SPIKE LEE AND THE NEW YORK EXPERIENCE
You've been hoodwinked. You've been had. You've
been took. You've been led astray, led amok. You've
The title of the movie that put Spike Lee on the cinematic map in 1983, Joe's BedStuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, contains two clues to the shape of Lee's career. For one, Lee cuts heads—not in the barbering sense but in the sense of working to expose and excise the received ideas, regressive fantasies, and unexamined prejudices we carry around within our minds.
For the other, the only African American filmmaker to sustain a major career in modern cinema is a New York City filmmaker to his bones. After his sophomore year at a southern college he returned to Brooklyn without a summer job. "I had gotten a Super 8 camera," he recalled later, "so I spent the whole summer just going around New York City and filming stuff. That was really when I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker." After making this decision, he said, "I wanted to attempt to capture the richness of African American culture that I can see, just standing on the corner, or looking out my window every day" (Lindo 165).
Those corners and windows were in New York when Lee was growing up. They were still in that city when he went to graduate school at New York University and shot his first theatrical feature, She's Gotta Have It, on Brooklyn locations in 1986. He has traveled widely for several of his "joints," but his heart clearly lies in the city where he came of age and will probably reside forever. The filmmaker who never slows down—few can match his prodigious output of features, documentaries, commercials, and more—feels nowhere more comfortable than in the city that never sleeps.
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Publication information: Book title: City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination. Contributors: Murray Pomerance - Editor. Publisher: Rutgers University Press. Place of publication: New Brunswick, NJ. Publication year: 2007. Page number: 137.
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