Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Behead the Prophet (No Lord Shall Live)

A trend currently common among narrative feature filmmakers is to shoot a feature on HD, with a budget of around $1-5 million, on location, in order to more freely experiment without the pressures of studio financing. It is uncertain when this first began. Soderbergh shot The Girlfriend Experience (2009) and Ed Lachman lensed Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime (2009) on the Red One, Damsels in Distress (2011, Whit Stillman) on a Red One MX; Tim Orr shot Prince Avalanche (2013, David Gordon Green) on an Arri Alexa; and Red Hook Summer (2012, Spike Lee) was shot on a Sony F3.

Red Hook Summer is subtle.

On one level it is a coming of age tale about Flik (13) spending the summer with his crotchety grandpa, Da Good Bishop Enoch. This comprises about 2/3 of the narrative. As typical with the coming of age genre, Flik tries to combat boredom and his grandpa expounds life lessons through wisdom. The Red Hook neighborhood is an Our Town microcosm ranging from church parishioners and a youth group, to others with less optimistic plights. This aspect I'll call the Church Chat portion.

The Church Chat portion achieves a level of vicarious restlessness, as Enoch's sermons drone on and on, for Flik becomes our surrogate and we are forced to sit through quite a bit. Hey, I'm always one for sentimental sweet excursions away from the fast-lane of mainstream Hollywood to spend some time with some peaceful, good-natured old folks anytime, and the slight unfolding of their world was a little charming.

Red Hook Summer skewers the Bishop as iconoclast.

Near the climax of Red Hook Summer, conflict rears its ugly head (up until this point, the only conflict per se was a few bags of potato chips and bottles of soda missing from the church commissary).

Bishop Enoch has some backstory. He committed the taboo involving a priest and a little boy--that's a crime and hot button in itself, you don't even need to use your imagination when those two nouns are joined.

And while Red Hook Summer invests in this thread prominently, it does so in a way I despise. But, I want to despise this particular hot button, so, I suppose that's a good thing. As strong as my sense to recoil from this awkward debacle's revelation was, it did endear the neighborhood to me as characters even more.

There's a place for these kinds of personal films, and Spike Lee seems to be doing this for the love of making movies. It's tender, bittersweet, and biting with Lee's cynicism. His trademarks include Blessing's entrance (subject floating toward camera lens on z axis on unseen skateboard dolly underfoot), portraits of characters from a shared community snapped and often directly addressing the camera, and cutaways to sports statistics/and/or history.

Lee makes a cameo as Mookie (which didn't seem as funny as I'd hoped) and Isiah Whitlock hilariously reprises his role as Detective Flood from 25th Hour (2002, Lee). Whitlock's Flood is famous for his use of the word "shit," which he draws out as, "sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit." (He also riffed on this catchphrase playing another entirely different character on HBO's The Wire.)

Additionally, the student film feel of this prosaic tale is oddly scored. Bruce Hornsby? Nonetheless, it feels like classic Spike Lee.

I do dig the Baptist gospel music though, since Lee's scores are never shy on soul.


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