Spike Lee’s no-budget debut “She’s Gotta Have It” proved to be an imaginative and successful calling card for the director and his cinematographer Ernest Dickerson. Hollywood studios were eager to bankroll his company 40 Acres and a Mule and it was way past time that African-Americans wrote films, pointed the camera and got to shout “Action” and “Cut”. I was out of the UK for 1988’s “School Daze” so I did not see it at the cinema. It was 1989 before we got the chance to see a “proper” Spike Lee movie. We did the right thing and went to a flash movie palace in the heart of London’s West End to see “Do The Right Thing”. This is how it started…
The cinema was running some new-fangled THX, George Lucas, sound system and Public Enemy in full effect was the very thing. The highest fidelity for the best music around at the time. It was all very well going round to Run’s House to shake our thang to “A Salt With A Deadly Pepa” but come on. Public Enemy were talking loud and saying something with “Fight The Power”. “Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me”…and that’s the truth Ruth ! Here was our first view of Rosie Perez, all dressed up like a female Marisa Tomei, love (or something like it) at first sight. Spike could have gone with the B-Boys on the corner, all head spins and busting moves but he went better than that. A strong, athletic, aggressive, beautiful young woman totally into the thing she does so well, a release and a statement of intent…perfect. As the movie started we were already on Spike’s side. We settled back to enjoy a day in Bedford-Stuyvesant with Mookie, Buggin’ Out, Radio Raheem, Sweet Dick Willie and the rest. ” You wanna boycott someone ? You ought to start with the goddamn barber that fucked up your head”.
You know that the word “chic” is French right ? Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film “Bande a Parte” is Gallic insouciant cool transferred to celluloid. The scene where Anna Karina and her unlikely partners in crime dance in the cafe is fascinating, funny and straight from the fridge. The movie is maybe not as good as “A Bout de Souffle” or “Une Femme et Une Femme” (no Belmondo) but it obviously affected at least two of America’s best young directors. Quentin Tarantino paid his own homage to the scene when Vincent Vega and Mrs Wallace threw some shapes in “Pulp Fiction”, a film produced by his company A Band Apart.
Hal Hartley took a chance with “Simple Men” in 1992. His first two films had starred Adrienne Shelly, a luminous new star. Without her could Hartley deliver the enigmatic smartness of “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust” ? He could, “Simple Men”, a story of finding love in the unlikeliest of places at what is probably the wrong time, is a more complex and mature film than those two and is a cracking watch. Hartley finds the time for his own tribute to “Bande a Parte” with his protagonists dancing after an all-night drinking session, always a good way of bonding and moving a relationship forwards I find. His masterstroke for this fealty is to use Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing”. It’s a great and modern choice. Americans may not do “chic” like the French but they do “kool” pretty well.
I had been on to David Lynch since “Eraserhead” so “Blue Velvet” (1986) was a delight. OK strange, disturbing, even perverse but a delight none the less. This is a trip to the dark side of small town America and a whole lot more. This scene, Roy Orbison’s masculine and assertive “In Dreams”, Dean Stockwell’s commitment to the charade and Dennis Hopper’s enchantment is just perfect. It is hypnotic, it is memorable and it is “what the hell ?”. It is my favourite use of music as more than background, more than mood enhancement, in any film.
When we saw “Blue Velvet” the three of us brought more than a little of Frank Booth back home with us. For the rest of the week our house was a profane, aggressive, a little mad and bad. Is that usual after you have seen a movie ? I mean, it was just a movie, Booth was just a character right…right ?