Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Tracy Camilla Johns, Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell, Spike Lee, Raye Dowell
Plot: Nola Darling is simultaneously dating three different men at the same time and while they all know about each other, they all want her to commit to them solely only Nola doesn’t want to be “owned” by any one partner.
Review: Despite being one of the key directors of the early independent cinema scene with Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” and this film could certainly be linked as kickstaring the Independent cinema scene. Spike Lee has always been a director whose work I’ve seen very little of, they why of this situation could be narrowed down down to a handful of reasons while Lee has continued to be as talked about for his comments on various aspects of society including an ongoing dispute with Quentin Tarantino as his films. However putting that aside and focusing solely on his work as a director he still remains a highly acclaimed director, especially for his early films and for this reason I felt it was time that I dealt with this missing section of my film studies more
The first full length feature film to be directed by lee three years after his debut “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads”. Here Lee shuns the typical potrayal of young black men as pimps and gangsters but believable everyday people with Nola’s lovers each being created to represent a different aspect and social level of society. It’s a world that he introduces via a series of photographs showcasing the local colour as we see pictures of residents, buildings and graffiti before we are introduced to Nola.
With this film the camera not serves to observe the interactions of the small group of characters but also serves as an almost confessional device for the characters as they frequently break the forth wall to give their side of the story which inturn equally serves to perfectly encapsulate each of the character personalities. Nola is unquestionably the strongest of these voices as a fiercely independent young woman who sees no issues of having multiple lovers especially when each of her three lovers gives her something different that she wants. At the same time Lee is refuses to have Nola portrayed as being a slut even driving home the point when Nola is sent by the dominating Greer to a doctor after he accuses her of being a nymphomaniac only to be reassured by the doctor that there is rightfully nothing wrong with her behaviour.
Nola’s lovers as I mentioned already are certainly a mixed bunch as we have the polite gentleman Jamie (Hicks), the self-obsessed and dominating model Greer (Terrell) and the motor mouthed street punk Mars (Lee). Each lover is introduced talking to the camera about how they feel about Nola and what they get from their relationship with her. While at first it might seem like they don’t know about each other as the film goes on it becomes much clearer that they are actually aware of the other men and there a strange fascination to be found in how she dates each of them as she fools around with Mars laughing and joking while dressing up for expensive diners with Greer.
Each of the guys is memorable in their own way with Jamie coming across as educated only wanting to make Nola happy, even if its at the cost of pushing his more traditional world view. Greer meanwhile is his polar opposite as he is a self centred and sees Nola as his property and who through her association with him makes her better. That being said he is a flawed character himself as seen during his sex scene with Nola which is teased out by him slowly and maticulously removing and folding each piece of clothing while she waits in bed, watching him and slowly losing her patience.
Mars is arguably the most memorable of the trio while also played by Spike Lee himself seemingly channelling Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav is everybit the oddball from the moment his is introduced charging at the camera on his bicycle before unleashing his motormouth style of dialogue on the audience. His character would following the release of the film go on to be a pop culture icon for a short period as Lee carried him across to a series Nike Air Jordan commercials he would direct and appear in with Michael Jordan in turn cementing his pop culture status.
Shot in black and white reminiscent of both “Clerks” and “Slacker” this film equally plays similar to those film in that this is a film driven by its dialogue and its characters interactions shooting on small sets as well as on streets and more keyly the park of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Despite this Lee truly crafts a full world for his characters to inhabit despite his limitations. At the same time he constantly mixes things up just when we think we have things worked out as seen by the film suddenly switching to glorious technicolor for the dance sequence or randomly cutting away to a montage of young black men sharing their best pick up lines in a scene which is as humorous as it is cringe worthy especially when you have one of these guys thinking that lines such as “Baby, you’re so fine, I’d drink a tub of your bath water.” as a flattering pick up line.
A film which is as equally driven by its humorous elements as its character interactions, while even now it still remains a relevant film and a strong start to Lee’s lengthy career as a director, leaving me keen to see what else I’ve been missing in his filmography.