The talk of the slopes, cold huddled buses and inebriated parties so far at Sundance 2012 has arguably been Spike Lee’s latest film, “Red Hook Summer” (read our review here). Evidently a polarizing film (some seem to love it, some hate it; our reviewer dug it), it’s nonetheless lit up the town with passionately divided yay or nay conversations and good films should always provoke at least some discussion.
Arguably almost overshadowing the film itself was Lee’s heated and controversial Q&A after last night’s premiere in Park City (which you can read about in detail here) which included more than one fiery rant. "We never went to the studios with this film...I bought a camera and said we're gonna do this motherfucking ourselves,” he said about financing his latest.
Absent from the feature-film game since 2008’s poorly received box-office bomb, “Miracle at St. Anna,” “Red Hook Summer” may be Lee's first narrative drama in three years, but it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be the first return to his Brooklyn roots that made it to the screen. Circa 2010, Lee was working on a film from an original script he had written called, “Brooklyn Loves MJ,” which was classic, old-school Spike Lee. Set in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, this Cain-and-Abel-like story of two brothers centered around the themes of encroaching Caucasian gentrification, the effects of gangs and drugs in the neighborhood, and it took place in the summer of 2009, the day that Michael Jackson died. It was a striking and ambitious piece of work that was rumored to star people like Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, Julianne Moore, Rosie Perez, Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington.
The film never actually happened. But Playlist contributor Todd Gilchrist sat down with Lee this afternoon and tried to get some answers. “That was first [before ‘Red Hook Summer’],” Lee said simply of the project. “We couldn’t get it done.”
The reason why, Lee said, was his major bête noire of late: money. “That was budget. I mean, that was something I was not able to finance myself,” he said. “[‘Red Hook Summer’] was done with a SAG low-budget agreement. That film, I could not have done like that.”
Some, including us, speculated that receiving the rights to not only Michael Jackson’s name, but his music could be cost-prohibitive for a project like this. “If I know some people, they give me a break sometimes,” Lee said, having had music by Stevie Wonder and Prince in his films before. “But I don’t get the music free, and nor should I.”
While arguably the studio remake of “Oldboy” is next on Lee’s plate (though its start date was recently pushed) when asked if “Brooklyn Loves MJ” could be coming soon, the director answered, “I hope so.” He knocked on wood and said, “Hopefully that will be the next story,” though it’s open to debate whether he meant the next personal story or simply the next film he follows “Red Hook Summer” with.
As for that trio of biopics of famous African-American historical figures, baseball legend Jackie Robinson, seminal boxing figure Joe Louis and the inimitable godfather of soul James Brown, he had in the works, well, we may never see them at all.
When asked about them Lee said, “Here’s the ones that didn’t happen. Jackie Robinson, there’s one on Joe Louis and Max Schmelling [which Lee recently revealed he discussed with Arnold Schwarznegger] and the last one was going to be on James Brown. Those were three films that never came to fruition.”
Just in case, we asked once more could “Brooklyn Loves MJ” be next? “Who knows?” he said. “Right now we’re focused and concentrating on ‘Red Hook Summer.’ " While his latest effort doesn’t have distribution yet, we imagine it’ll only be a few days until it’s announced and that it will hopefully stick to its target launch date of summer 2012.