The Spike Lee Joint Collection, Vol. 1
The phrase "American filmmaker" is a loaded one, and very few actually earn it. For a filmmaker to capture something of themselves on screen is admirable - for them to capture the temperature of the country is no less than miraculous. For more than 20 years, though, Spike Lee has been one of a small handful able to do so. You can see that in "He Got Game" and "25th Hour," both included in the recently released Blu-ray package "Spike Lee Joints Collection Vol. 1.".
"25th Hour" sets its sights on post-9/11 malaise, via Edward Norton's portrayal of condemned drug dealer Marty Brogan. He's been condemned to a year-long prison sentence, and thanks to his rich white background, he's allowed to live his last hours of freedom outside prison bars (you've got to love bail offers.) Hanging out for one last night (with friends played by Phillip Seymour Hoffmann and Barry Pepper, as well as with his girlfriend, played by Rosario Dawson, he contemplates an inconceivable loss - just like the rest of 2002 New York was.
"He Got Game," on the 2nd disc, features NBA star Ray Allen as a top college prospect, and Denzel Washington as his imprisoned father. That film, rather implausibly, sees a major college free Washington's character so that he can persuade Allen to accept an offer from their school, making this one of Spike's acidic satires. Yet, much like "25th," it manages to bottle up the anxieties of a nation - in this case, the way we turn athletic black individuals into celebrated commodities, and leave their peers, and fathers, behind to suffer in gun-store-infested slums.
The "He Got Game" disc comes with a sole special feature, an audio commentary with Lee and Ray Allen that broaches topics from the shooting of the film all the way to semi-recent NBA happenings. "25th Hour," in contrast, comes with plenty of extras, almost all of them ported from the original DVD release: deleted scenes, an audio commentary with Spike Lee, another with David Benioff, and a couple of featurettes (one that engages with the film's connection to 9/11, another on Lee himself.) To wrap up the package, there's another newly-recorded audio commentary - a third one for "25th," this time with Lee and Norton.
Spike's joints - not just these two, but almost every film he's made - are essential works of American cinema history. With each new film, he tackles new topics, new prejudices, new timeframes. It's infuriating to often see his body of work reduced to "Do the Right Thing," because Lee is one of the filmmaker's whose complete oeuvre is far more revealing - far more significant - than any of his single films are individually. His films, taken together, tell us as much about the America we live in and inhabit as do the films of Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, or Martin Scorsese. Spike Lee is nothing less than a living national treasure.
"The Spike Lee Joints Collection Vol. 1"