Another exciting kick off is on deck. And so this season starts in a new and unique way from years past. For those that may be unfamiliar, during the summer months between seasons The Paramount Theatre show numerous movies as part of its annual Summer Classic Film Series. It’s a paradise for cinefiles in Austin, and an oasis amongst the Texas. Watching a classic film at Paramount is a great way to spend a few hours inside a historic theater on a balmy summer afternoon.
Typically, the summer series ends and then the season launches a few weeks later. But this year, there will be a brief overlap. You see, during the last week of this year’s cinematic session, the first guest for the 2012-2013 season will grace the stage. And wouldn’t you know it? He himself is a modern icon in modern cinema, so this hybrid event is apropos.
The 2012-2013 season begins with the iconic filmmaker Spike Lee. Come for an intimate interview with one of America’s unique cinematic voices, and then stay for a screening of his 1999 film SUMMER OF SAM.
Spike is a dynamic filmmaker whose movies have established him as one of America’s seminal cinematic artists. His debut film, SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, was set in Brooklyn, and since then Lee’s filmography has helped establish his art with a uniquely New York attitude. Over the years, Spike has come to personify New York City itself, and his work embodies the diversity that this melting pot metropolis represents.
Although occasionally courting controversy, it is probably more apt to describe Spike Lee’s work as provocative. With each film he makes, Lee reminds the audience that he is fearless when confronting that which we otherwise try to suppress. With films like DO THE RIGHT THING, JUNGLE FEVER, MALCOM X, CLOCKERS, 4 LITTLE GIRLS, 25TH HOUR, INSIDE MAN, and this summer’s RED HOOK SUMMER, Lee lets his characters breathe and live while resisting conventional attitudes. The films themselves have a tendency to scream aloud the things we dare not even whisper in our own minds.
More impressively, he’s chosen to explore stories and characters that he wants to tell us about. Compromise has never been a signature of a “Spike Lee joint,” and I can safely say that we never have to worry about Lee signing on to do an Avengers or Transformers sequel.
In fact, the closest he has ever come to becoming mainstream is in a series of Nike commercials he directed and co-starred in with basketball star Michael Jordan. Reprising his role as “Mars Blackmon” from SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, Lee was often the funny man to Jordan’s straight man routine. These ads were influential in the 1980s and helped establish Air Jordan as a cultural phenomenon.
But make no mistake. Despite some of his films have light-hearted moments, Lee’s films help define a clear vision of America that is an alternative (if not downright contrary) to the ideals of American life we are spoon fed everyday. Although it would be unfair to call his movies agents of activism, they definitely have a political slant in a way that shines a beacon through the prism of real people. Call it the “miseducation of contemporary American history,” if you will… but to me Spike’s films have but one agenda: to champion those who otherwise have no voice and open our eyes to new perspectives.
Take, for instance, SUMMER OF SAM. Set 25 years ago when the serial killer Son of Sam turned a desperate New York City into a district of fear, it aims to look beyond a chronological or forensic retelling of events. Instead, it tells a story of a group of friends in an Italian-American neighborhood terrorized by events and a changing world that some just cannot reconcile. Together, these friends and neighbors run the gauntlet out of necessity, and will emerge forever changed. SUMMER OF SAM is very much like a horror movie, but here the real danger lies not with the serial killer but within the tendencies of those living under his oppression. The 1977 depicting in the movie is a time of self-indulgence and of a society struggling with identity: What will happen to us next? Where are we going? Has the world gone out of control? It’s a summer not unlike that found in 1989’s DO THE RIGHT THING, where tensions, attitudes and heat combine to transform the city into a keg ready to explode.
What wrath has the SUMMER OF SAM wroth upon New York City? Is it righteous judgment for a city and society in the throes of hedonism? Is it divine retribution? Or… is it merely an excuse for some of us to find a reason? Is Sam an instrument for the judgmental among us to find scapegoats and embrace the darker side of human nature?
I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the coming evening where Spike shares what elements go into the forging of these stories.
Needless to say, this is a unique opportunity to meld the two kinds of events that the Paramount is known for. It’s not the end of the world that the season starts earlier this year. In fact, it’s a cause for celebration. It’s not every day (or year) that the theatre presents an evening like this. Personally, I think of the crossover as a Venn diagram of awesome.
So what are you waiting for? I implore you to do the right thing, make the effort, and come hear the man. Spike Lee has a cinematic vision and a artistic voice like no other. As a director whose films have opened up audience’s eyes again and again, one never knows what insight an evening with him might bring. Do you know what I’m saying? Do you know? Do you know? Do you know?
Spike Lee graces the stage for a conversation on Saturday, September 8th at 7:00 p.m.