School Daze

While it lacks the controlled energy and the sense of closure found in She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee’s second feature-length “film joint” is much more innovative, ambitious, and exciting: a full-scale tackling of class warfare within the black community, set in a mainly black college in Atlanta, that explodes in every direction. The conflicts are mainly between the light-skinned, upwardly mobile Wannabees, who belong to fraternities, and the dark-skinned Jigaboos, who feel more racial pride; the issues between 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). Lee, who seems slightly closer to the Jigaboos, takes care not to stack the deck on either side (although he’s less than friendly to the college administration); the movie’s address is basically to the black community, but white spectators looking for an education in black issues could do a lot worse than visit this movie and get pointers from the diverse factions in the black audience, who follow it almost like a sporting event. The film runs about two hours, and like Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, it’s definitely ragged around the edges; the musical numbers (scored by the writer-director-producer’s father Bill Lee) are extremely variable, and the overall continuity is fairly choppy. But Lee is onto something new and potentially quite fruitful–a black cinema made by and for blacks that owes very little to the fantasies of either Hollywood or the earlier tradition of black films represented by Oscar Micheaux. The format may be that of a stylized musical, but the issues at stake are volatile and vital. With Larry 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. (Dearborn, Evergreen, Hillside Mall, Hyde Park)

Published on 26 Feb 1988 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Fire From the Mountain

A stirring and informative account of the Sandinista struggle, made up almost exclusively of personal testimonies from Sandinistas, this documentary by Deborah Shaffer–who won an Oscar in 1985 for her Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements–is loosely based on Omar Cabezas’s book about his own training as a guerrilla fighter in response to the Somoza dictatorship. The physicality and mythical dimensions of the guerrillas’ experiences in the mountains are an important part of the story here, but the film includes much more: newsreel footage and Nicaraguan witnesses speak of American invasions throughout this century, and the commentaries of Cabezas (now vice-minister of the interior of the new Nicaraguan government) and others are intelligent and pointed, moving beyond slogans to give a detailed portrait of their history, problems, and aspirations. Music is provided by bassist and composer Charlie Haden. (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, February 26 and 27, 7:00 and 9:00; Sunday, February 28, 5:30 and 7:30; and Monday through Thursday, February 29 through March 3, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114)

Published on 26 Feb 1988 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Reichsautobahn

While it lacks the range and analytical bite of his previous Images of Germany (1983), Hartmut Bitomsky’s 1986 feature documentary about the enormous auto route built by the Nazis does create some interesting reflections on this massive and monumental project. Alternating archival footage of the construction and contemporary interviews with some of the workers with kitschy propaganda films made by the Third Reich, which attempted to “sell” the Autobahn to a recalcitrant public, Bitomsky puts together a kind of cultural history that may be long-winded and dry in spots, but that still adds up to an absorbing document about a monument designed to provide “not the shortest but the noblest connection between two points.” (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, February 19, 6:00, and Saturday, February 20, 6:00 and 8:00, 443-3737)

Published on 19 Feb 1988 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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The Rise of Louis XIV

One of Roberto Rossellini’s supreme masterpieces, and perhaps the greatest of the TV films that mark his last period. Made in 1966, the film chronicles the gradual steps taken in the Sun King’s seizure of power over 21 years; the treatment is contemplative, wise, and quietly humorous, and Rossellini’s innovative trick shots to integrate the real decor of Versailles are deftly executed. The color photography is superb. (Univ. of Chicago, 1212 E. 59th St., Sunday, February 14, 8:00, 702-8574)

Published on 12 Feb 1988 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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