Saturday, February 06, 2010

of the
Part 15

VIE [***1/2]

(Spike Lee, US, 2009, 135 mins.)

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She swore, i' faith, 'twas strange, 'twas passing
strange; 'Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful.
-- Shakespeare's Othello (1603)

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Some rock operas become movies, like Hair and Hedwig and
the Angry Inch. Less frequently, a director will film one exactly
as it began—on stage. Spike Lee (School Daze, Crooklyn) takes
the latter approach in transforming Stew's Tony Award-winning
Public Theater-to-Broadway production into a feature film.

Drawing from his life story, the Negro Problem front man nar-
rates as a versatile combination of players act out his travels
from South Central LA to Europe in his quest for "the real."

Stew (born Mark Stewart) presents his younger self (Daniel
) as an aspiring bohemian who glimpses another world
through the high-flown words of Franklin (Colman Domingo),
leader of his church choir (De'adre Aziza, Chad Goodridge, and
Rebecca Naomi Jones round out the cast). Franklin describ-
es the two of them as "Black folks passing for black folks."

From there, Stew moves on to pot, punk, acid, speed,
sex, and love as he travels from Amsterdam to Ber-
lin, writing songs and trying on different personas.

For the most part, Lee sticks to the script, but follows the cast
backstage during the intermission, a move that recalls Carlos Sau-
, who often breaks the fourth wall in filming dance performan-
ces. If the sets are spare, the lighting can be quite spectacular.

In the end, Stew's story isn't really that unique. What makes it
special is the eloquent, yet earthy way he tells it (and the music is
an appealing mélange of pop, gospel, funk, and post-punk). If any-
thing, Stew is harder on himself than most other artists who broke
a few hearts, like that of his dedicated mother (Tony nominee Eisa
Davis), in pursuit of their ambitions. Special features include an
interview with Stew and musician/co-composer Heidi Rode-
wald and behind-the-scenes footage. Highly recommended.

Click here for Movie of the Month, Part 14: Trucker

Endnote: Slightly revised from the original
text. Image from David Lee/Sundance Selects.

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