Monday, February 18, 2019


BlacKkKlansman. From the title to coda, this is just way too much -- which is what Spike Lee does and it's alright with me. There are times when his Sesame-Street schematic style just made me laugh out loud; like when he was setting up the black-cop-plus-white-cop-make-one-klansman plot, I thought, come on -- this is even a true story and I don't quite believe it. (The chief might buy the idea from black rookie cop Ron Stallworth if it were allowed to grow on him -- but a snap decision on a sit-down and "with the right white man we can do anything"?)

I got over it, though. I'm a sucker for this stuff. To me Lee and Oliver Stone are the heirs to Sam Fuller -- vulgarians who muscle and hustle you along. And though the KKKreeps in the movie are cartoons, how far from cartoon characters can the actual fuckers be, with their racist monomania and basement-den boys' Valhalla? But though they're cartoon characters, they're still characters, and Lee gives them enough operating room so you can see how they might be a real danger, especially under the guidance of "national director" David Duke -- whom Topher Grace plays sort of like Eric from That 70's Show grown up racist, which makes him more horrifying than any po-faced Evil Dwells Among Us portrait. (I think Grace's comic understatement has a lot in common with my favorite Marlon Brando performance: George Lincoln Rockwell in Roots II.) And if the white cops in the station are just variations on Officer Hoppy from Sanford and Son, at least they learn to roll with Ron's jam and get a kinder laugh in the end.

But the good-n-evil games are the least of it -- though Lee builds numerous tense scenes with an expertise that comes with constant work (TV shows, documentaries, movies -- he doesn't just hustle audiences). It's Ron's identity crisis that's the most interesting feature. He's mysterious coming in, dressed and coiffed out of an Afro-American fashion catalogue but seeming to play the line-walking good father's son -- which we take for a dodge until we realize it's only partly a dodge, he is that good son taught from birth to walk the line, and his "that's heavy" and "my sister" at the Kwame Ture event seem stiff because he's stiff. (Much is made at the station of his alternating "straight" and "jive" manners, but there's really not much functional difference.) Ture's long speech is there not only to give Lee a chance to raise our consciousness, but to raise Ron's.

As Ron's running his undercover act with the Klan, he's also running one on his Black Power girlfriend -- and in both cases he can't keep the double game up forever. (John David Washington is excellent at walking that line.) It's a dramatically pleasing solution that Ron sorts out his identity crisis by partnering on the Klan scam with the white Jewish cop Flip (a moody Adam Driver). It's weird to consider that for all Lee's alleged radicalism, and for his and the black characters' contempt for white savior shtick, this plot device isn't too far from 60s Sidney Poitier territory; the two men keep needling and proving themselves to each other, and when Flip acknowledges that, by putting the white face on Ron's fake Klansman, as a Jew he's "passing" too, the comraderie finally seems to break the lifelong tension that's made it hard for Ron to relax into himself -- and also seems to help solve (spoiler here, folks) the conflict with his girlfriend. Though she can't accept a brother working from the inside, she comes to accept Ron, and I think it's because he's come to accept himself.

That's heavy, my brother! Lee also gives us a lot of cinema sweets and sours -- Ron standing face to face with the human target that is, basically, him; the cross-cutting from Harry Belafonte in the student union to the Klan meeting; Ivan the drunken Klansman just making that weird sound of incomprehension into the camera. And I've been singing "It's Too Late To Turn Back Now," not just because the song is irresistible but also because Lee's delirious black love & soul dance scene is too.

As for that coda: I disapprove on Farberesque principle with this sort of gimp-string manipulation. I didn't like it, for example, when Gus Van Sant did it at the top of Milk to make a veil of sorrow that the film hadn't earned.  I did think , though, it was fair play for Lee to use Rodney King at the beginning of Malcolm X to rack-focus us between the past and the present. And as for the flash-forward to Charlottesville and the tiki-torch boys at the end of this Klan story, what I have to say is this: fuck the Klan, fuck David Duke, and fuck Donald Trump.

No comments:

Post a Comment