Tag Archives: Spike Lee

236 – Da 5 Bloods

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

Spike Lee’s latest joint sees four US Army veterans, the Bloods, return to their former battlefields in Vietnam in search of two things: the body of their fallen comrade and leader, Stormin’ Norman, and a cache of gold bars, intended during the war to pay the Lahu people for their help fighting the Viet Cong, but taken and buried by the Bloods for themselves. Set in the modern day, exploring the history of black oppression and racism in the USA, and released on Netflix among a backdrop of Black Lives Matter protests around the world, Da 5 Bloods could hardly be more relevant. But is it successful?

No, argues José. Spike Lee is in full-on propagandist, pamphleteer mode here, delivering lessons about racism and class, warfare and imperialism, black martyrs and heroes, but inartfully and clunkily. Although his direct address is striking and powerful, the Rambo-esque action adventure story to which it’s married lacks imagination and intelligence, and really functions only as a frame from which to hang the film’s essays. Its representation of the Vietnamese is at best crude and even arrogant, a scene with a man selling oranges and chickens particularly egregious, and its characters are thinly drawn, their relationships and development unsatisfying. Mike argues for one or two things he likes, particularly the way in which Stormin’ Norman is integrated into the story and the flashbacks to the war are put together, but ultimately cannot but agree with José’s disappointment.

Da 5 Bloods is an overpraised film that promises more than it delivers. But someone has finally managed to make a Vietnam film without using “Fortunate Son”, so there’s that.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

84 – BlacKkKlansman

We breathlessly debate BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s comic drama based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. With limited time – Mike has to leave for work at some point and he’ll only let himself be so late – we dig right in. Discussed is the film’s point of view on culture and particularly cinema, arguing that a single film can wield the power to affect an entire nation; John David Washington’s performance, the influences we can see in it, and whether a more charismatic star might have been beneficial; our attitudes to Lee’s pamphleteering and the pros and cons of propagandistic cinema; the film’s direct address of Trump’s America and its tragic, somewhat surprising ending; and more.

We question whether the film’s comic treatment of David Duke, head of the KKK, carefully undercuts our delight in mocking him or dangerously indulges it. Duke is rendered a figure of fun in some notable and hilarious scenes, but the film ensures we recognise that he has never gone away. And Mike is particularly affected by Adam Driver’s character, a Jew in name only who, through being threatened by the KKK and confronted by Ron, is forced to reckon with his identity and the fact that it’s been easy for him to ignore it for most of his life. (The Howard Jacobson article he references is linked here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/07/howard-jacobson-jews-know-what-antisemitism-is-and-what-it-isnt-to-invent-it-would-be-a-sacrilege)

As we acknowledge in the podcast, we unfortunately missed the first few minutes of the film, which is only one reason we want to see it again. Mike is bursting with thoughts and can’t get them all out; Jose vacillates on the film’s artistic value, though not its cultural value. There’s much, much more to consider in BlacKkKlansman than we were able to in this podcast and we shall return to it.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.