Conversation with . . . Spike Lee

16 03 2009

For over the past quarter century, no one individual has been more responsible for the explosion in popularity of African-American themes in film as Spike Lee.

With over 35 films since 1983, The 15-time Black Reel Awards nominee, Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated American film director, producer, writer, and actor returns to his independent roots with his latest film, “Passing Strange.”

**Click the image above to watch Spike Lee and the cast at Sundance discussing “Passing Strange.”**

The film, which had a successful debut during the Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of young black musician who travels on a picaresque journey to rebel against his mother and his upbringing in a church-going, middle-class, late 1970s South Central Los Angeles neighborhood in order to find “the real”. He finds new experiences in promiscuous Amsterdam, with its easy access to drugs and sex, and in artistic, chaotic, political Berlin, where he struggles with ethics and integrity when he misrepresents his background as poor to get ahead.

Lee sat down with journalist Laremy Legel during the Sundance Film Festival to talk about his latest work.

My interview with Spike Lee was far too rushed. I could have spent a few hours with the man behind “25th Hour,” “Inside Man,” and “Do The Right Thing.” Sadly, a few moments in the hectic Vitamin Water House here at Sundance were all the Oscar-nominated director had free. So that’s what we rolled with.

I should mention that our chat got off on the wrong foot, as the documentary he’s brought to Sundance, “Passing Strange,” deals with huge concepts … which led to me starting off with a question about Spike’s personal view of faith. I received a withering look on that front, but the interview got much better as I slowly dug myself out of the hole I’d created. Here’s what transpired:

Laremy Legel: There are a lot of big themes in Passing Strange that deal with faith. One of the things I think came up was the question of which is more important: believing in God or God actually existing. Do you have a take on that?

Spike Lee: I think God exists. So what are you saying?

I’m just asking if the faith in something is more important than the actuality.

SL: Look, that’s an individual question. Just like religion is an individual question. For me, I believe in God, God is real. I think Stew and Heidi (the writers and performers in the musical) feel that way too but you’d have to ask them.

It should be noted that the main character in the musical at one point says, point blank, that he doesn’t believe in God. So the question wasn’t completely out of left field… nevertheless, it gets better starting now!

How did you get involved with the production?

SL: I was a big fan of the show. Not when it started, but when it got to New York. It started here in the Sundance lab. I saw it downtown at the Joseph Papp Public Theater and then on the move up to Broadway. And then Steve Klein, one of the producers on the show, asked me to film it.

How difficult was it to film? Because I noticed so many different shots and angles.

SL: Well, we had to figure it out. It couldn’t just be recording actors on the stage. We had to really think about what myself and the great cinematographer Matty Libatique (could do). He shot for me “Inside Man” and “Miracle at St. Anna,” and also “Iron Man” this past summer. We had to figure out how we were going to bring cinema to a staged musical.

Was it all one show?

SL: No, it was three different shows. It was the last two shows and then we came back the day after it closed and ran through the whole show again without the audience.

How many times have you seen the show?

SL: Twice for the public, four times on Broadway, and after I knew I was going to do it probably another ten times.

To read the rest of the interview, click here.




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