SPIKE LEE: SPEAKING HIS MIND (AS ALWAYS…)
SPIKE is one of my heroes. He tells it like it is. No holds barred.
SPIKE LEE isn’t feeling the love from Hollywood’s money people.
“I haven’t made a feature film in three years,” he stated.
SPIKE has lately focused on documentary work with two films about post Katrina New Orleans for HBO. But he had designs on biopics about JACKIE ROBINSON – the BROOKLYN DODGERS slugger who broke baseball’s colour barrier – and soul icon JAMES BROWN. And he was in discussions a while back for a sequel to the thriller INSIDE MAN, which starred DENZEL WASHINGTON, CLIVE OWEN and JODIE FOSTER. But he’s been unable to secure financing.
“Inside Man was my most successful film,” he said, adding that he had DENZEL and JODIE on board for the sequel.
“But we can’t get the sequel made. And one thing Hollywood does well is sequels. The film’s not getting made. We tried many times. It’s not going to happen.”
SPIKE’S comments came during a freewheeling Q&A session with public television’s CHARLIE ROSE at PROMAXBDA, the annual marketing, branding and design conference.
SPIKE received the organization’s LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD for his work in film and television, including a series of groundbreaking commercials for NIKE that featured MICHAEL JORDAN and SPIKE as MARS BLACKMON, the character he played in his 1986 breakthrough film SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT.
“First of all, what in this world does not revolve around money? But money is a big part of film, unlike a lot of other art forms.”
SPIKE wore a tan seersucker jacket over a T shirt and a straw pork pie hat. And when CHARLIE’S cell phone rang at the beginning of the presentation, SPIKE jumped from his seat as the crowd in the NEW YORK HILTON ballroom cheered him on.
“I just want you to know,” remarked SPIKE, as he walked to the front of the stage, “on my sets, when the camera is rolling and the phone rings: $50.”
“Will you take $5?” asked CHARLIE, rising from his chair and fishing in his front pockets. “I’ll let you slide,” SPIKE laughed.
(Later in the presentation, CHARLIE’S phone rang a second time. “I owe you $100,” said the contrite Mr. Rose. It did not ring a third time.)
SPIKE – whose cinematic heroes include MARTIN SCORSESE, BILLY WILDER and FEDERICO FELLINI – has never won an ACADEMY AWARD. But he likened ACADEMY voters to basketball referees who attempt to make amends for a bad call with what is known in the sports world as a subsequent make up call.
By way of some examples of this theory, SPIKE offered AL PACINO and DENZEL WASHINGTON. AL turned in numerous OSCAR worthy performances in DOG DAY AFTERNOON, SERPICO, THE GODFATHER and THE GODFATHER PART II…among others. But he won his only OSCAR for SCENT OF A WOMAN. DENZEL did not win a BEST ACTOR trophy for SPIKE LEE’S MALCOLM X, though he was nominated. He received his BEST ACTOR trophy nearly 10 years later for TRAINING DAY.
“In 1989, Do The Right Thing was not even nominated [for Best Picture],” said SPIKE, with some mock outrage.
“What film won Best Picture in 1989? Driving Miss Motherfucking Daisy! That’s why [the Oscars] don’t matter. Because 20 years later, who’s watching Driving Miss Daisy?”
(SPIKE was nominated for BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY for DO THE RIGHT THING, though he didn’t win. And in 1999, the film was selected by the U.S. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS for preservation in the NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY.)
“There are many times in history where the best work does not get awarded. And I’m not even talking about my own work. So that’s why [the Oscars] don’t matter.”
SPIKE also talked about the election of BARACK OBAMA, whether he’d ever work with LEBRON JAMES and acting in his own films – something that earned him a comparison to WOODY ALLEN.
On controversial MIAMI HEAT superstar LEBRON JAMES:
“LeBron’s having a tough way to go now. And a lot of that I feel he brought upon himself. But I would work with him. I think he’s a good guy. He’s always been very respectful to me personally. And he’s funny. In a comedic role, I think he would do very well.”
On acting in his own films:
“I don’t like acting; not in front of the camera. The only reason I was in She’s Gotta Have It is because we couldn’t afford anybody else. But with the success of Mars Blackmon, I said, ‘I’ll continue to do it.’ At the same time, it was not something I enjoyed doing. Once it got to the point where it wouldn’t hurt [the film] if I weren’t in it I [stopped].”
On actors in general:
“You’re out there buck naked and that is hard. The reason why actors are fucked up; can you imagine having a job where someone is, ‘No, no, no. Your butt’s too big. Your head’s too big. You’re too skinny. Your nose is too big.’?”
On BARACK OBAMA:
“There were people who thought that racism and prejudice would be eradicated [with the election of the first African American president]. The moment he put his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s bible it was going to be abracadabra, presto chango, poof! I was there that night [in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night]. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I was swept up in the euphoria; drinking the Kool Aid like everybody else. And here we are: racism and prejudice have not disappeared.”
On President Obama’s re election prospects:
“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a fight.”