Spike Lee at UNT

12 11 2010

photo by Myles Johnson.

Legendary filmmaker Spike Lee talked about his life and career to a packed crowd at UNT’s Murchison Performing Arts Center.

The famed 11 year-old “beehive” has two premiere venus in the Lyric Theater and the Bill and Margot Winspear Hall.   The Winspear Hall seats just over 1,000 people and is by far one of the nicest venues in North Texas.

Spike started out the evening by asking “How bout them Cowboys!!!”, the reactions varied but it did start a fun banter between Spike and the audience about NYC vs Texas.

Spike then proceeded to talk  about the qualities he learned from his strong family and how those lessons helped him be fearless in his pursuits in life.  Spike’s ability to relate and show how the struggles in our lives do not dictate our future was quite moving.  He returned repeatedly to stories that showcased how a never-say-die attitude is the only way to live.  His message to the audience last night was always keep positive.

Photo taken by Myles Johnson

Spike discussed his Morehouse College days pretty extensively.  He was really proud that one day he was called into to speak with an adviser’s office.  The adviser informed Spike that he’d exhausted ALL of the electives at Morehouse and the he really need to figure out the next step in his life.   While at Morehouse he’d made his first short film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn. Spike and his family moved to the NYC borough when he was a young child and obviously the love for the city remains important to him to this very day.  Spike decided to use that film to try and get into film school.  The American Film Institute, USC and NYU were his choices.  His GRE scores knocked him out of contention at AFI and USC and so he was able to return to New York.  The Tisch School of the Arts is where Spike truly found his passion for film and he graduated in 1978 with a Master of Fine Art in Film and Television.  Spike didn’t discuss to much his actual films and rather concentrated on the college experience as he talked to a majority UNT film student filled audience.  He followed the discussion with an extended Q & A session.  The one question that stood out the most was when Spike was asked to clarify comments he made about Tyler Perry.  Spike eloquently responded by admiring Perry’s ability to market, but his showcasing of stereotypical aspects of the black community really offended Spike.  He brought up the great point that its sad that he hasn’t made a studio film in a long time.  And yet the Hollywood studio system had no issue bankrolling a film like SOUL PLANE.  His valid point that it appears that the black community, he’s fought so hard to positively represent in his film career, seems to be regressing as a culture.  The facts that 50% of African-American male high school students do not graduate.  In the end though he left the capacity crowd with the positive message to never give up.

I’ll end this piece by listing my top five Spike Lee Joints:

5.  Mo Better Blues (1990)  –

Mo' Better Blues Poster

Do The Right Thing is an iconic film and most people recognize it as Spike’s first major hit, but to me Mo Better Blues really captures a musical side that most white Americans didn’t realize was out there.  As a former DJ for UNT’s Jazz radio station KNTU 88.1 FM I really related to the beautiful music Spike captured.  And the back-and-forth nature of Denzel’s (as Bleek) and Wesley’s (Shadow) rivalry was quite amazing.

4. Clockers (1995) –

Clockers Poster

This film turned Mekhi Phifer into a legit presence on screen and established his solid career.  A powerful film about the battle between cops and young people.  Harvey Keitel also gives a hell of a performance.

3.  Inside Man (2006) –

Inside Man Poster

This bank robber tale was such a suspense-filled gem it really shocked me the first time I saw it.   Also one of the best usages of the “signature Spike walking shot” in any of Spike’s film.  Clive Owen showcased why he is one of the finest actors in the game and of course Denzel was great as usual.  A real shocker film for me in that I didn’t think much of it going in and was completely enthralled after the first 30 minutes.

2.  Malcolm X – (1992)

Malcolm X Poster

Powerful.  Educational.  Moving. Utterly Fantastic!  As a little Jewish white kid growing up in Dallas, Tx I was AMAZED at how Spike captured the story of Malcolm.  After Denzel’s performance in Glory, this film established him as one of the greatest actors of this and any generation.  Also Delroy Lindo gave another grand performance in a Spike Lee film.

1.  25th Hour (2002) –

25th Hour Poster

Quite possibly one of the finest films made in the 2000’s.  It still baffles me that people don’t realize what Spike did with this amazing story.   David Benioff’s screenplay is utterly magical.  I wasn’t familiar with the novel before the film, but after watching Spike’s film I’ve become a huge Benioff fan.  Gripping story with amazing performances by Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin, Rosario Dawson and my favorite in the film, Barry Pepper.  In my opinion Barry’s stand-out role and I haven’t passed on a film he has been in simply because his role as Frank was that quality.  Also another great usage of the signature “Spike walking shot” moments after PSH kisses Paquin.  Spike even talked about this sequence in the Q & A session (another quality question from the audience, sadly one of the few).

In the end it was an amazing evening spent with Spike Lee at my alma mater.  CAW!!!!!!!!!  GO MEAN GREEN!!!!!

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