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Flashback - Spike Lee's "Mo' Better Blues" Starring Denzel Washington

Shadow and Act By Cynthia Reid | Shadow and Act November 20, 2011 at 11:25AM

Spike Lee's fourth feature film, Mo' Better Blues, is one of his films that I think got shafted in some way.  It was released right after the controversial, highly debated Do The Right Thing, therefore, the expectations were high...maybe too high for a jazz-centered flick.
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"Mo' Better Blues" poster

Spike Lee's fourth feature film, Mo' Better Blues, is one of his films that I think got shafted in some way.  It was released right after the controversial, highly debated Do The Right Thing, therefore, the expectations were high...maybe too high for a jazz-centered flick.

Besides Denzel Washington, the all-star cast includes Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Robin Harris, Joie Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Nicholas Turturro, Charles Murphy, Ruben Blades, Abby Lincoln, Samuel L. Jackson and Cynda Williams

The story centers on a fictional trumpeter named Bleek Gilliam played by Washington.  He leads a quartet, The Bleek Gilliam Quartet, at the Beneath the Underground club with a flashy saxophonist named Shadow Henderson (Snipes).  Though Shadow takes a few too many solos, everything seems fine in Bleek's life. Trouble soon arises, however, and he is forced to make decisions regarding both his best friend and manager Giant (Spike Lee), who is addicted to gambling and often gets roughed up by thugs. Bleek is the only member of the quintet who wants to keep him as manager. He also must decide between two girlfriends who both love him: Indigo the schoolteacher (Lee) and Clark (Williams), a singer.

Although most of the reviews for the film were favorable, there seemed to be an underlying theme of it lacking the "edge" of his other films.  High scores were given, as expected, for the music and visual styling of the film.  Roger Ebert stated... "Mo' Better Blues is not a great film, but it's an interesting one, which is almost as rare.  There are scenes that seem incompletely thought-out, improvised dialog that sounds more like improvisation than dialog, and those strange narrative bookends at the top and bottom of the movie. But the film has a beauty, grace and energy all the same."

The soundtrack, which features the music of John Coltrane, Branford Marsalis and Bill Lee (Spike's father), easily makes up for the shortcomings of the flick.

I often wonder if it didn't immediately follow Do The Right Thing would the collective response been different?  We'll never know.  Anyway, check out two favorite musical selections below.  "Harlem Blues" by Cynda Williams and "Mo' Better Blues" by the Brandford Marsalis Quartet.


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