With BlacKkKlansman being hailed as Spike Lee’s “most accessible and narratively satisfying movie in more than a decade” (to quote The A.V. Club’s review), this is the perfect time for burgeoning cinephiles to acquaint themselves with the iconic director. And this new 14-minute video essay from ScreenPrism offers a great crash course in Lee’s signature style. Admittedly, nothing here will be too surprising for film nerds or Lee aficionados. But for those who aren’t super familiar with Lee’s 30+ year career, ScreenPrism’s essay is a great place to start.
The video essay establishes 16 elements that define a Spike Lee film—or, in the director’s own parlance, a Spike Lee Joint. Some of these seem fairly obvious (a lot of Lee’s films are set in Brooklyn), but others dig into the nuances of the way Lee uses stylistic techniques to complement his storytelling. The essay ultimately zeroes in on the core philosophy behind Lee’s work as a director: He uses a hyper-stylized aesthetic to tell a story deeply rooted in real world issues. As ScreenPrism puts it, “Lee’s not trying to create a comfortable cinematic experience where you go home satisfied and forget about what you just saw. He wants to provoke and confront us.” The essay goes on to compare Lee’s films to the intentionally alienating theater of 20th century playwright Bertolt Brecht, and to explore the defining “wake up!” ethos embedded in Lee’s work. Naturally, it also provides a primer on perhaps Lee’s most well-known visual signature: the double dolly shot.
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