Crazy happens in this kind of heat.
“Things jump off in the summer, especially, in New York — all those people living on top of each other,” Lee says during a press conference in D.C.
“In those temperatures, people lose it.”
“Red Hook Summer,” is the latest chapter in Lee’s “Chronicles of Brooklyn series,” which includes such legendary films as “She’s Gotta Have It”; “Do the Right Thing”; “Crooklyn”; “Clockers”; and “He Got Game.”
Lee’s latest tells the tale of “Flik Royale” (Jules Brown), a teenage boy from Atlanta who is sent by his mother Colleen Royale (De’Adre Aziza) to spend the summer in Brooklyn with the boy’s Bible-thumping grandfather, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse, (Clarke Peters of “The Wire” fame).
Flik befriends a teenage girl Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith), who helps him navigate Brooklyn, a new world to a teenager from the South. Da Good Bishop relentlessly tries to get Flik “to accept Christ,” until Da Good Bishop’s own ugly history is revealed and the story takes a turn.
“The little church is struggling,” says Lee, an Academy-Award nominated filmmaker. “Da Good Bishop is trying to rally the congregation in a good, hard world. He’s trying to get his grandson to find Jesus.”
The tension between Flik and Da Bishop “is personal and generational,” Lee says. “Any institution, if it doesn’t try to recruit youth to reenergize, is going to die out. Any church, whose members are only senior citizens, will die out. That goes for mosques, synagogues. How many times do you see sports teams…the guys seem to get old at the same time? Youth has energy.”
Lee’s character “Mr. Mookie” (Do the Right Thing) returns to the screen in “Red Hook Summer,” still delivering pizza. Lee explains that Flik is at “the age where he’s starting to act up. His mother broke down” and sent him to his grandfather in Brooklyn, “kickin’ and screaming.”
Lee spent 18 days shooting “Red Hook Summer,” which is co-written by James McBride. Lee shot the film with a Sony F3 camera, and financed the project himself.
“This is not a studio endeavor,” Lee said. “You gotta go with what you got.” Then for publicity, “You do what you can to get the word out.”
Lee said the story idea came while Lee and McBride were having breakfast at a coffee shop at 61st and Madison Avenue. (The church scenes were shot in an actual church, New Brown Memorial Baptist, which was founded by McBride’s mother and father.) Lee said that he and McBride talked about how rare it is to see teenagers like their own children on the big screen. Despite changes in the movie industry, they wanted to tell the story of a real kid with a real story, not an action figure.
“It takes a lot for somebody to leave their home” and go see a movie in a theater, Lee concedes. “Everybody has 8-foot, big-[expletive] TVs in their living room. Big-[expletive] speakers. It takes extra stuff to get people out.” But Lee said in “Red Hook Summer,” “You are not going to see people flying through the air with a cape and blowing [expletive] up.”
Lee is wearing a white Kangol hat, orange socks and black shoes. In the private room upstairs in Eatonville Restaurant in Northwest Washington, Lee does back-to-back interviews, including one-on-ones with deejays, bloggers and Grammy-nominated singer Raheem DeVaughn, who is wearing thick black glasses with no lenses.
Through the interviews, Spike Lee seems patient. But he suffers no fools.
Someone asks him to describe his legacy.
“I can’t determine for people what they think about my body of work,” Lee says. “I just have to keep going.”
Lee, who just finished directing “Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth,” on Broadway, is also working on his next film “Oldboy,” the re-make of Chan-wook Park's “Oldboy,” which stars Josh Brolin, Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Hornsby. Lee is also finishing a documentary about the making of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album, set to be released in October.
“This was the album that followed the biggest-selling album of all-time, ‘Thriller.’” Lee says, “We’ve got stuff in there people have never seen.”
“The angle is Michael’s genius and how he put together his work,” Lee says. It’s not about any Jackson family drama, Lee clarifies. “It’s about his work, his art and how hard he worked. He was a great artist.” People don’t understand, the work a great artist puts into his craft.
“Look at Michael Jordan and Ali. They make it look effortless. That’s hard to do. They bust their [expletive] for many years.”
“Red Hook Summer,” opens in D.C. Aug. 24: AMC Hoffman Center 22; AMC Magic Johnson Capital Center 12; West End Cinema; Regal Bowie 14; Regal Majestic 20 in Silver Spring.
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