Red Hook Summer
Most Spike Lee pictures open up with startling power. I mean, Rosie Perez miming to ’Fight the Power’ over the opening credits of "Do the Right Thing"? The man has crafted images that transcend adjectives; they’ve defined eras. And so it’s quite deflating to see his latest work, the shoestring-budgeted "Red Hook Summer," open with an inelegantly framed view of the sky - shot from an iPad, no less.
What follows isn’t bad as much as it is disappointing. It’s definitely not impersonal, all the Spike trademarks are here: the roving cameras, the ubiquitous soundtrack, the glorious character names. And I’m not exaggerating that last part - he follows 13-year-old Flik Royale, sent from Atlanta to the titular borough to stay with his grandfather Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse, as he spends his summer filming a "documentary" and flirting with the vivacious Chazz Morningstar.
It’s interesting in the way that all of Spike’s movies are, but it’s lacking the visual poetry, the forward moving cinematic energy, that has made even his weaker efforts magical. I think the switch to digital photography, which has rendered the colors he once captured with hallucinogenic fervor into a flat muddy mess, has something to do with it. But I mainly think the issue is with his two teenaged stars; who, to be frank, would be found lacking as the leads in an 8th grade school play. "Moonrise Kingdom" this is not.
You can hear him explain himself on the Blu-ray’s best extra, a feature-length audio commentary. Spike’s "joints" are always divisive: he’s made a career of putting up provocative statements about class, crime, the justice system, politics, and every other aspect of America he can turn his camera on; and "Red Hook," relative mediocrity aside, is no different.
So it’s great to hear him explain his own viewpoint on the respective issues; his films, despite criticisms constantly leveled against them, are anything but preachy. It’s also worthwhile to get his take on his more ’questionable’ decisions, such as the abstract montage that closes the film. In retrospect, it’s a fitting denouement: "Summer" is a series of great moments searching for a center; a home movie as much as it is a narrative.
"Red Hook Summer"