BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee's latest journey into the dark heart of America

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jserraglio
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BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee's latest journey into the dark heart of America

Post by jserraglio » Thu Aug 09, 2018 6:09 pm

TIMES film review
by A.O. SCOTT


In the middle of “BlacKkKlansman,” Spike Lee’s best nondocumentary feature in more than a decade and one of his greatest, Ron Stallworth and his sergeant have an argument about the future of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s the early 1970s, and Ron (John David Washington), the first African-American officer hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department, has infiltrated the local Klan chapter and chatted on the phone with David Duke (Topher Grace) the organization’s national director.

That title sounds more respectable than the traditional grand wizard, and Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito), who supervises the department’s undercover unit, insists that the smooth-talking, telegenic Duke has his sights set on the political mainstream. Duke and his allies are developing an electoral strategy based on potent, divisive issues like immigration, affirmative action and tax reform that could eventually lead to the White House. Ron laughs. The guys he is tracking are potentially dangerous, but also patently ridiculous. “America would never elect somebody like David Duke president,” he says. The sergeant asks, “Why don’t you wake up?”

His plea is something Mr. Lee’s fans have heard before — remember the last scene in “School Daze”? — though rarely from the mouth of a white character. It has less to do with the iffy, easy-to-satirize concept of “wokeness” than with the urgent need to see what is right in front of you. And beyond its stranger-than-fiction, somewhat embellished real-life story — the actual Ron Stallworth actually did infiltrate the Klan, and wrote a book about it — “BlacKkKlansman” is a furious, funny, blunt and brilliant confrontation with the truth. It’s an alarm clock ringing in the midst of a historical nightmare, and also a symphony, the rare piece of political popular art that works in all three dimensions. (The soaring, seething, luxuriant score is by Terence Blanchard, Mr. Lee’s frequent and indispensable collaborator.)

As the movie reminds us — right at the end, when it makes a harrowing transition from re-enactment of the past to raw, present-tense video — we currently have a president whom David Duke likes very much. Rather than add his voice to the chorus trying to explain how we got here, Mr. Lee (who shares screenwriting credit with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott) muses that we might have been here all along. Which doesn’t mean that nothing has changed, but rather that the racist attitudes and ideas Ron finds among the Klansmen (and around the police department’s station house, too) are durable and tenacious facts of our national life.

As such, they have always been part of the legacy of American movies too. The first image in “BlacKkKlansman” is a famous, stirring shot from “Gone With the Wind,” of wounded Confederate soldiers around the Atlanta railroad station under a tattered battle flag. The climax involves a screening of “The Birth of a Nation,” the 1915 D.W. Griffith epic that simultaneously spurred the rise of the Second Ku Klux Klan and of cinema as an art form.

In a sly and stunning tour de force of film-geek dialectics, Mr. Lee uses one of Griffith’s signature innovations — parallel editing (also known as crosscutting) — to unravel the deep ugliness of Griffith’s hymn to the heroes of white supremacy. As the modern Colorado Klansmen hoot and holler and eat popcorn, reveling in the exploits of their predecessors, a group of black students and activists gather in another part of town to hear the testimony of an old man (Harry Belafonte) who witnessed the lynching of his best friend in Texas around the time “The Birth of a Nation” was playing in theaters. The juxtaposition is chilling and revelatory. The righteous rhetoric of racism is conveyed with the scale and glamour of motion-picture technology, while its grisly truth is communicated by means of still photographs and simple words.

That asymmetry is the film’s organizing principle and central insight. Ron’s first undercover assignment is to attend a speech given by Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), formerly known as Stokely Carmichael, who popularized the phrase “black power” in the late 1960s. Duke’s language sometimes echoes Ture’s — Klansmen and black militants both refer to the police as “pigs” — but to see “BlacKkKlansman” as the story of an embattled man in the middle contending with extremists “on both sides” would be to miss the point entirely.

It is true that Ron is caught in a tricky position. At the Kwame Ture event, he strikes up a flirtation with Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the president of the Black Student Union at Colorado College. As their relationship progresses (without Patrice finding out what Ron does for a living), they argue tactics and philosophy. Is it better to work inside the system, to push against it from the outside or to smash it to pieces? This is an old, unresolvable debate, a tension that has partly defined Mr. Lee’s own career.

His fearless embrace of contradiction gives “BlacKkKlansman” its velocity and heft. It is worth pausing to admire its sheer, dazzling craft, the deftness of its tonal shifts — from polemical to playful, from humorous to horrific, from blaxploitation to Classical Hollywood and back again — and the quality of its portraiture. Mr. Washington is witty and charismatic (yes, he’s Denzel’s son), and like Ron he takes the job seriously and enjoys the hell out of it. Detective work, like detective movies, can be a lot of fun. The layers of intrigue and suspense show Mr. Lee’s sometimes underappreciated genre skills. The low-key psychological insight demonstrates his (also underrated) way with actors.

While Ron reaches out to the Klan over the telephone — “whitening” his voice in the manner of countless stand-up comedians — he can’t very well show up at meetings. That job falls to Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who starts hanging out with local stalwarts of “the organization.” These include a square-jawed bureaucratic type named Walter (Ryan Eggold), a clever devil named Felix (Jasper Paakkonen) and a drunken doofus named Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser). With the help of another detective, Jimmy Creek (Michael Joseph Buscemi), Flip and Ron keep tabs on a terrorist conspiracy evolving amid all the posturing and slur-slinging.

Mr. Lee has often been a gleeful curator of racial invective, and he observes the Klansmen with a fascination that stops only a few degrees short of sympathy. They are monstrous and clownish, but more than just figures of fright or mockery. Understanding what makes them tick is as much Ron’s mission as bringing them down.

And though the dramatic crux of the film is Ron’s predicament, his is hardly the only racial identity crisis under scrutiny here. Throughout his career, Mr. Lee has frequently turned his attention to the souls of white folks, to the volatile mix of pride, resentment, defensiveness and denial that motivates characters in (most notably) “Do the Right Thing,” “Summer of Sam” and “25th Hour.” When Flip criticizes Ron for treating their undercover work as a crusade — “for me it’s a job,” he says — Ron brings up Flip’s Jewish background, and the virulent anti-Semitism that accompanies the Klan’s anti-black bigotry. Flip says he never thought much about being Jewish: “I was always just another white kid.”

Later, he wonders if that amounted to a kind of passing. “BlacKkKlansman” is about the boundaries of group identity, and how a person can or can’t cross them. On the phone with David Duke, Ron passes for white, but in Patrice’s eyes his presence on the police force is its own kind of trespass. Some of his fellow officers see it the same way, though from the opposite side. But white people, who have more of everything, also have more opportunities for disguise.

“Just another white kid” is an all-purpose alibi, and public discourse abounds in code words and dog-whistles that allow bigots to pass as concerned citizens without a racist bone in their bodies. And vice versa. Committed anti-racists can sit quietly or laugh politely when hateful things are said. Epithets uttered in irony can be repeated in earnest. The most shocking thing about Flip’s imposture is how easy it seems, how natural he looks and sounds. This unnerving authenticity is partly testament to Mr. Driver’s ability to tuck one performance inside another, but it also testifies to a stark and discomfiting truth. Maybe not everyone who is white is a racist, but racism is what makes us white. Don’t sleep on this movie.

BlacKkKlansman
 Rated R. R as in Racism! Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
.

jbuck919
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Re: BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee's latest journey into the dark heart of America

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Aug 11, 2018 8:33 pm

Our no-longer-posting member Chalkie once did a photo session with Spike Lee and couldn't wait to get rid of him. He confirmed my opinion, base on earlier movies and interviews, that he is a reverse racist, or, in plain English, that he hates white people.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

jserraglio
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Re: BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee's latest journey into the dark heart of America

Post by jserraglio » Sun Aug 12, 2018 11:31 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Sat Aug 11, 2018 8:33 pm
my opinion, base[d] on earlier movies and interviews, that he [Lee] is a reverse racist, or, in plain English, that he hates white people.
http://filmthreat.com/interviews/i-like ... interview/
There’s the perception that you “hate white people.” I’ve been following your career from the beginning, I’ve seen your films, I don’t get that. Why do you think that there’s this misunderstanding?
The easiest way to dismiss my work, especially work that deals with racism, is to call me a racist. Therefore, my work has no merit, because how can he be talking about racism when he’s a racist himself? You know the old trick. But I think people are really smart, they’re not going for that shiit.

I think Lee is no more racist in Do the Right Thing or Malcolm X than Quentin Tarantino is in Django Unchained.

WAPO Aug 11 by MONICA CASTILLO —>Many movies in Spike Lee’s career have tackled racism in ways that were honest, blatant and necessary. In “Do the Right Thing,” he brought up the conflict between the Italian American owners of a pizza place, Korean American convenience store owners and a black community that increasingly felt they were being pushed around in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
The documentary “When the Levees Broke” tied government negligence to Hurricane Katrina. “Jungle Fever” was about an interracial relationship, “Chi-raq” was about gun violence in Chicago’s South Side. His latest movie, “BlacKkKlansman” continues his examination of race in America with a historical perspective pointed toward current events.
Based on a true story, “BlacKkKlansman” is about the first black officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), as he hatches a plan to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the late ’70s. Since he – as a black cop – can’t go to Klan rallies, he enlists a Jewish but white-passing cop, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to go to in-person meetings with the Klan to find out if they’re planning any violent activity.
Now, the movie raises at least a half-dozen issues over the course of its over two-hour running time, including the relationship between the black and Jewish characters in the film and the use of media as racist propaganda (a topic Lee thoroughly addressed in his film, “Bamboozled”).
Perhaps one of the many issues that won’t get nearly enough attention is embodied by the character of Connie Kendrickson (Ashlie Atkinson), the all-American housewife who wants a bigger part in the Klan’s plan.
Connie is introduced to the story in when her husband, Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen), hosts a Klan gathering in their suburban home. They have a pro-America sign out front, she greets Flip-posing-as-Ron at the front door with a smile and brings him into the living room where the white supremacists are discussing their next move.
To prove she’s more useful to Klan than just someone to bring them food, she offers a magazine clipping of a local black student activist, Patrice (Laura Harrier) and suggests to the men that they should shut her up for good. It’s an uncomfortably awkward moment, not only because this is when the movie’s version of the Klan establishes its gender hierarchy but also because she wants so desperately to be in on this boys’ club of violence. It’s not enough to orbit their hatred, she wants to participate in it. Smiling and non-threatening as she looks in her apron, Connie is just as dangerous as they are.
There’s no subtlety in “BlacKkKlansman.” Lee spells out his main message for the audience in big bold letters: The rhetoric we’re hearing now, is rhetoric we’re heard before and it’s just as dangerous. He sprinkles in modern-day references to emphasize his point. Multiple times in the movie a racist character will use words or phrases from politicians, like when a comically flustered Alec Baldwin plays a racist recording a hate-filled monologue in front of projected images of the pro-Klan movie, “The Birth of a Nation.” He uses the “rapists, murderers” line from President Trump’s campaign announcement and calls black people “superpredators“ in the same way Hillary Clinton referred to the Central Park Five teenagers back in the ’90s.
Connie’s character is part of the story for a reason. She’s a stand-in for the 53 percent of white women who voted for Trump, who either saw nothing wrong with his racist speeches or agreed with those views. Worries about economic insecurity never enter the conversation in the movie, but the characters’ insecurities about being white and in the minority sure do.
In what would normally be a tender scene between characters, Connie and Felix are snuggling in bed. Instead of normal pillow talk, they are reveling in their plans for violence against black people. The moment reveals how their deeply rooted hatred actually brought them together and strengthened their relationship, that they’ve found a mutual identity through fear and discrimination. “Thank you for giving me a purpose,” Connie purrs to her husband.
In another scene where Connie is running away from the black Ron Stallworth, she uses her tears and screams at other white cops for help. Chillingly, they oblige. Protecting white femininity is a recurring concern among the white supremacists. During a screening of “The Birth of a Nation,” the white supremacist men and women jeer at the black man committing assault and cheer when the Ku Klux Klan seeks revenge.
The film is a not blanket statement on whiteness (since there are other white characters on the police force who aren’t villains), but of white supremacy – and in Connie’s case, the nefarious mix of gender and racism.
Lee includes several minutes of footage from Charlottesville at the end of the movie. Shots of angry white men with tiki torches fill the screen, as does horrifying footage from the day a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protestors, claiming the life of a young white woman, Heather Heyer.
Lee’s choice to include these scenes displays to views that the story is not a historical artifact, but a prologue to the present.

jbuck919
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Re: BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee's latest journey into the dark heart of America

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:46 am

I did not say that his films have no artistic value, but have you ever heard him interviewed live? He can barely stand being in the same room with a white person, and makes it quite obvious. Another "offender" in this regard is the Nobel Prize winning Toni Morrison, whom I once heard interviewed in a context where she spent at least five minutes talking about how she would expect to be one of the first people deported if the US were like Nazi Germany (not that we are not approaching that point anyway, but that was a later development). Then she said, "I'm not trying to demonize white people." My mother, quite well at the time, who never talked like this, said, "Yes you are, you bitch."

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

jserraglio
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Re: BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee's latest journey into the dark heart of America

Post by jserraglio » Fri Aug 17, 2018 8:19 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Thu Aug 16, 2018 6:46 am
Another "offender" in this regard is the Nobel Prize winning Toni Morrison, whom I once heard interviewed in a context where she spent at least five minutes talking about how she would expect to be one of the first people deported if the US were like Nazi Germany (not that we are not approaching that point anyway, but that was a later development). Then she said, "I'm not trying to demonize white people." My mother, quite well at the time, who never talked like this, said, "Yes you are, you bitch."
Morrison's remark about being deported from an America gone Nazi mad was prescient, if not prophetic. As she rightly pointed out, it had nothing to do with "demonizing white people".

Interviewed by an unidentified woman who sounds like Angela Davis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nb32Njn84WQ



_____________________________________________

Interviewed by Stephen Colbert
http://www.cc.com/video-clips/9yc4ry/th ... i-morrison

_____________________________________________

Interviewed by New York Times Book Review editor, Sam Tanenhaus
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5D5PLI7kvc



_____________________________________________

Interviewed by Bill Moyers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0auT82bY3cY



_____________________________________________

Interviewed by Charlie Rose
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4vIGvKpT1c


jserraglio
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Re: BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee's latest journey into the dark heart of America

Post by jserraglio » Mon Aug 20, 2018 7:23 am

Spike Lee Does Battle with “BlacKkKlansman”
Review by Anthony Lane

Set in the seventies, Lee’s blistering film abounds with topical hints about our present era, drunk as it is on its own craziness.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018 ... kkklansman

jserraglio
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Re: BlacKkKlansman: Spike Lee's latest journey into the dark heart of America

Post by jserraglio » Fri Aug 31, 2018 6:08 am

I saw Klansman on Wednesday and liked it a lot. Very much in the Spike Lee vein playing with the dialectic between opposed responses to racism.

Only one problem. My wife and I were the only two folks in the theater.

Next up is Mission Impossible: Fallout, sometime this weekend.

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