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Spike Lee Talks 'Oldboy,' Studio Interference, '12 Years a Slave' (and, Implicitly, 'Django Unchained') and More in NYT

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood November 20, 2013 at 12:37PM

Spike Lee's "Oldboy," a remake starring Josh Brolin of Park Chan-wook's now cult revenge classic, hits theaters November 27. Lee is profiled today in the New York Times and, as is to be expected, has some no-bullshit things to say about the lasting appeal of revenge films, his personal connection to the theme of fatherly guilt in his new film, Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" (and, implicitly, Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained") and more. Highlights below.
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Spike Lee
Spike Lee

Spike Lee's "Oldboy," a remake starring Josh Brolin of Park Chan-wook's now cult revenge classic, hits theaters November 27. Lee is profiled today in the New York Times and, as is to be expected, has some no-bullshit things to say about the lasting appeal of revenge films, his personal connection to the theme of fatherly guilt in his new film, Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" (and, implicitly, Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained") and more. Highlights below.

Spike Lee and Josh Brolin
Spike Lee and Josh Brolin

On the appeal of revenge films:

“Rage doesn’t have to fester for years, but revenge? That stuff takes time. It’s the oldest staple of films, in stories. It goes back to the Bible… The reason revenge films have been so popular is because people don’t go as far as doing the act, so they live vicariously through characters, like Charles Bronson in ‘Death Wish,’ or Dirty Harry. You know, Peter Parker was pushed around: They stepped on his glasses. That’s how we get these huge hits.”

On fatherly guilt in “Oldboy,” and in Lee’s own life:

“How many fathers haven’t been around for their children’s birthdays, or their first step, because they were working? Especially now that my daughter’s older -- she’s a freshman at N.Y.U., in the film school -- I think of all the times I was away, shooting a film or a commercial. [Laughs] O.K., or at a Knicks game. And when you miss it, it’s gone. That’s a lot of guilt.

That’s the core of the movie. For Josh, because he has a daughter... it was something he could connect with: What would that be like if you can’t be with your kids?”

On the centerpiece scene where Josh Brolin takes revenge on his opponents with a hammer, and why the studio cut it from one extended shot:

“It’s not one shot. There’s a cut in it. Shouldn’t be, but there is a cut. Tough business. That’s all I’m going to say. Tough business. There’s no reason to try and even attempt that shot unless it’s a one-take. That’s the scene from the original! That’s the scene! Two words: tough business…Three words. Tough motherfucking business.” [“Motherfucking” excerpted from NYT.]

On “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen, black cinema (and an implicit swipe at Tarantino's “Django Unchained”):

“I love Steve McQueen’s work. I know it will treat slavery as the holocaust that 400 years of slavery was. Not a cartoon. Not an action movie.

Every 10 years, I’ve read the same articles. I remember reading them one year, when Denzel won for ‘Training Day,’ Halle Berry won for ‘Monster’s Ball,’ and Sidney Poitier won an honorary award. And then what happened?

We’ve been getting these new black cinema waves every 10 years or so since 1986, when I had ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ and Robert Townsend had ‘Hollywood Shuffle.’ For me, I just wish it was consistent, and not this feast or famine thing that’s been going on.”

This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews , Spike Lee, New York Times, Oldboy


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.