Friday, August 6, 2010

Interview Magazine, September 2008-Spike Lee by Barry Michael Cooper

Spike Lee photo credit: Leif Erik Nygards/Contour by Getty Images
(Interview by Barry Michael Cooper)

For more than 30 years, the American Dream has been refracted through the prism of a Spike Lee Joint. Be it Nola Darling turning bed-hopping into a feminist power trip in She’s Gotta Have It (1986), a pizza parlor in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood transforming into a Rorschach inkblot of ’80s race relations in Do the Right Thing (1989), or a Harlem gangster who becomes a U.S. martyr in Malcolm X (1992), Lee’s explosive portraits of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have always explored the difficult underbelly of America. From Last Hustle in Brooklyn (the very first film he made, which debuted 31 years ago, when he was a student at Morehouse College) to his latest epic, Miracle at St. Anna, Lee’s output is nothing short of profound. And he’s only 51.

Miracle at St. Anna is based on the celebrated historical novel by author and composer James McBride, who also penned the script. The film depicts the World War II–era story of the U.S. Army’s 92nd Division—a unit of African-American soldiers who fought in Italy. During a mission in Tuscany, a squad is mercilessly attacked by the Nazis while crossing a river, and only a few survive. Those who do take cover in an abandoned farmhouse, where two soldiers (played by Michael Ealy and Omar Benson Miller) stumble upon an orphaned Italian boy. As they seek refuge in a nearby village, Miracle at St. Anna quickly builds into a multigenre epic—war movie, mystery thriller, action flick, character study, docudrama, and passion play. Lee spins a film steeped in the neorealism of Roberto Rossellini and the magic realism of Frank Capra, but ultimately it’s just the director at the top of his game.

Rubbing his eyes and drinking coffee—literally having just gotten off the red-eye from Los Angeles—Lee sat down with me in Chelsea, at Soundtrack f/t, where he was doing the final mixes on the film. Here he muses on everything from the Miracle at St. Anna to the miracle of Barack Obama.


SPIKE LEE: B-Money, what’s good?

BMC: Grits and gravy. Yo, man, Miracle at St. Anna . . . a masterpiece.

SL: Thank you.

BMC: For, like, five minutes at the end of the film, I was trying to hold ’em back. You killed it. Tell us about why you made this film.

SL: It’s a World War II epic. It was adapted from the novel of the same name. When I read the novel, I knew it was a film I wanted to make. This was a chance to tell the story of all the brave
African-American soldiers who fought and died for this country during World War II. James McBride interviewed quite a few black men who are now in their seventies and eighties, who served in the Army and the Marines during the war. The title of the book is derived from the real-life massacre of the women, children, and elderly in the village of St. Anna di Stazzema on August 12, 1944. They were shot, and their bodies were burned. We actually filmed the scene at St. Anna—it was an eerie experience.

(click here to read the full text of my interview with the great Spike Lee on the Interview Magazine website)

No comments: