Spike Lee Criticism - Essay

Stuart Mieher (essay date 9 August 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Spike Lee's Gotta Have It," in The New York Times Magazine, August 9, 1987, pp. 26-9, 39, 41.

[In the following essay, Mieher discusses the making of Lee's School Daze and his emerging success as a filmmaker.]

The scene is an old fairgrounds building in Atlanta, now Madame Re-Re's Beauty Salon, a surreal creation of plywood, plaster and paint. The set has been packed with a score of dancers, a film crew and the director Spike Lee, all of them sweating under 140,000 watts of lighting to piece together a production number. Now the crew is taking a break. The dancers, overheated, head for cooler air outside.

Lee wanders out too, a short,...

(The entire section is 3640 words.)

David Handelman (essay date 13-27 July 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Insight to Riot," in Rolling Stone, No. 556/557, July 13-27, 1989, pp. 104-9, 174-5.

[In the following essay, Handelman discusses the making of Lee's Do the Right Thing and its reception at the Cannes Film Festival.]

"I don't need this shit!" says USA Today gossip columnist Jeannie Williams. It's the morning of May 19th, and Williams has just seen the breakfast press screening of Do the Right Thing at the Cannes film festival. Tonight, the film will have its black-tie, red-carpet gala première at the Palais des Festivals, on the Côte d'Azur beach, where it will be competing with films from around the world for the coveted Palm d'Or...

(The entire section is 4770 words.)

Jim Merod (essay date Summer 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A World without Whole Notes: The Intellectual Subtext of Spike Lee's Blues," in Boundary 2, Vol. 18, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 238-51.

[In the following essay, Merod analyzes Lee's portrayal of jazz in his Mo' Better Blues, and includes a discussion with other scholars about the importance of jazz in the film.]

The depiction of jazz musicians and of jazz-related subjects in the history of North American film has suffered from the chronic neglect and misunderstanding that still marks this culture's pathological abuse of creative energy. The inventory of that abuse is poised to expand with another dramatic adventure in applied techno-sadism as...

(The entire section is 5390 words.)

Spike Lee with Janice Mosier Richolson (interview date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "He's Gotta Have It: An Interview with Spike Lee," in Cineaste, Vol. 18, No. 4, 1991, pp. 12-15.

[In the following interview, Lee discusses his film Jungle Fever and his approach to filmmaking.]

Spike Lee is a filmmaker with a vision and an agenda. He makes no bones about it: his purpose is to hold his cinematic mirror up to reflect African-American reality as experienced by his generation. These are the young blacks who grew up after the civil rights movement and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. They have seen the dream of a Great Society and Affirmative Action crumble into crackhouses and quota-babble.


(The entire section is 3363 words.)

Benjamin Saltman (review date Winter 1991–92)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Jungle Fever, in Film Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 2, Winter, 1991–92, pp. 37-41.

[In the following review, Saltman discusses Lee's Jungle Fever, asserting that 'Amid his pop sociology and artistic excesses, Lee demonstrates a thoroughly contemporary consciousness and the ability to put it on film."]

Spike Lee developed his skills in independent movie making and music videos, working his way up to become an American auteur—perhaps not quite ready to be an artistic successor to Woody Allen, but ready to enter the social and political space left by Costa-Gavras and Godard, and in racial issues to locate himself somewhere between...

(The entire section is 2123 words.)

Bert Cardullo (review date Winter 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Law of the Jungle," in The Hudson Review, Vol. XLIV, No. 4, Winter, 1992, pp. 642-7.

[In the following excerpt, Cardullo discusses Lee's Jungle Fever and suggests that Lee watch African films to "discover something not only about artistic economy, about the virtue (and resonance) of a simple tale straightforwardly told, but also about the culture of his Mother Africa."]

… Spike Lee's Jungle Fever is about villagers of a different kind: those of New York City, which, with the possible exception of upper Manhattan, is America's most parochial city. (My mother, who spent the first forty years of her life in Brooklyn, rarely felt the need to...

(The entire section is 2341 words.)

Spike Lee with Gary Crowdus and Dan Georgakas (interview date December 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Our Film Is Only a Starting Point: An Interview with Spike Lee," in Cineaste, Vol. 19, No. 4, 1993, pp. 20-4.

[In the following interview, which took place in December, 1992, Lee discusses the making of the film Malcolm X, and explains his reasons for excluding certain material.]

In addition to our Critical Symposium on Malcolm X, Cineaste felt it was important to talk to Spike Lee and incorporate his comments in our overall perspective on the film. In the following interview, Lee explains his primary desire to introduce Malcolm X to young viewers and his awareness that the time limits of even a nearly three and a half hour movie prevented him...

(The entire section is 5268 words.)

bell hooks (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Male Heroes and Female Sex Objects: Sexism in Spike Lee's Malcolm X," in Cineaste, Vol. 19, No. 4, 1993, pp. 13-5.

[In the following essay, hooks discusses Lee's treatment of women in his films, and asserts that by leaving out the title character's half sister from Malcolm X, "Lee continues Hollywood's devaluation of black womanhood."]

In all Spike Lee's films, he is at his creative best in scenes highlighting black males. Portraying black masculinity through a spectrum of complex and diverse portraits, he does not allow audiences to hold a stereotypical image. For that reason alone, I imagined Malcolm X would be a major work, one of his...

(The entire section is 2116 words.)

Bill Nasson (essay date December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A 'Whiteout': Malcolm X in South Africa," in The Journal of American History, Vol. 80, No. 3, December, 1993, pp. 1199-1201.

[In the following essay, Nasson discusses the reception of Lee's Malcolm X in South Africa.]

In Spike Lee's modest contribution to method writing, By Any Means Necessary, a high-octane account of the making of Malcolm X, we learn that on the Johannesburg shoot to capture Nelson Mandela as a Soweto teacher for the film's final clip, "there was a whiteout of our activities, like we were never there, according to the news organizations of South Africa." There is a nice whiff of radical audacity to this, but it is quite...

(The entire section is 1375 words.)

bell hooks (essay date August 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sorrowful Black Death Is Not a Hot Ticket," in Sight and Sound, Vol. 4, No. 8, August, 1994, pp. 10-14.

[In the following essay, hooks asserts that Lee's Crooklyn presents an "anti-woman, anti-feminist vision of black family life."]

Hollywood is not into plain old sorrowful death. The death that captures the public imagination in movies, the death that sells, is passionate, sexualised, glamorised and violent. Films like One False Move, True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Menace II Society, A Perfect World bring us the sensational heat of relentless dying. It's fierce—intense—and there is no time to mourn. Dying that makes audiences contemplative,...

(The entire section is 4722 words.)

Manohla Dargis (review date December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Crooklyn, in Sight and Sound, December, 1994, pp. 44-5.

[In the following review, Dargis praises Lee's Crooklyn citing the camera work, the music, and the fact that the film is presented through the eyes of a nine-year-old African-American girl.]

For a number of years now, Spike Lee has made more of a name for himself as an ideologue and entrepreneur than as a film-maker. Although he's one of the busiest of directors—six features, in addition to TV commercials, music videos, a production company, a record business, retail stores—his off-screen words and deeds have often commanded as much if not more attention than his work in film....

(The entire section is 835 words.)

Amy Taubin (review date October 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Clockers, in Sight and Sound, October, 1995, p. 45.

[In the following review, Taubin asserts that "In terms of form and content [Clockers is] easily Lee's riskiest and most accomplished film to date," but argues that the film does have flaws.]

In a drug-ridden Brooklyn housing project, Strike is a 16-year-old-clocker (lowest level drug dealer). Troubled by ulcers so severe they cause him to spit blood, he is nevertheless the favourite of Rodney Little, the local crack kingpin. Rodney asks Strike to prove his loyalty by killing Darryl, a young pusher that Rodney claims has been cheating him.

Strike heads for Ahab's, a...

(The entire section is 1127 words.)

Leslie Felperin (review date June 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Girl 6, in Sight and Sound, June, 1996, pp. 43-4.

[In the following review, Felperin analyzes Lee's Girl 6 as a response to criticism of Lee's treatment of female characters and in terms of its relationship to his earlier film She's Gotta Have It.]

New York City. The present. A young actress goes for an audition with a famous director, but when he insists she take her top off, she walks out, upset and humiliated. Her agent is furious with her, but her upstairs neighbour, Jimmy, offers sympathy. Fed up with low-paying jobs, she speaks to a woman who runs a 'phone-sex' business, but because she hasn't got her own line she has to look...

(The entire section is 1422 words.)

Colette Lindroth (essay date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Spike Lee and the American Tradition," in Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1996, pp. 26-31.

[In the following review, Lindroth discusses Lee's Do the Right Thing as an American narrative in the tradition of Huckleberry Finn.]

From the moment it opened, Spike Lee's movie Do the Right Thing has raised questions and aroused controversy among critics and ordinary moviegoers alike. From its initial success at the Cannes Film Festival to its almost complete exclusion from the Academy Award nominations, the film has provoked heated response from both defenders and attackers, and publications as disparate as Vogue, The New Yorker, American...

(The entire section is 3432 words.)

Kent Jones (essay date January/February 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Invisible Man: Spike Lee," in Film Comment, Vol. 33, No. 1, January/February, 1997, pp. 42-7.

[In the following essay, Jones discusses Lee's body of work.]

The proof of Spike Lee's insight is the clamor of opposing rash positions around his films—how difficult is it to imagine a scene from a Lee movie in which a gaggle of film critics scream their opinions about the relative worth of a young African-American filmmaker's oeuvre in each other's faces, shot in contrasting off-angles and perfectly sculpted light? His less sophisticated admirers, in other words those who are unwilling to apply the same sort of hardworking analysis to his work that he applies...

(The entire section is 3729 words.)