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"Jungle Fever" 20 Years Later...

by Sergio
June 8, 2011 7:18 AM
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WOW! Times really does fly by! It was exactly 20 years ago - June 7, 1991 - that Spike Lee's Jungle Fever first opened. Made at the time when Spike was THE director of the moment, and a film, like other films that Spike made during that period, which had its staunch defenders and detractors.

Personally it was the first film where I really noticed Spike's tendency to crank up the music REALLY LOUD so it's hard to hear what people are saying, and for his actors to overact. But despite those minor problems, like any good film, it's one that still resonates and perhaps is more relevant today then it was back then; especially with all this endless talk and articles about black women unable to find good black men, and those who are losing them to white women. It might have been an issue 20 years ago, but now it's REALLY a big issue.

And just look at the people in the film - Samuel L. Jackson, back then a unknown struggling actor who had just fought his own drug addiction and who knocked out people with his performance as Wesley Snipes' crackhead brother. Who knew he would go on to make 15, 578 movies since then?

Then there was that young unknown actress making her feature film debut, playing Jackson's crackhead girlfriend, Halle something or other. Whatever happened to her? And by the way, what ever happened to Lonette McKee who played Snipes' long suffering wife?

As for Snipes, well all we know where he currently is...unfortunately. Life sure takes some unexpected turns along the way doesn't it?

So what are your feelings about the film? I still think it's one of Spike's best, but does it still hold up for you or has its luster worn off for some of you over the years.

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  • Sergio | June 10, 2011 12:33 PMReply

    "Don’t tell me there’s a band called Pigmeat Markam? I wonder if Sergio knows anything about them?"

    There's only ONE Pigmeat Markam as far as I;m concerned and it ain't no musical band. And I wouldn't throw my cane at anyone. I would throw my walker

  • BluTopaz | June 10, 2011 2:05 AMReply

    I'm just playing with ya'll. But I think that's a great name for a band though

  • Dankwa Brooks | June 9, 2011 12:08 PMReply

    First of all, I’m one of the few people who think Halle Berry wholeheartedly deserved her Oscar for Monster’s Ball. I think she did a great and YES Oscar worthy performance. To qualify Eddie Murphy did a really good job in Dreamgirls, but it was NOT Oscar worthy in my opinion, and really who else’s matters (ha ha). Having said that Halle was gotdamn horrible in JF.

    Second, Samuel L. Jackson was really good in JF, one of his BEST performances, but his performance in Pulp Fiction was better and to prove it I’ll quote from the Bible - Ezekiel 25:17. The two times he spouted that verse was some of the finest performances I ever seen him give.

    JF is one of my fav Spike Lee Joints as well and while I think it fell apart in places (Anthony Quinn) it’s still one of his best. The scenes in the newsstand/ice cream shop were particularly funny as hell. The “war council” scene which Spike didn’t write just turned the cameras on and let the female actors improv it, is also very good.

  • CareyCarey | June 9, 2011 10:16 AMReply

    **Standing and applauding**

    JMac, woman, you handled this (me and Sergio, and the black card) with class and brillance. I love how you opened with... "Alright negroes… It sucks to be truthful but I ain’t gonna back down"

    When you said "alright negroes" I knew you were coming with something we could relate to, with a touch of sensibility.

    And I don't know/couldn't repeat one thin line from The Color Purple but I've seen it several times... but my lady knows the whole damn script. I've seen Lean On Me a few times, but all I rcan remember about Mr Clark is the chains he put on the door, and Bill Wither's song.

    I am glad you kept a smile on your face and took this in stride. Sergio is a mean old grumpy ass black man *LMBAO * and he should know better.

    But you handled yourself like a champ. Your closing line said so.... "Now that I’ve got my ball back , I’m gonna jump off Sergio’s lawn before he opens the screen door. And don’t even think about throwing that cane at me"

    And ya gotta love a black woman that never watched John Wayne films.

    So, in short, you have my vote for reinstatement. Well, there is one thing you have to do. You have to find, and listen to one of the albums Sergio mentioned, and then come back and tell us what you think. Then... my good friend... you're in there!

    And I do remember you telling us that you were required to take piano lessons at a very early age.

    Side note: Pigmeat Markam, the funk/reggae band???

    Alright Blu, you got me. Don't tell me there's a band called Pigmeat Markam? I wonder if Sergio knows anything about them?

  • JMac | June 9, 2011 5:57 AMReply

    Alright negroes... It sucks to be truthful but I ain't gonna back down. Disturbs the learning process. Carey's right in that watching movies is not my main interest . Dad was a professional singer so our focus in the arts is music derived. Now if you want to have in depth discussions on the history and evolution of black american music from the fields to the church to the whore houses to the juke joints to Carnegie Hall- with a little doo wop, fusion jazz, early funk and some bossa nova thrown in - I'm your girl.

    Otherwise, my movie watching is hit and miss. Haven't watched Gone with the Wind (and never going to) but have seen Body and Soul. Seen excerpts of Birth of a Nation (not gonna watch that either), but have watched The Passion of Joan of Arc. Never watched John Wayne films but have seen all of Bruce Lee's. Films aren't my livelihood or my greatest passion so I'm not going to fill all the holes like someone who is. If something is suggested and it interests me I'll watch it... maybe and if I remember it. Now if it's a film, show, or documentary on a classic black musician/singer I'll be all over it like flies to ... sugar.

    From the responses on that theme song post, I know I'm not the only black person who hasn't seen this film. Willing to bet there's a few here who can't recite even 5 lines from the Color Purple or who doesn't know Joe Clark's speech in Lean On Me by heart. That may be the reason they stop by here. Get some info on the new stuff and revisit the old.

    Oh and yes I had to google Pigmeat Markham. If it weren't for the internet...

    Now that I've got my ball back , I'm gonna jump off Sergio's lawn before he opens the screen door. And don't even think about throwing that cane at me.

  • Sergio | June 9, 2011 4:23 AMReply

    "And everybody involved with Fever, except for Anthony Quinn..."

    OOPS! Sorry I forgot that Ossie Davis as well has passed away too since the film first came out

    @ J Mac

    So you're saying that you only watch movies that came out last week? That must means there are at least a million films you haven't seen before since they were released before you were born. And also that you have NO interest in searching out and seeing older films? Is it just me or am I the only one who finds that very limited. I'm constantly looking at older films that either I've before or to watch for the first time even back to silent films

  • Blutopaz | June 9, 2011 3:53 AMReply

    Pigmeat Markam, the funk/reggae band? Yeah they're fly--heh heh

  • Cherish | June 9, 2011 3:11 AMReply

    "Well, if you read any of the behind the scenes books on the making of the movie you’ll learn she was doing a different movie than Spike and Snipes. She wanted to portray the relationship as being more substantial, Spike and Snipes took the view that the two characters paired up only for sex. "

    I have heard about that and other issues that caused tension on the set.

    I can't say if Spike should have written a more "heartbreaking" tale, but I don't believe the movie was just about "black and white" sex. Remember the contrasting scenes where Snipes character is telling Spike's character about "the woman he boned", while Sciorra's character is telling her friends about "a guy she met at of the office." It's such a raw honesty, beyond just race, on how men and women can have different views of a sexual encounter or relationship.

    I think that is the brilliance of Spike's movies, how they really aren't just about race. I kind of felt that that Snipe's character (damn what was his name skeeter, or some crap like that) was likely cheat anyway, didn't matter if the woman was black or not. Her race was just something that maybe piqued his interest.

    So many other dynamics going on. It is pretty good film, not perfect, but good.

  • Sergio | June 9, 2011 3:03 AMReply

    I've got Pryor, Pigmeat, Moms Mably, Redd Foxx, Blowfly and EVERY Rudy Ray Moore album

    And you definitely know Pigmeat

  • CareyCarey | June 9, 2011 2:59 AMReply

    Well Sergio, between me and you.... "have you seen my wife?"

    "I ain't seen her"

    "Have another drink, have another drink! Have you seen my wife"

    "Pig, I ain't seen her"

    "have another drink, have another drink"

    "Pig, you gotta dirty woman"

    "have another drink, have another drink. Have you seen my wife?"

    "Pig, yo lady *pause*"

    "Have another drink"

    "Pig, you got a dirty woman, she's in room 202, with another man" :-)

    But Sergio, surely the under 40 crowd has heard those classics? Who hasn't heard of the Signifying Monkey?

    I mean, JMac didn't hatch from an egg, and she's a black woman, so I am sure her parents had a few "classics" spinning on their Motorola?

    And I am jealous.... you still have the LP of “Open The Door Richard!”?!

    What about Richard Pryor's? Huh, do you have any of his?

  • Sergio | June 9, 2011 2:05 AMReply

    @ CAREY

    Believe me if JMac hasn't seen Jungle Fever then NO WAY she's going to know is Pigmeat Markam is.

    In fact I still have the LP of "Open The Door Richard!" - One of the brillianly conceptulized comic monologues ever created. That and "My wife? I ain't seen her"

  • CareyCarey | June 9, 2011 1:27 AMReply

    Sergio said: "@ J Mac

    "So you’re saying that you only watch movies that came out last week? That must means there are at least a million films you haven’t seen before since they were released before you were born. And also that you have NO interest in searching out and seeing older films? Is it just me or am I the only one who finds that very limited. I’m constantly looking at older films that either I’ve before or to watch for the first time even back to silent films"

    Jmac had said: "Sorry peeps but I’ve never seen Jungle Fever. Hope I don’t get my black card taken away"

    Well, like Sergio, I too thought about this last night (and this morning). But I didn't want to come to hard on my girl Jmac, cuz it had to take a lot of courage to admit, as a 30 something black women in America, that she had not seen one of Spike Lee's better films (some would say his most relevant film). I mean, SPIKE LEE and WEASLEY SNIPES and SAMUEL JACKSON and HALLE BERRY and RUBY & OSSIE DAVIS, in one of spikes early breakout films!? Blasphemy!

    However, trying to be fair and honest, everybody is not as old as Sergio and I, and although Jmac visits this site, and supports this site, that does not mean one of her leading avenues of escape and entertainment is found in watching movies.

    So I, personally have to give her a break. But wait, I am one lone voice. I think the issue of giving back her black card should go before the council of Slippery Black Behavior. Yes sir, we have to be fair about this.

    When the board convenes (like, right now) supporters of JMac can take the floor and say why she should be allowed to keep her black card. The board, whose chairman is Sergio, will consider JMac's statements and those of her friends, family and birds of a feather, to come to a rightous decision.

    In the case that JMac's group does not sway the opinion of the board, she can appeal to a higher supreme court which consists of Judge Joe Brown, Judge Judy, Judge Mathis, and Pigmeat Markham.

    That seems fair to me. Let the litigation begin. :-)

  • JMac | June 9, 2011 1:18 AMReply

    Sorry peeps but I've never seen JF. Too young to watch it when it came out and big bro wouldn't let me tag along with his group. Actually, I forgot this film existed. It's never shown on tv and they don't play Stevie's music from the soundtrack. Out of sight, out of mind. I vaguely remember all the hype surrounding it back then and that my siblings didn't like it (the storyline between Ozzie Davis and Sam Jackson in particular). Guess I should put it in my queue along with Mo Better Blues - only watched 30 minutes of that film when it aired on HBO. Couldn't get into it. Hope I don't get my black card taken away.

  • Lynn | June 8, 2011 12:33 PMReply

    I agree w/ most of you "Jungle Fever" is one of Spike Lee's best work as a writer/filmmaker. One of my favs are Jungle Fever (Of Course), & 25th Hour.

    Spike hits the nail in his films he creates stories about everyday people from different walks of life and tackling major issues in society that are not often raised like; interracial dating, discrimination, racial profiling etc.

    Spike would have to be one of my fav directors of all time. He gets a bad rap for his out spoken views on various filmmakers (*cough* Tyler Perry) and the state of Black culture and film.

    Oh, and R.J I agree Lonette McKee is a gem she should be recognized more in cinema. I'm with you Honey 2 really? smh

  • AccidentalVisitor | June 8, 2011 12:22 PMReply

    A good film that could have been great if Spike and his prejudices hadn't gotten in the way. What could have been a tragic and heartbreaking tale about an unwise and doomed love affair ended up being a Spike Lee rant about "brothas" that stray. Spike's dad did Spike's mom wrong in that way so Spike was eager to do a film in which he essentially condemned interracial relationships involving black men and white women. Hey, Spike has every right to feel that way but if he couldn't be objective about it he never should have tackled the subject. IMO.

    Someone wrote that Annabella Sciorra came across more sympathetic than Snipes. Well, if you read any of the behind the scenes books on the making of the movie you'll learn she was doing a different movie than Spike and Snipes. She wanted to portray the relationship as being more substantial, Spike and Snipes took the view that the two characters paired up only for sex. There were arguments/disagreements behind the scenes.

    Since we're on the subject of "Jungle Fever" I have to point out that in a recent podcast Sergio mentioned that Ebony magazine did not place dark skinned people on its covers even as recently back as the 90s. But I recall years ago seeing Wesley Snipes on the cover of Ebony for a feature/cover story of "Jungle Fever". If I misinterepreted Sergio's remarks then I apologize but I wanted to be fair to Ebony in this case.

    Supposedly Cannes Film Festival created a special award of Best Supporting Actor to reward Samuel L Jackson for his performance as the crack fiend. It is truly one of Jackson's three best performances.

    With all the adoration Halle Berry has shown Spike over the years because of her gratitude regarding him giving her that minor role, it amazes me Spike never did a film with Halle as its star. A wasted opportunity on his part.

  • Cherish | June 8, 2011 11:55 AMReply

    I remember watching this movie feeling more sympathy for Sciorra's character than Snipes' character. I thought she actually cared for him, while for the brotha it really was about jungle fever (and getting the booty). In the end, she paid a bigger price for the relationship, I think.

    Someone mentioned on another thread that Spike Lee makes his white characters sympathetic, and I think this was one of those movies when they were. He definitely gave more face time to the Italians in the movie, like at the newstand/ice cream soda shop

    Jackson and Berry's scene in the park are classic. So is Jackson's crack-head dance, "I'll do it, I'll do it, cauze I'm a ck,ck,ck, ka crack head!" Cracking up just thinking about it.

    This movie feels both dated and relevant. Dated because interracial dating is so common today, one almost feels foolish complaining about it. But still relevant, because that scene with the sistas talking about interracial dating could have taken place yesterday. Those feelings are there and still raw.

    One of Spike's underrated gems. As a Brooklynite, I agree with Topaz on all that was taking place in NYC when this movie came out. My sister was going to a high school in Bensonhurst at the time. Sure there was some tension, but she was also introduced to cannolis. And man, there is nothing like a cannoli from an Italian bakery in Brooklyn, back in the day. Good times.

  • CareyCarey | June 8, 2011 11:46 AMReply

    "And while we’re at it how about a blu-ray of Mo’ Better Blues from Universal as well? That film would look stunning in blu-ray"

    Look out now! Mo'Better Blues with Denzel and Wesley, and the cool jazz music, and a sex scene.. with somebodies woman that ain't "his" woman.... BLU RAY! The movie just had that sultry feeling.

    But Sergio, I gotta go back to "who hasn't seen Jungle fever... four times". I mean, the movie coined the phrase.... wait... JUNGLE FEVER. Er'body knows what that means, and what movie it cames from (well, not everybody :-(. I wonder if those that have never seen Jungle Fever, knows what "Mandingo" means to the black community?

    On a side note, I still think Samuel Jackson has played the part of a crackhead, better than anyone else. Maybe Chris Rock's "Pookie" might give him a run for his money.

    One more time.... who has NEVER seen Jungle Fever?

  • Adam Scott Thompson | June 8, 2011 11:14 AMReply

    I consider this film Halle Berry's best performance -- ever. And Sam Jack still kills me dead w/ that shimmy followed by a look of surprise on his face when Ossie Davis shoots him.

  • Yolanda Lewis | June 8, 2011 10:55 AMReply

    I agree it is one of Spike's best! Too bad his films become irrelevant over time. One of the best sex scenes on film (Snipes, Sciorra, the desk) :)

  • R.J. | June 8, 2011 10:49 AMReply

    I love this movie, there are so many great performances and it tackles such a loaded subject. It pretty much exemplifies what everyone either loves or hates about Spike Lee. I was just considering buying the DVD because I've been thinking about Lonette McKee, one of my favorite underused/underrated actresses. Such a shame she doesn't get more work (Honey 2...really?).

  • Sergio | June 8, 2011 10:47 AMReply

    "I mean, for the most part, who has never seen this movie?"

    CAREY I thought the exact same thing. Like really? Who hasn't seen this film? And not only that but has seen it ONLY once?

    And I'm surprised that Universal has not deemed fit to release a special 20th anniversary blu-ray DVD edition of the film like they did with Do The Right Thing. And everybody involved with Fever, except for Anthony Quinn, is still alive so they could have been new commentaries by Spike, Sam, Halle even Wesley...recorded during viisiting hours.

    And while we're at it how about a blu-ray of Mo' Better Blues from Universal as well? That film would look stunning in blu-ray

  • BluTopaz | June 8, 2011 9:54 AMReply

    This film is especially poignant for me because it was made during a racially tumultuous era in NYC, and the opening credit dedicated to Yusef Hawkins made me teary eyed from the get go. For fun, read where many White critics or moviegoers didn't care for this movie because they didn't like how 'all that racism stuff' was soooo exaggerated, or even better, it was racist AGAINST WHITE PEOPLE by showing so many violent Italians. That was an era where several young Black men were chased and murdered by eye-Talian mobs just for showing up in their neighborhoods, but Spike's movie focused on race too much. Ok.

    So JF was very timely unfortuntately, and there were Black people in the audience I sat in (men and women) who applauded Ossie's eloquent monologue at the dinner table against his son's relationship with a White woman. 20 years later and Spike is still the only famous filmmaker we have who says exactly what a lot of us are thinking. I don't always like his films but I love him overall.

  • Curtis | June 8, 2011 9:04 AMReply

    I was JUST thinking about this on Sunday (the 20 years angle) though I didn't realize it was this week, though I do remember it came out before school was done (wow, it really has been that long) - thanks for keeping that synergy going Sergio!

    This is my 3rd/4th (it fluctuates) fave Spike film. I really didn't even care about the racial aspect after watching it for the first time but more about the family dynamics. The Purify family, John Turturro vs. Anthony Quinn. Man, that's awesome filmmaking and casting.

    BTW, great blog Ashley.

    So...who's gonna do the Gator dance with me?

  • Darkan | June 8, 2011 8:57 AMReply

    It's a classic. I use several scenes from the film to coach and educate my actors in class.

  • CareyCarey | June 8, 2011 8:37 AMReply

    First, who's posting under Jmac? I mean, for the most part, who has never seen this movie?

    Okay, now I sort of wanted to touch on Sergio's opening comments related to the ongoing complaints by black women and how this movie is more relevant today than 20 years ago. I mean, is that true, are black women still crying in the dark about white women taking all the good men?

    Anyway, Spike is my guy so y'all know, I have nothing but love for this movie. Samuel did his thang but everyone carried their part. Ruby and Ossie ( I believe it was Ruby?) killed their parts (like they did in Do The Right Thang) and Halle... (I didn't even know that was Halle until 2 years later) did a fine job.

    But, I have to say I really don't go out of my way to see "cream in the coffee" or should I say "coffee in the white cream". You know, I'll watch it, but for me and my old school black ass, I'd rather see Whoopie and the weatherman Al Roker, kissing than Weasley and Sciorra.

    I know, some brothas are going to have jungle fever, and some sistahs are going to have Tarzan love *winking @ Tamara and Mullet Love**, but hey, make my funk the "P" funk, I want my funk uncut.

  • Neziah | June 8, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    It's a very good film, Spike displayed many different characters and sub-plots, and he orchestrated them all really well, I didn't find the film to be messy or anything like that, I was captivated from beginning to end. The film had some brilliant performances, specifically by Samuel L. Jackson(This is still arguably his best work as an actor), Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, everyone in the film was at least solid, great cast. Good writing, good cinematography, good direction, this was Spike Lee at the top of his game.

  • JMac | June 8, 2011 8:11 AMReply

    I've never seen this movie so not sure who's posting that comment below.

  • aa | June 8, 2011 7:58 AMReply

    One of Spike's best films. Provocative, brave, stylish. Some great scenes - the chat among the black women (talk about a scene which messes with simple ideas of feminism! lol), Snipes and Sciorra's passage of time as they get closer to each other, all the scenes with Sam Jackson.

  • Jmac | June 8, 2011 7:56 AMReply

    Don't forget Queen Latifah being mean to the white girl in her role as a waitress.

  • max | June 8, 2011 7:53 AMReply

    I personally still like Jungle Fever. Everyone was amazing. Samuel Jackson's performance is unforgettable. He could have stole the movie with more screen time.

  • Ashley | June 8, 2011 7:49 AMReply

    An odd, awkward, brave and frustrating film. Ironically, Samuel L Jackson is the best thing in it, despite his subplot detracting from the main thrust of the film. Crazy that it's 20 years old - thanks for pointing that out!

    In case anyone's interested, I did a piece about John Turturro's character in the film:

  • Zeus | June 8, 2011 7:30 AMReply

    Agreed. It is one of his best.

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