Summer of Sam
There are some movies that I look forward to reviewing, mostly because they provide something special by viewing them. Summer of Sam was such a movie. This latest film by director Spike Lee is concerned with the summer of 1977 in New York City. This was the summer that the infamous Son of Sam killer hit his horrible peak. Rather than follow this summer from the killers point of view or even the victims point of view, Lee takes a very novel approach, he looks at the community that the killer frequented and how the residents of that neighborhood were affected. The main characters of this tense drama are two young married people, Dionna (Mira Sorvino) and her husband Vinny (John Leguizamo). What really touches a cord with me is my wife and I lived in Brooklyn during this summer, were about the same age as the characters and were also married for less than three years. We also knew many people like the characters that Lee uses to populate this rich tapestry of a film. Typical of a Spike Lee Joint, Summer of Sam is full of side stories that add to the three dimensional feel of the characters and that gives this fine cast of actors and excellent writers something to work with. Vinny likes to cheat on his wife. He wants more than missionary position sex but feels that it is a sin to do this with his wife. He therefore finds himself caught between the sin of adultery and performing these sinful acts with his wife. Then there is the low level Mafia drug dealer. Hair combed back and fluffed out, shirt open to the chest with gold chains, he sells pot on the streets while hanging out with his rag-tag crew.
The most important cast member of this film is New York City itself. Lee cuts in clips of TV news broadcasts from the days that the events take place. I actually remember some of these news shows. He also shows such NYC staples form 1977, Platos Retreat, CBGBs, and the various discos then at the height of their popularity. As for the human actors Lee out did himself again with casting. Sorvino is perfect as the wife trying to make her marriage work. When her father buys a blonde wig (the kill chose should length brunettes) she tries to initiate some role playing with her husband. Leguizamo shows that not only is he a talented comedian, as his HBO specials show, but that he can act. He is every inch Vinny with all the demons he brings on himself. Rounding out the cast is a star studded cast of very talented actors used to more central roles but humble enough to take these smaller roles The talent shines through this production. Among these illuminaries are Pattie LuPone, Be Gazzara, and Michael Imperioli, Imperioli also was the executive producer and co-wrote the screenplay with Lee.
The directorial talent of Spike Lee is either you love him or hate him. I think the reason for this is he is willing to take chances with his work. He is always going to places he is familiar with from his life but turning the camera on it in a new way. Summer of Sam is up there with Hes Got Game and Malcolm-X. It is more than a montage of sights and sounds of NYC in the summer of 77, it is an explosion of the emotion that gripped the city during that summer. This was also one of the hottest summers ever for New York, it had a major blackout, looting and was on the verge of a major race riot. All this is juxtaposed by Lee with the hope New Yorkers got from watching Reggie Jackson lead the Yankees to an eventual World Series victory. That is New York, you may have a serial killer loose, a blackout and riots but the Yankees still come first. Lee captures this as only a New Yorker can.
The disc is short of extras (Please a Spike Lee Commentary) but the audio and video is the very best. The 5.1 sound field takes you right to the middle of the action. The sounds of the city enfold you as each detail of the camera work is visually there for you. This is bound to become a classic.