The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, January 12, 1995 - 5
'Crooklyn': less daring, mo' accessible
By JOSHUA RICH
With "Do the Right Thing"(1989),
Spike Lee rose to the hierarchy of
major film directors amidst great con-
troversy. His no-holds-barred portrait
of one hot summer day on the streets
of Brooklyn's tough Bedford-
Stuyvesant neighborhood startled
movie audiences who were awakened
to the tumult of life in the inner-city.
Following this critical and artistic
success Lee began to use controver-
sial plots and themes as foundations
upon which to base his films. Contro-
versy soon became a weapon that
helped promote and popularize Lee's
He went on to direct "Mo' Better
Blues" (1990), a racy glimpse into the
life of jazz musicians, and "Jungle
Fever" (1991), an atypical portrayal
of interracial romance. But in 1992,
with "Malcolm X," an epic saga de-
picting the life of the late Nation of
Islam leader, Lee's battery of contro-
versy misfired. Lost behind repeated
ramblings by its title character and
others singing his praises was a bril-
liantly crafted movie that could have
been a huge success hadLee remained
Shedding his heavy cloak of con-
troversy, Lee's latest effort,
"Crooklyn" (1994), takes us back to
his native Brooklyn streets in his least
pretentious (and perhaps least daring)
film to date. And, despite its sound
failure at the box office in the summer
of 1994, this movie is successful in its
simple narrative presentation.
"Crooklyn" is a semi-autobio-,
graphical depiction of a lower-class
African-American family living in
Brooklyn in the 1970s. Written by
Lee's sister, Joie, this film focuses on
the strong female members of a large
family with six men and only two
women. There is the strong mother
(Alfre Woodard) who struggles to
earn a living as well as take care of her
large family, and Troy (Zelda Harris),
the lone daughter in the clan, who
perseveres in a world dominated by
Through this snapshot of Ameri-
can life at a time before street corners
became drug markets and the inner-
city became a modern day war zone,
we discover that this family is not
concerned with race relations or vio-
lence on the sidewalks.
Rather, they worry about more
basic things: having enough money to
pay for dinner and their electric bill; a
next door neighbor who plays his
music too loud; or the New York
Knicks winning the NBA champion-
As a result, the viewer is not im-
mersed in the potential of racial con-
flict or drug-related violence in
"Crooklyn."'We discover that surviv-
ing as Americans and as a complete
family is not an easy task for a poor
yet loving family.
As always, Lee's direction is of
the highest level, for he presents a
story that is well-photographed, clev-
erly edited and brilliantly narrated.
Especially enjoyable is the movie's
soundtrack which mixes traditional
jazz ballads with '70s soul music.
Supplementing these technical
achievementg areoutstanding perfor-
mances by Woodard, Harris - infal-
lible in her motion picture introduc-
tion at such a young age-and Delroy
Lindo ("Malcolm X") as the caring
but weak father.
The combined mastery of all in-
volved helps create a story that is
subtle, yet powerful despite the ab-
sence of Lee's trademark controversy.
"Crooklyn" serves as proof-that un-
derneath all his talk and political ac-
tion, Spike Lee remains one of the
most talented and inspired filmmak-
ers in modern American cinema.
CROOKLYN is available at
Campus Video and Liberty Street
!Spike Lee examines the trials and joys of a family on a hot summer day in his film "Crooklyn," now on video.
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