Mookie Once More: Spike Lee Discusses His Own Film Universe & Its Recurring Characters & Locales

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by Rodrigo Perez
January 27, 2012 3:45 PM
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Filmmakers like to revisit their own creative worlds so much that sometimes characters from older films reappear in newer films. This is deeper than simple sequels or prequels, they are a cinematic universe that the same characters inhabit and occasionally cross over within. Sometimes the reappearance of a character occurs as an artfully subtle, self-referential nod on a director's part, while other times it's pretty obvious, not meant to be a hidden treat for fans to notice.

Kevin Smith has the View Askew universe, Todd Solondz has his cast of recurring characters ("Happiness," "Welcome To The Dollhouse" and "Life During Wartime") and so too does Quentin Tarantino. Everyone likely knows that John Travolta's Vincent Vega from "Pulp Fiction" is the brother of Michael Madsen's Vic Vega from "Reservoir Dogs" and lots of big and small connections exist in his other films too (perhaps one of the more recent examples is Eli Roth's "Inglourious Basterds" soldier being the father of Lee Donowitz, the sleazy movie producer character in "True Romance"; myriad instances such as these from Tarantino's universe can be found here). In fact, this is just scratching the surface -- if you want more examples of directors who use character crossovers, just click right here.

One helmer who's developed his own insular universe that might not come immediately to mind is Spike Lee. His iconic character Mookie from "Do The Right Thing" has a cameo in his latest effort "Red Hook Summer" (read our review here), but other connections already exist that non-hardcore Lee fans might not know about.

During a very recent New York Times talk in Sundance hosted by David Carr, Lee spoke of some of the connections viewers may or may not have noticed over the years of his career and what he considers to be his continuing "Brooklyn Chronicles" (which includes five films: "She's Gotta Have It," "Do The Right Thing," "Crooklyn," "Clockers" and now "Red Hook Summer" -- but Spike, what about "He Got Game" and "Jungle Fever"? They also take place in Brooklyn, the former having a lot of great scenes near Coney Island).

"'Red Hook Summer' is the fifth installment on what I call my ongoing chronicles of Brooklyn; we call it the republic of Brooklyn," he said, going on to rattle off each aforementioned movie above. "All these films are connected and you just have to be aware of it. If you go to 'Inside Man' when they ordered pizza for the hostages, the pizzas came from Sal's Famous Pizzeria (from 'Do The Right Thing'). In Jungle Fever,' the two NYPD Cops who murdered Radio Raheem (in 'Do The Right Thing')? They reappeared in 'Jungle Fever' and broke up what they thought was a fight between Annabella Sciorra and Wesley Snipes. Those two cops also reappeared in 'Clockers.' Mookie's coming back in 'Red Hook Summer' in a very small role -- it's not a prequel or sequel to 'Do The Right Thing' -- but all these films are connected for my ongoing chronicles of Brooklyn, New York."

While some of this may be old hat to some, it's still interesting nonetheless. Can you think of any more in the Spike Lee universe? If so, sound off in the comments below. Wikipedia has a few other ones listed on the "Do The Right Thing" page, but some of the connections are admittedly kind of tenuous. "Red Hook Summer" may be dividing critics down the middle -- our man in Sundance was on the yay side -- but those of us Playlisters not in Park City (many of us), are still dying to see it. No word on a distributor yet, but it's likely only a matter of time, though our hunch is that given its subject matter (not a tentpole or a twee meet-cute rom-com that Sundancers seem to adore), the studio that takes the picture might be someone relatively small.

Check out the entire interview below. It also features Lee's former student Dee Rees, the director of "Pariah." If you're at all a fan, it's an absorbing hour of good conversation. Update: In an interview with Lee, the filmmaker tells us about two more characters from his universe in "Red Hook Summer."

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2 Comments

  • Rich | February 8, 2012 3:35 PMReply

    ...To add to that, Mark, Da Bomb made its first appearance even earlier, in Clockers.

    The 'Gangsta' video game also features in both Clockers and Inside Man.

    Also... In Mo Better Blues, we hear Samuel L Jackson as DTRT's Mr Senor Love Daddy, introducing 'Rescue Me' by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas as Giant (Spike Lee) gets taken for a torturous car ride by the bad guys.

  • Mark | January 27, 2012 7:13 PMReply

    In "Inside Man" when Denzel Washington gets back to his apartment at the end of the film, his girlfriend's brother is sitting passed out on the couch. He is holding a "Da Bomb" malt liquor 40oz. which was featured in Lee's other film "Bamboozled.

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