constant collaborator Terence Blanchard. Terence Blanchard is a musical genius and has scored every Lee film since 1991’s gem Jungle Fever. Also, you will notice the ensemble cast. Lee uses many of the same actors in his films, sometimes I find this distracting but at the same time I think it’s cool and works. Ultimately, Spike Lee puts his style, his stamp, over just about anything else in his films. This might be an effect of his commercial work but it’s there. In Lee you find strange situations like a woman dancing not long after she is attacked by a police officer. Or strange cuts that don’t make sense, like jump cuts that seem to be simply editing errors. But again, it’s a Spike Lee joint. It’s a living organic work. In Hitchcock it’s the over the top exactitude that’s the style. And his films can be said to suffer for that too—however others love it. It’s what makes Hitchcock, Hitchcock. And the same can be said for Lee.
BlacKkKlansman includes strong performances by John David Washington (yes, the son of that Washington) and Adam Driver but the most emotional part of the film is the document at the end which chronicles the assassination of Heather Heyer by a white nationalist Nazi during a peaceful protest in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017. It’s not just a social document for its own sake but it ties together brilliantly the naiveté of the protagonist, Ron Stallworth, in this 1970’s period piece and his assumption that America had moved forward and that its race relation problems were in the rear view mirror. As the first black detective in the Colorado Springs PD he explains to a lieutenant in a back hallway at the police station how America would never again elect a racist president.
As a nation, we shouldn’t take films like BlacKkKlansman for granted. I am glad that it was screened here in my little corner of Wisconsin. Maybe the letters I send the movie chain about screening indie films are working? I don’t know but I am grateful I was able to watch this important film on the big screen and I recommend you do too if you have the chance.