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The Philosophy of Spike Lee

The Philosophy of Spike Lee

Edited by Mark T. Conard
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of Spike Lee
    Book Description:

    Over his twenty-plus year tenure in Hollywood, Spike Lee has produced a number of controversial films that unapologetically confront sensitive social issues, particularly those of race relations and discrimination. Through his honest portrayals of life's social obstacles, he challenges the public to reflect on the world's problems and divisions. The innovative director created a name for himself with feature films such asDo the Right Thing(1989) andMalcolm X(1992), and with documentaries such as4 Little Girls(1997) andWhen the Levees Broke(2006), breaking with Hollywood's reliance on cultural stereotypes to portray African Americans in a more realistic light. The director continues to produce poignant films that address some of modern society's most important historical movements and events.

    InThe Philosophy of Spike Lee, editor Mark T. Conard and an impressive list of contributors delve into the rich philosophy behind this filmmaker's extensive work. Not only do they analyze the major themes of race and discrimination that permeate Lee's productions, but also examine other philosophical ideas that are found in his films, ideas such as the nature of time, transcendence, moral motivation, self-constitution, and justice. The authors specialize in a variety of academic disciplines that range from African American Studies to literary and cultural criticism and Philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3381-2
    Subjects: Film Studies, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Mark T. Conard
  4. I. Justice, Value, and the Nature of Evil

    • The Symbolism of Blood in Clockers
      (pp. 3-14)
      Douglas McFarland

      Spike Lee dramatically announces the tone and perspective of his adaptation of Richard Price’s novel of urban decay,Clockers(1995), in the opening credits of the film. Since the silent era, opening credits have served a variety of functions. As David Bordwell points out, they are “highly self-conscious and explicitly addressed to the audience.”¹ Not only do titles and names provide a context for the narrative, but still and moving images oft en “anticipate a motif” or “establish the space of upcoming action.” Credits, Bordewell argues, accumulate significance as “memory is amplified by the ongoing story.”² InClockers, Lee goes...

    • The Prostitution Trap of Elite Sport in He Got Game
      (pp. 15-25)
      Jason Holt and Robert Pitter

      Spike Lee is an accomplished filmmaker who drew much public attention following the release of his first feature films in the late 1980s.School Daze(1988),Do the Right Thing(1989), andJungle Fever(1991), which he both wrote and directed, tell stories involving complex social, political, and philosophical issues. And they do this so effectively and provocatively that they generated significant controversy when they were first released, illustrating Lee’s skill at portraying the complexities of contemporary life on the big screen in a way that provokes serious and sometimes harmful misinterpretation. For example, several American media outlets opposed the...

    • Aristotle and MacIntyre on Justice in 25th Hour
      (pp. 26-39)
      Mark T. Conard

      Spike Lee’s25th Hour(2002) is the story of a convicted drug dealer’s last free day before having to report to prison. The protagonist, Monty (Edward Norton), uses the day to say good-bye to friends and his widower father, and he wraps up some loose business ends. Further, he has a suspicion, encouraged by others, that his girlfriend might have turned him in to the police to save herself from prosecution, so he also uses the time to investigate. All seem to agree that Monty will be easy prey for the hardened cons in prison, such that the seven-year sentence...

    • We Can’t Get Off the Bus: A Commentary on Spike Lee and Moral Motivation
      (pp. 40-53)
      Gabriella Beckles-Raymond

      On October 16, 1995, a million black men marched on Washington, D.C.,¹ answering Louis Farrakhan’s call for reconciliation and atonement.² Not since the 1963 march for civil rights had so many Americans descended on Capitol Hill. Although the mainstream contemporary historical narrative suggests otherwise, Martin Luther King Jr., like Farrakhan, was a controversial figure in his time. Nevertheless, in spite of the varied perspectives within the African American community about Farrakhan’s beliefs and methods,³ his call to action was answered by thousands of African American men across the country.

      The first anniversary of this historic occasion was marked by the...

    • Monsters and Moralism in Summer of Sam
      (pp. 54-72)
      R. Barton Palmer

      More than a decade after its release,Summer of Sam(1999) remains Spike Lee’s most controversial film. In part, this is becauseSamdepicts in graphic detail the gruesome murders perpetrated in 1977 by a notorious serial killer who, in letters to the police and the media, referred to himself as “Son of Sam.” Many of those involved in the case are still living, and families of some of the victims have objected to what they judge to be Lee’s overly sensationalized exploitation of these horrific events. Somewhat strangely, perhaps, the killer himself, David Berkowitz, has complained from his prison...

  5. II. Race, Sexuality, and Community

    • (Still) Fighting the Power: Public Space and the Unspeakable Privacy of the Other in Do the Right Thing
      (pp. 75-94)
      Elizabeth Hope Finnegan

      Near the end of Spike Lee’sDo the Right Thing(1989), the two Italian American brothers Pino (John Tuturro) and Vito (Richard Edson) are arguing in the back room of their father’s pizzeria, where they work. Pino, the sullen, overtly racist older brother, is manhandling Vito, trying to impress on him the danger of getting too close to their multicultural—primarily African American—customers and, in particular, their delivery boy Mookie (Spike Lee). For Pino, the struggle is about maintaining a discrete and essential identity; earlier in the film he cautions his brother, “Remember who you are.” What he means...

    • Coworking in the Kingdom of Culture: Identity and Community in the Films of Spike Lee
      (pp. 95-105)
      Charles F. Peterson

      W. E. B. DuBois’s essay “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” provides one of the most revered articulations of Afri-US¹ psychoracial identity; even more, it stands, as I believe DuBois intended, as a statement on the very nature of U.S. citizenship. DuBois’s focus on the manner in which Afri-US (Negro) identity, citizenship, and social life were experienced as divided, antagonized, and marginal serves as a model for a new American urban sensibility. By the time “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” was published, the swelling ranks of the “tired . . . poor and huddled masses” that filled the cities of the United States...

    • Feminists and “Freaks”: She’s Gotta Have it and Girl 6
      (pp. 106-122)
      Karen D. Hoffman

      Shortly after the release ofShe’s Gotta Have It(1986), Spike Lee’s first full-length feature film, feminists began discussing the lead character, Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), and questioning the extent to which she embodies a liberatory ideal of African American female sexuality.¹ Involved with three different men without being committed to any of them, Nola initially appears to be a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. But, upon deeper inspection, she is also revealed to be a rather superficial woman who embodies problematic gender stereotypes, has very few female friends, and is ultimately punished...

    • The Dialectic of King and X in Do the Right Thing
      (pp. 123-143)
      Michael Silberstein

      It is a hot summer Saturday in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The streets are trashed from violent confrontations between residents and police over the latter’s killing of an African American. The scene of the crime, Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, is pillaged and burned to the ground in response to the young man’s death, while Sal (Danny Aiello) and his sons (John Turturro as Pino and Richard Edson as Vito)—the only whites on the block—look on in horror. Although there are no easy explanations for either the death or the violence that follows,Do the Right Thing(1989) illuminates key issues and themes...

    • Fevered Desires and Interracial Intimacies in Jungle Fever
      (pp. 144-163)
      Ronald R. Sundstrom

      Spike Lee’s 1991 filmJungle Feveris one of several concerning American taboos against interracial intimacy and sex. The earliest film on the subject was D. W. Griffith’s 1915 silent movieThe Birth of a Nation, which condemns interracial sex ormiscegenation, to use the term invented by opponents of black emancipation, as a threat to the nation. Every film on interracial intimacies since then has been a comment on Griffith’s work, which also stands apart as a milestone of epic cinematography. Most of the subsequent films, such as Elia Kazan’s 1949 filmPinkyor Guy Green’s 1965 filmA...

    • Bamboozled: Philosophy through Blackface
      (pp. 164-184)
      Dan Flory

      Spike Lee is no stranger to controversy. Since the beginning of his career the director has used his films to confront audiences with difficult issues that need to be understood and thought about—for example, the genesis of riots (Do the Right Thing[1989]), the politics of interracial relationships (Jungle Fever[1991]), reasons for the existence of drug cultures (Clockers[1995]), xenophobia (Summer of Sam[1999]), and the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions (25th Hour[2002],Inside Man[2006]). Through his work, then, Lee seeks to compel viewers to face up to and reflect on matters of urgent...

  6. III. Time, the Subject, and Transcendence

    • Transcendence and Sublimity in Spike Lee’s Signature Shot
      (pp. 187-199)
      Jerold J. Abrams

      In most of his films, Spike Lee includes a shot of an individual silently floating forward toward the viewer. Lee calls this his “signature shot.”¹ Before the signature shot, the on-screen world appears interconnected and real. But then suddenly realism fades and the character enters a different mode of space-time as if temporarily removed from gravity and the present. The character appears to leave the film and traverse the boundary between screen and viewer like an object in a 3-D movie or like the viewer’s imagination itself, which also traverses this boundary to immerse itself in the film. In this...

    • Economies of Time in Clockers
      (pp. 200-214)
      Richard Gilmore

      Clockers (1995) begins with signs of violence: still shots of brutally shot people, all young, all black, all apparently inner city.¹ On the sound track Marc Dorsey sings a cool jazz “People in Search of a Life” (written by Raymond James). Capitalism is an extremely violent social system, but that violence is mostly symbolic in the bourgeois boardrooms and in the middle-class experience. In the inner city, where poverty is extreme, the violence is literal and very real. It is the dark side of the American way, of the American dream. But it is, essentially, the same system. The literal...

    • Rethinking the First Person: Autobiography, Authorship, and the Contested Self in Malcolm X
      (pp. 215-242)
      David LaRocca

      Can someone else write my autobiography? The question challenges the conventional meaning of autobiography. And since writing an autobiography—in America, after Benjamin Franklin—often occurs with an awareness that the status of the work is bound up with the authority of its author, the notion of authorship also becomes troubled.¹ For instance, because an autobiography appears to be direct communication from its author, the very conditions of its presentation may suggest we are reading a true story, a mere record of what happened. Yet, like the life it aims to account for, autobiography is fashioned, a literary artifact, necessarily...

  7. List of Contributors
    (pp. 243-246)
  8. Index
    (pp. 247-254)