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The Playlist Q&A: Spike Lee Talks 'Red Hook Summer,' Hollywood, Michael Jackson & More

Features
by Rodrigo Perez
August 9, 2012 3:07 PM
2 Comments
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Red Hook Summer, Spike Lee

The Republic of Brooklyn and its ongoing chronicles have taken director Spike Lee all over New York's brightest and best borough (its estimated that if Brooklyn was its own city it would be the fourth most populace one in the United States). "Do The Right Thing" took place in Bed-Stuyvesant, parts of "Jungle Fever" took place in Bensonhurst, while Harlem-centric "Mo' Better Blues" homebase was Dumbo, "Clockers" was set among the Boerum Hill projects, "He Got Game" landed in Coney Island and "She’s Gotta Have It" was centered in Fort Greene where Lee lived for many years, to name a few.

And so for his latest effort "Red Hook Summer," Lee looked to one of Brooklyn's isolated corners, Red Hook, the North-Western most tip, extending to the water and only a minor kayak ride away from the Statue of Liberty. As Lee said in our exclusive Playlist interview, Red Hook is largely cut off. "There's no subway out there, the only way out there is the B61 bus." And tucked away in the middle of Red Hook are its projects, a focal point that Lee and his co-writer James McBride ("Miracle At St. Anna") examined for their story. A non-traditionally narrative picture, the intimate "Red Hook Summer" is a coming of age tale that centers on Flik, a young, suburban, well-to-do teenager who receives a rude awakening when his mother sends him to stay with his baptist preacher grandfather ("The Wire" star Clarke Peters) in the Red Hook projects.

But the multi-faceted picture also thematically looks at religion and salvation while examining the effects of race, gentrification, class and the aspirations of fleeing ones limited circumstances. It's classic Spike Lee on paper and yet actually quite different in its playful, nostalgic and yes, sometimes somber tone. Even comparing it to "Crooklyn" does not quite do it justice. It's its own thing especially with religion at its center. The Playlist recently had the opportunity to sit down with Lee to discuss "Red Hook Summer" the ongoing chronicles of Brooklyn, some of the new projects he wants to tackle (an adaptation of the musical "Porgy & Bess"), his upcoming documentary Michael Jackson documentary "Bad 25" and much much more. "Red Hook Summer" opens in limited release on August 10th.

Red Hook Summer
What was the impetus for telling this story and why now?
Anytime I do a film, there's a story I want to tell at that particular moment in time and space. In the spring of 2011 I called my man James McBride, a great novelist -- we worked most recently on “Miracle At St. Anna” -- we met at a coffee shop on 61st and Madison and I just bought that camera [points to his Sony digital camera] and I said, ‘You've got to come up with something and I'll fiance it,’ and this is the final product.

When talking to James, did you have a story in place, did you want to write something about religion?
That stuff evolved. The first thing that happened was we wanted to do something with children. James and I both have children. These days you never see these kids in films unless it's in a gang bang film or something like that, so that's the first thing we did. Then we the idea of the kid coming up from the South, James grew up in Red Hook, I'd just done something with [New York Knicks star] Anthony Carmelo who's from Red Hook. Red Hook's very...have you been to Red Hook?

"Look at 'Do the Right Thing': John Savage’s character, he was the pioneer in Bed-Stuy. That was the beginning of gentrification when he stepped on Buggin Out’s Jordans."
Yeah, I live nearby. I'm often there on the weekends.
It's hard to get to Red Hook, the B61 bus, the train is ten blocks away, but now you've got Fairway, the Pier, the Brooklyn Terminal, the ferry and all this, you know, gentrification in the neighborhood and right in the middle you've got the projects. And gentrification is happening everywhere. I mean D.C. used to be chocolate city, not anymore. Chicago's South Side, it's all gentrified.

So that was a theme you wanted to explore?
Yes, we knew gentrification would be something in it. We just go to Ft. Greene and witness what is happening here. We bought a brownstone for $40,000 dollars in '68. They were giving them away. I mean they wouldn't list Ft. Green, they would just say “downtown vicinity.” But look at “Do the Right Thing,” John Savage’s character, he was the pioneer [laughs]. That was the beginning of gentrification when he stepped on Buggin Out’s Jordans [played by Giancarlo Esposito].

The cameo of Mookie in “Red Hook Summer” is small, but it’s two-fold meaningful as it also points to gentrification and explains what happened after “Do The Right Thing.” I read the ending as much more cynical at the time.
Yep, Sal [played by Danny Aiello] left Bed-Stuy. If he would have known it'd be gentrified he would have stayed [laughs]. This was before the influence and so Sal, with insurance money rebuilt his house from the ground up, in Red Hook. And Sal was having trouble with the Mexicans he hired they just couldn't deliver like Mookie. THey always get the wrong addresses, pizza's cold, people complaining. So Sal called Mookie who's unemployed at the time and then Mookie said I'll think about it and he said you've got to make sure that me and Pino are straight and then what really made Sal, what really made Mookie take the job is that Sal finally put sisters and bros up on the wall [laughs] They came to Jesus.

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2 Comments

  • Anthony | August 10, 2012 11:45 AMReply

    One more: Spike praises "Clarke Johnson" for his work in the film, but the actor's name is Clarke Peters. The two men do have work on Baltimore-based TV dramas in common (Peters in The Wire and Johnson in Homicide: Life On The Streets) but actor/director Johnson's first name is Clark, no "e."

  • Nahne | August 10, 2012 2:47 AMReply

    Just wanted to give a heads up on the error that it's 'Carmelo Anthony', not Anthony Carmelo.

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