Spike Lee: Interviews edited by Cynthia Fuchs

D. R. Peak

Some day critics will stop calling Lee the "black Woody Allen" or an "African-American filmmaker" (or even a "controversial" one) but simply acknowledge him as one of the most intelligent, articulate, and able filmmakers of our generation.

Spike Lee

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
Length: 232
Subtitle: Interviews
Price: $18.00 U.S.
Author: Cynthia Fuchs

Spike Lee has always been an interesting film personality. Controversy follows him wherever he goes, whether he intends it or not. He's opinionated, outspoken and loud to boot. But he's also smart, well read, and honest; admits to his faults and when he makes mistakes. He also tends to contradict himself -- he's only human, after all. But most of all, he genuinely loves to make people think (twice), to keep them on their toes, to educate as well as entertain.

And still critics tend to focus on the fact that he's not Caucasian. Some day critics will stop calling Lee the "black Woody Allen" or an "African-American filmmaker" (or even a "controversial" one) but simply acknowledge him as one of the most intelligent, articulate, and able filmmakers of our generation. But people tend to go for the obvious (we're only human after all) and of course Lee himself tends to bring up the matter of race in interviews quite often.

But there's more to Lee than just that. Much more.

Lee's films are all well written, beautifully photographed, professionally acted, and always thought provoking and especially memorable. Some, such as Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X were instant classics the day they debuted.

Lee's films are not just about the struggle of black Americans to become accepted and comfortable in today's America. They are documents of a time, of a people, of all peoples. Anyone can relate to any of Lee's films. You just have to peel back the layers to get to the truth of what his films are really about.

And in this collection of interviews, edited by Cynthia Fuchs, an Associate Professor at George Mason University, we get a chance to see Lee for the gifted, expressive person he is. In interview after interview -- taken from magazines, Internet sources, and even television talk shows -- Lee continues to surprise and throw one off balance with his comments and observations on human nature.

For instance, a question of music: who would have thought that some of Lee's favorites included classical music composer Aaron Copland's sweeping compositions, the Beatles, Patsy Cline, and even white bread popsters such as Steely Dan?

About films: You might have guessed that he would count Akira Kurosawa and Martin Scorsese as major influences. But Billy Wilder and David Lean?

But wait, there's more. (Have I said that already?) One of the most fascinating chapters in the book is an excerpt from American Cinematographer magazine, written by Stephen Pizzello, "Between "Rock" and a Hard Place." Pizzello gets the facts from both Lee himself and Malik Sayeed who, at 26 years of age, became the Director of Photography for Lee's film Clockers. It was Sayeed's first time handling a major motion picture and he went all out in order to give the film a unique look and feel. He talked Lee into using Kodak 5239 film stock, a high-speed color reversal film intended for photography under low-level daylight illumination, which was previously used primarily by the Air Force and by NASA for their onboard cameras on the space shuttle. Since 5239 film stock had never been mass-produced for the general public, Kodak had to make up a special run with edge numbers on it just for the movie. Even the development of the film was tricky, requiring negative processing before transferring it to 35 mm, and special care was given to the set lighting because of the danger of over-exposing the film. Is something as seemingly trivial as what sort of film stock is used in a film all that important? Lee thinks so. He considers all of this extra work worth it to make the film right. The look, texture, and feel of film are important to the mood. Lee knows that often one must go to great lengths in order to make a great film instead of a mediocre one.

In editing this excellent book of interviews Cynthia Fuchs has smartly put them in chronological order. This way we get added insight into how Lee evolved over the years, his opinions changing as did his outlook on the world. Rarely do we get to witness something so intrinsic in all of us -- one's growth as an individual -- laid out so plainly for all the world to see in black and white. Witnessing Lee's slow and gradual development from a smart and gifted personality to an intelligent, caring (he's a father, now) individual concerned with the well-being, treatment and education of all people is intriguing and fascinating.

I hope that of all people, Lee himself reads this book cover to cover. He might be pleasantly surprised as to how he turned out.






A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.