Oscary: Czasem świętować Spike'a Lee, reżysera, który nigdy nie unika kontrowersji

Oscary: Czasem świętować Spike'a Lee, reżysera, który nigdy nie unika kontrowersji

Sszczupak Lee nigdy nie stracił upodobania do prowokacji. Jego najnowszy film BlacKkKlansman – mało prawdopodobna prawdziwa historia czarnego oficera policji, Rona Stallwortha, który przeniknął do Ku Klux Klanu w latach 70. – zdobył sześć nominacji do Oscara, w tym do Best Director i Best Picture. Charakteryzujący się dużą dozą humoru i otwartości politycznej, które uczyniły Lee tak znaczącym artystą, film jest tylko ostatnim osiągnięciem w niezwykłej karierze filmowej, która trwa już ponad trzy dekady.

Urodzony w 1957 r. Shelton Jackson Lee nie zawsze dysponował luksusem w postaci wielomiliardowego budżetu BlacKkKlansman, oczywiście. Podczas kręcenia swojego pierwszego filmu, niezależnego filmu z 1986 roku Ona musi to mieć o młodej czarnej kobiecie na Brooklynie, poruszającej się na temat seksualnego wyzwolenia, nie był w stanie pozwolić sobie na film do powtórnych ujęć, więc większość produktu końcowego została wycięta z jedynym złapanym materiałem. Lee podobno poinstruował także obsadę i załogę, aby odłożyli wszystkie zużyte puszki po napojach, ponieważ potrzebowali pieniędzy z recyklingu.

Nawet jeśli Ona musi to mieć był jego pierwszym pełnometrażowym wysiłkiem, ustanowił wiele tematów i twórczej współpracy, która będzie kontynuowana przez całą karierę reżysera. Bill Lee, jego ojciec, skomponował ścieżkę dźwiękową filmu i przejdzie do kolejnych trzech filmów Lee. Jego rodzeństwo, Joie i Cinqué, pracowało z nim przez całą karierę w różnych rolach aktorskich, pisarskich, producenckich i filmowych, podczas gdy jego drugi brat David był jego fotografem.

Ta lojalność wobec współpracowników wykracza jednak poza linię Lee. Wielu aktorów, których obsadza, przekształca się w kolejne filmy – niektóre, takie jak John Turturro, aż dziewięć razy. Inne głośne gwiazdy, które pracowały na kilku "stawach Spike'a Lee" (jak są one określane w jego początkowych napisach) obejmują Samuel L Jackson, Denzel Washington i Wesley Snipes. I pokazuje tę samą wierność talentowi za kamerą, z wieloma jego załogami – takimi jak projektantka kostiumów Ruth Carter, autor zdjęć Ernest Dickenson i redaktor Barry Alexander Brown, by wymienić tylko kilku – współpracując z nim raz po raz.

Perhaps given this close-knit, familial feel to Lee’s sets, it’s no surprise that John David Washington – star of BlackKklansman and son of Denzel and Pauletta – addressed the director as “Uncle Spike” when he made his debut as a child in Malcolm X. Washington found his recent starring role an even more rewarding experience, calling it “the most freeing collaborative environment I’ve ever been able to work in.”

Spike Lee’s directing technique has led him to be described by some, including regular cast member Michael Imperioli, as an “actor’s director”. Thorough rehearsals – an unusual thing in the industry – allow the cast to better inhabit their characters, and Lee’s openness to improvisation has led to many of his oeuvre's most memorable moments. When filming the 1988 college feud musical School Daze, he put up the two competing sides of the cast in different hotels, not allowing them to interact during most of filming. When they were brought together to shoot a confrontation scene, the cast erupted into a spontaneous brawl, which Lee kept in the final cut.

In the 1998 film He Got Game, a climactic scene involves a high-stakes contest between a highly ranked basketball prospect, played by the pro baller Ray Allen, and his father, played by Denzel Washington. The script called for an 11-0 thrashing by Allen’s character, but Lee decided to let the two men shoot hoops for real. To the cheers of the onlooking crew, Washington scored the first four baskets, before Allen, likely suffering from hurt pride, was able to hit back and win the game.

Getting cast in a Lee film is trickier for some than others. According to a DVD commentary with Lee, Willem Dafoe was handed a part in his 2006 heist film Inside Man after standing at a urinal next to the director during the interval of a production of Julius Caesar, idly commenting that they should work together. On the other hand, Halle Berry auditioned five times for Jungle Fever, winning the role of Vivian – a sex worker and drug addict – only after showing up apparently unrecognisable, having not showered for a week.

In a speech introducing Lee at the 2015 Governors Awards, Samuel L Jackson described the unusual casting process for his earlier films. Lee would ring Jackson up, bark his name and the name of the project, then hang up (“‘Sam! Spike. Do the Right Thing! June!’ Click.”). When Jackson was cast in Lee’s 2013 adaptation of Oldboy, he was offered any part he wanted, aside from the lead. “I always wanted to be the crazy guy who runs the place where the main guy gets locked up,” he said. And so he was.

Despite having starred in four of Lee’s films during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jackson went many years without working with the filmmaker after the pair wound up in a public feud, which began with a disagreement over the racial politics of Quentin Tarantino. The Pulp Fiction star said their wives – LaTanya Richardson and Tonya Lewis Lee, themselves seasoned industry professionals – remained friends however, and it was through this that their friendship gradually healed. In addition to Oldboy, Jackson would have a role in 2015’s Chi-raq, and went on to describe their working relationship as “a wonderful journey with a wonderful friend”.

Edward Norton is also effusive in his praise of the director. “I think Spike’s the most socially conscious filmmaker of his generation,” he said in an interview with Elvis Mitchell on his talk show Under the Influence. “Spike’s rolled around in race, sports, fame, money, drugs – he's looked at it all. Spike can be so iconoclastic as a person that I think sometimes people miss how compassionate his movies are. I think he has a lot of empathy for everybody.”

Lee established a reputation as a controversial voice early on in his career – Norton describes Do the Right Thing as being “like a hand grenade went off in the theatre”, a reaction shared by contemporary and modern viewers alike. And BlacKkKlansman proves the filmmaker has lost none of his edge. David Boulton, his long-time sound mixer who worked on BlacKkKlansman, observed that “Spike finds humour in stuff you wouldn’t expect him to, like racial slurs.”

It is hard to overstate Lee’s importance in diversifying the American cultural landscape. Denzel Washington has claimed that “Spike Lee has put more African Americans to work in this business than anyone else in the history of this business”. Through a willingness to cast new and unknown actors, including many actors of colour, Lee, and his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks (which takes its name from the promise of reparations to emancipated black slaves in 1865 that was later reneged upon) are responsible for building the careers of several eminent stars, in addition to fostering talent on the technical side of filmmaking.

For example, Barry Alexander Brown, the editor on hits such as Do the Right Thing, as well as BlacKkKlansman, honed his craft alongside Lee. He had never cut with 35mm film until he had to learn on the job for She’s Gotta Have It. Costume designer Ruth Carter writes on her blog about being hired for School Daze, her first movie, and going to a local sports shop with Lee to buy props. After collecting enough merchandise to fill a giant hockey bag, the director – a devoted fan of the New York Knicks – hurried off to attend a game, leaving Carter to haul all the props across town by herself. Still, she also reminisces fondly about working in an old renovated fire station, where 40 Acres and a Mule operated from 1985 until 2008.

Samuel L Jackson said that Lee “has told the story of our people in his way. His politics are the politics of an American anarchist.” While BlacKkKansman may not be his most anarchic piece of filmmaking – it is, after all, still a film about law enforcement – its awards season recognition offers a fine opportunity for the world to celebrate the artistry of a man who has had such a profound influence on the style and politics of modern cinema.


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