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The Pocket Essential Spike Lee – Darren Arnold

Pocket Essential Spike LeePocket Essentials , 96 pages , £3.99 , PB

Spike Lee’s work comes intrinsically linked with the man himself – opinionated, outspoken and independent. If he has never produced a blockbuster hit (the nearest he has come to this is in his biopic of Malcolm X) it is down to his refusal to compromise his integrity for the financial rewards of commercial cinema. As such he ranks alongside other independent American film-makers who are more important in critical circles than in commercial ones. Darren Arnold links to his similarity with Woody Allen in some ways, with his use of locale (both New York) and in his critical laudation against modest (or even disastrous) box office returns.

Lee’s motifs, particularly his love of basketball and baseball are followed as the book runs through his body of work. This Pocket Essential charts Lee’s progress from his award winning student film, through the creation of his feature debut She’s Gotta Have It (via an aborted project The Messenger), the critical acclaim of Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X up to the wonderful – but poorly performing – Clockers and Summer of Sam. The book focuses on the films themselves and at times Arnold assumes the reader is more familiar with the wider biographical aspects of Lee as well as his other projects (Nike advertisements etc.) Arnold plots Lee’s cinema as a constant state of flux, oscillating between his best and worst (in the author’s opinion) work, criticising much of Lee’s earlier work but “justifying” this angle by pointing to his relative inexperience with the medium. This continues through much of the book, with even the films that Arnold rates highly sometimes being qualified with some degree of doubt.


Any Cop?: The Pocket Essential Spike Lee provides the basics, but unfortunately seems mean-spirited at times towards one of America’s most important and interesting film-makers