Met in Cannes, in May 2019, the director debriefs his 70’s thriller BlacKkKlansman.
Before being chosen to be the president of the jury of the 74th Cannes film festival, Spike lee came to the Croisette several times, especially in 2018 to present BlacKkKlansman, which will be broadcast for the first time in clear on television, this evening, on Arte. On this occasion, we republish this captivating interview with the American filmmaker.
The story of Spike Lee at the Cannes Film Festival, from Nola Darling to BlacKkKlansman
Premiere: Spike Lee, you recently shot a series for Netflix, She’s Gotta Have It, according to your film Nola Darling does what she wants… What do you think of the controversy between Netflix and the Cannes Film Festival?
Spike Lee: Ooh there, it’s a muddle between Thierry (Frémaux, general delegate of the Cannes Film Festival) and Ted (Sarandos, head of Netflix content), that, I have nothing to do with that. You want me to be in trouble, right? (He yells) “YOU WON’T GET ME! YOU CAN’T PIN IT ON ME, COPPER! “
Where does that come from?
James Cagney, Angels with dirty faces. With Kevin Willmott, the co-writer of BlacKkKlansman, we spend our days quoting gangster films from the 1930s and 1940s. Dead end street, Hell is his… “TOP OF THE WORLD, MA! “
Is it the passion for old Warner movies that brought you together?
Cinephilia in general. We’re both film teachers, you know. I have been teaching at New York University for years.
What films do you show your students?
Oh, it changes all the time. This semester, we watched Pixote, the law of the weakest by Hector Babenco, Orfeu Negro by Marcel Camus, Luke the cold hand… One film per week. And we discuss.
Just before the Festival, Thierry Frémaux also said: “series is industry and cinema is poetry” …
(he leans towards our phone, which records the conversation) “My beloved Thierry, thank you for inviting me to the Festival but know that there is poetry in the series. I say this with respect and love ”. I put the shapes, you see! I am only love. Peace and Love!
There will be a season 2 of She’s Gotta Have It ?
I’m working on it right now, yes.
This year we are celebrating 50 years of 2001, a space odyssey…
Kubrick is huge, what more can we say? Doctor Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket… Spartacus ! I have the poster at home, autographed by Kirk Douglas. He signed that of Paths of Glory too.
Since we are talking about tribute, you saw that they presented Driving Miss Daisy (Miss Daisy and her driver) in the Cannes Classics section? You do not carry this film in your heart …
What? They show Driving Miss Daisy ? I want to see the jury who made this decision!
It’s a new version… Uh, I mean, a new copy…
You scared me ! A new version, can you imagine? He would have to throw Miss Daisy from the car into that one. Or he could crank up the engine and rush straight for the cliff. This film, I want to see it: Driving Miss Daisy off the cliff !
Another movie you hate is Gone with the wind. You have placed an extract at the opening of BlacKkKlansman…
Yes, because it is an incredible demonstration of the power of images. Gone with the wind is one of the people responsible for the persistence of the racist mentality in America. He totally romanticized the South and slavery. Worse, he perpetuated two harmful ideas: one according to which the Confederates had not really lost the war, the other which says that slavery had in fact nothing to do with the Civil War.
What is the place of film today in America? Is it a classic that continues to air on TV, that people watch as a family at Christmas?
I don’t know, but in any case it’s still in plenty of lists of the best movies of all time! That of the American Film Institute and many others… Go take a look on Google, you’ll see, it’s amazing.
BlacKkKlansman: a Spike Lee with a bizarre charm [Critique]
I was surprised by the very relaxed tone of BlacKkKlansman. How did you decide to tell this story like a comedy?
Stop it, it’s not a comedy! There is humor, OK, but no one slips on banana peels. The idea, on the contrary, was to tell the story in a realistic and credible way, to better underline the absurdity of racism, the absurdity of hatred.
We don’t laugh at all at all at the end, with these images of racist rallies in Charlottesville. You decided to change the edit at the last moment, right?
Yes. I asked Susan Bro for permission to show the footage of this car driving at her daughter, Heather. In a way, it was these small terrorist groups, David Duke (supremacist spokesperson and former representative of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s) and the President of the United States who wrote the end of BlacKkKlansman.
I was curious what you think of Detroit by Kathryn Bigelow …
You don’t want to develop at all?
BlacKkKlansman is a thriller with undercover cops, but it is also a film about the history of the place of blacks in American cinema, of Birth of a nation at Shaft through the iconic Harry Belafonte cameo …
I forgot to quote Harry Belafonte at the press conference after the Cannes screening, I blame myself so much! This man is a legend. Not just as an artist, but also as an activist. He walked alongside Martin Luther King then, he still fights today. He wanted to come to Cannes, but his doctors dissuaded him from making the trip.
In the last minutes of BlacKkKlansman, there’s this super cool shot on heroes, guns in hand, we almost want to find them in a sequel…
(he gets closer to the phone again) “There will never be a sequel to BlacKkKlansman “. Where did you go to look for this? This idea never crossed my mind. So if they ever do that… they’ll be dealing with my baseball bat. And you too, like, since it’s your idea! I’m going to have to get Wim Wenders name off my bat (Spike Lee was so angry with the German director for not giving him the Palme d’Or for Do the right thing that he had engraved his name on a baseball bat) and put yours instead! (Laughs) Make it clear that I’m joking in your article, eh!
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