Daily Archives: March 24, 2004

School Daze

While it lacks the controlled energy of She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee’s second feature (1988) is much more innovative, ambitious, and exciting, tackling class warfare at a mainly black college in Atlanta. Lee takes care not to stack the deck against either the light-skinned, upwardly mobile Wannabees, who belong to fraternities, or the dark-skinned Jigaboos, who feel more racial pride, and the issues dividing them range from the college’s investment in South Africa to straight versus nappy hair (the latter highlighted in a gaudy, Bye Bye Birdie-style musical number). Definitely raggedthe musical numbers are variable, and the overall continuity is fairly choppybut with this film Lee began to create a black cinema of his own. With Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell, Kyme, Joe Seneca, Art Evans, Ellen Holly, Ossie Davis, and Lee himself as the frat pledge Half-Pint, literally torn between the two warring factions. R, 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Emperor

Bernardo Bertolucci’s visually ravishing spectacle (1987) about the life of Pu Yi (1905-’67) is a genuine rarity: a blockbuster that manages to be historically instructive and intensely personal at the same time. Pu Yi (played by three children at ages 3, 8, and 15, and by John Lone as an adult) remained an outsider to contemporary Chinese history for most of his life, and Bertolucci uses his remoteness from China as an objective correlative of our own cultural distance as Westerners (virtually all of the dialogue is rendered in English). Working with visual and thematic rhymes, Bertolucci is interested in charting the gradual substitution of the state for the familythough two key agents in this process are the father figures of his Scottish tutor (Peter O’Toole) and a governor at a Chinese prison. 159 min. (JR)… Read more »