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‘Inside’ Spike Lee’s 20 Years

'Inside' Spike Lee's 20 Years

I’m a huge Spike Lee fan. Probably the only film I actively pursued for SXSW this year, but still failed to program, was his new release Inside Man. I wanted it for the festival, sight unseen, just because it was the new Spike Lee film. He’s one of the few American directors today that can create an event with each new release. And then, coincidentally, Inside Man was my first post-SXSW multiplex experience over this weekend. And, as most of the reviews state, it’s a great film.

He’s made a few clunkers, sure. But with 20 years of filmmaking, and about as many features to his credit, his batting average is rather solid. Beyond the staples like She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, or Malcolm X, he has a wide array of underrated features such as Crooklyn, Clockers, or The 25th Hour. With a strong opening weekend, Inside Man may become Spike Lee’s biggest commercial success ever. And, in many ways, it deserves to be. Not only is it a taut and entertaining thriller, but it doesn’t play it safe and that has just as much to do with Spike Lee’s direction as it does with Russell Gerwitz’s terrific (debut) screenplay.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Caryn James takes a look at the controversial and dynamic filmography of Spike Lee. She writes:

It’s easier now to separate the films from the inflamed rhetoric — by Mr. Lee and about him — that often surrounded them when they opened. Mr. Lee was quoted calling Warner Brothers, the studio that released “Malcolm X” (1992), a plantation; with “Do the Right Thing” (1989), some wrong-headed critics worried in print that the films’ violent torching of an Italian pizzeria in Bedford-Stuyvesant by black characters would incite real-life riots. Publicity like that made the movies seem simplistic. But Mr. Lee’s films have always been more reasoned and complex than polemical.

A look back at his career, freed from received opinions and skewed memories, shows that major works like “Do the Right Thing” hold up. And some underappreciated gems emerge, like the nuanced “Jungle Fever” (1991), about an interracial romance, and the audacious “Bamboozled” (2000), his satirical take on a contemporary minstrel show.

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